Thursday, July 3, 2014

Why Swimsuits Make Me Mad

By Hannah Firestone
He came up to me and said, “Look, Hannah, I just want to let you know that I really appreciate your modesty. The other guys feel the same way.”
Seth was a good friend, so his words meant a lot.

“Thanks, I try,” I replied.

And I did try. I tried to help my Christian brothers. I realized how much they struggle with what they see, so I did my best to make sure there wasn’t much to look at. In the words of a youth group leader, I tried to “lift them up.” Not let them fall into sin. Men want a woman they can respect. Modest is hottest.

So I wanted a length, in inches, of how long my shorts could be above my knee. A length in centimeters of how far away my shirt should fall from a beauty mark. How much bra strap to show? How much shoulder? What about my midriff; cover it completely or can I allow a sliver? 

Swimsuits just made me angry. They break all the rules. I resorted to wearing a T-shirt and shorts every time I went to the pool. “Are you insecure about your body?” asked the friends. “No, I just feel immodest in a swimsuit.” And they looked away, embarrassed in their bikinis.

The church boys thanked me. Parents complimented my parents on their conservative daughter. I saw the other girls wearing less than appropriate clothing, and I smiled to myself. How immodest they are, how crude. I’m pleasing in the Lord’s eyes.

I felt so smug in my modesty. Then I became a Christian. 

When I truly recognized the power of what Jesus had done for me on the cross and accepted Him as my Savior, I lost my shield of modesty. Before, I was like a Pharisee. I prayed, “God, thank you that I’m not like the other girls who disobey you and dress immodestly.” But I was never obeying the Lord. I was setting up my own rules in order to please the people around me. It was fake worship.

God revealed this to me as I got dressed one morning. I was examining my outfit and praying, “God, is this modest enough?” I swear he shouted, “Who cares?” I plopped down in front of the mirror in disbelief. Excuse me, God? You care; this is for you. Isn’t it?

He slowly brought me to the realization that my personal dress code was never for His glory. It was for my security. Modesty can be an idol. I’ve scoured the Bible for a dress code. Nada. Funny, maybe God would have included it if it were a necessity.

Then my church had a fun Q&A night. Anyone could submit questions anonymously, and my pastor would answer them. Among questions about sexuality and spiritual growth lay this gem: “What counts as modest?” I didn’t submit it.  But I sure as heck was grateful to whomever had the guts to fill out the online form. I looked at him expectantly.

“Ask Jesus what he thinks.” My pastor said matter-of-factly.  “Yeah,” someone retorted, “But then I could just claim that God told me I could be immodest.” Not skipping a beat, my pastor replied, “Only if we don’t follow a living, talking God, who communicates with his people!” If I ask Jesus what he thinks about my clothing, then he will tell me. If I search his Scripture, then the Holy Spirit will convict me. 

And this point really stood out to me.  “I don’t care if you run around naked in the streets like the prophet Isaiah, if that’s what God asks you to do.” It had never occurred to me that God might ask you to do something outrageous like that. But if I was going to be ready to obey Him, I had to let go of my personal morality and surrender to the reign of the King.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, with Jesus as my king, there are no minimum or maximum requirements for being a disciple, there is only “Follow me!”

Modesty is not a thing to stress over. It’s a thing to place in God’s hands. It’s not below his intervention. If you’re someone who stresses over whether you’re dressing modestly enough, I would encourage you to trade in your pride for obedience to the Lord.  Your clothes are not your gift to the world. 

If you’re someone who knows they dress to incite sin, I would encourage you to trade in your pride for obedience to the Lord. Your clothes are not where you should find your acceptance. 

If you’re not sure, I would encourage you to trade in your pride for obedience to the Lord. Your clothes are not beneath your attention. Whoever you are, ask God for guidance, and when he provides it, obey.

“But Hannah, how will I know what He’s saying?” is what you’re thinking. I can only speak for myself. For me, in addition to God’s word and the illumination of the Spirit in prayer, it’s through my parents. They are both wonderful Christian individuals, and I submit to them as the Bible commands. If an article of clothing is questionable, I parade downstairs to ask my mom. More than once I’ve come down saying, “Mom, I know this looks good on me and I really like it, but please tell me I can’t wear it.” As I grow older, I understand more fully the boundaries that I need to maintain with my clothing.

For you, it might be your close friends who approach you sincerely with a concern about how you’re dressing. Or your husband, who can testify to what clothing would make him nervous to see you wearing around other guys. Or the Holy Spirit may convict you through your conscience. Or at this point in time, you may be perfectly comfortable with the way you’re dressing, and you won’t need to alter it. Some helpful questions: “Is this outfit loving to myself and those around me?” “Do I feel beautiful and dignified wearing this?” “Do I invite others to see me as a precious child of God?”

So modesty rules can be different for each person? I believe so.  I believe that God has different standards of modesty for a mature believer than for a new believer who just entered into the faith. For the new believer, modesty is not high on the list of what she needs to understand. Down with the centimeter measurements! Just obey the Lord.

And in case you were wondering, swimsuits still make me mad.

Holy Father, I submit myself to you in every way. I want to surrender the clothes I wear and my attitude about them to you. Please guide me. 

Amen. 

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