Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What You Really Need to Uncover About Modesty, Beauty, and the Bible

My Dear Sisters, the world has been trying to tell us for a while that there's something fishy about our obsession with high necklines and one piece bathing suits. 

When I read blog posts by Christian wives asking Non-Christian women to cover up so that they will not be a temptation to the author's husband or sons, something seems off to me. I read, "Hey! I know you're not in my club, but could you please follow my club's rules so that you won't tempt my husband or sons into leaving this club to join yours instead?" It's just not the right message. Why do we feel like we have to compete?

On the other hand, the church has been trying for ages to point out that there's something wrong with the over sexualization of our culture and the bikinis and midriff and skin tight jeans.

For years, I've been standing in front of dressing room mirrors trying to make the call "Do I look beautiful in this?"; "Do I look too beautiful in this; is it immodest?"; and sometimes postpartum "Do I look beautiful at all?".

I remember the first time I looked in the mirror after the birth of my first child. There was a great sense of loss and defeat. My figure was gone. The things that the magazine racks said that I needed to be beautiful--a flat stomach, tight skin, and tiny waist--were gone and I had no idea if they could ever return.

I've come a long way since that day. This is me looking in the mirror the day after my fourth child, Rebekah, was born. I think the smile says it all.

As with most things, freedom came in the pages of the bible and in real conversation with real friends.

I grew up in the church and I was taught to value modesty. The general modesty message I heard was this: "Ladies, your bodies are beautiful. When you are uncovered it is difficult for men to avoid lusting after you. You want to spur your brothers on towards holiness in thought and deed so please dress modestly so that your body will not be a stumbling block."

Though it wasn't the point of the sermon I think what many of us heard was this: a woman's body is beautiful. A woman's body attracts the attention of man. It's a very powerful, influential part of a woman--a dangerous part at that. 

I also grew up in the world. I saw the magazine racks and the music videos and I heard a message there too. A woman's body is beautiful, attractive, and powerful if it looks a certain way. If you're size 2, twenty something years old with large, perky breasts and hips that sway just right--then you're beautiful. If you happen to have wrinkles or stretch-marks or a little extra weight, then--have no fear--there's a product to "fix" you. If you've got it, flaunt it. If you don't have it, buy it or move on over.

These two message have created a world of trouble for me as a woman, a mother, a human earning wrinkles and stretch marks, and a soul longing to be lovely.

I'm not the only one who has been hurt by this fascination on externals.

I've seen that when we tell a 16 year old that a woman's body is powerful and then ask her to go to her school dance covered up while all her peers are showing off their bodies then she will feel overlooked.

If we tell a married woman that an uncovered body is a stumbling block and then ask her to go to the beach in a one piece with her husband, then she is going to fight jealousy.  How can she expect her husband to love her in a one piece when she is surrounded by "stumbling blocks" in bikinis who are younger and thinner than her?

The message of modesty that many of us have heard has birthed jealousy and that, my friends, is not a fruit of the spirit.

Yet, when I opened my ears and my Bible, I found a message of modesty that is a breath of fresh air in this stifling body debate. If we look at the one bible verse that commands women to dress modestly found in 1 Timothy 2:9 we find a message that is not focused on externals.

"I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,
but with good deeds,appropriate for women who profess to worship God."

Adorn yourself with good deeds.  In other words, dress modestly so that your beauty may be seen through your actions, not your skin. It's what you do that is attractive, not what you look like. This is further emphasized in 1 Peter 3:3 and 4.

"Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight."

Peter doesn't say, "Hey! You're too beautiful--cover it up." He says, "Your personality, your mind, your spirit is so beautiful to God. Let what is truly lovely about you shine. Don't distract from it with lesser things."

Paul writes in 1 Cor 6;19, "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?"

My dear sisters, do you not know? Do you not know that you are more than simple canvases to be displayed and looked upon? We are temples of the living God. Your wrapping may or may not conform to society's ever-changing beauty trends, but your treasure--your beauty, your power, your influence--is found within. You are designed to carry the Holy Spirit of God within you.

If you want to be attractive, carry the presence of God.When you possess the fruits of the Spirit, people will
 see unfading beauty and want more of it--not more of you, but more of the God in you. You will be attractive because the gospel that you live is attractive. You will be powerful because the gospel that you speak is powerful unto salvation.

Of course, there is this outer stuff--this skin that we live in. At the end of the day, I still have stretch marks that I must be reconciled with. This outward beauty honestly just doesn't matter as much as Satan would have you think it does. 

Proverbs 31:30 tells us that  "Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

Notice, please, it doesn't say that a beautiful woman is vain. Beauty is vain. This entire obsession with women and their bodies is vain. This idea of beauty begs us to pay it more attention than it's worth. When we are single, it begs us to think that we must possess a certain kind of beauty to attract a man. When we are married, it begs us to think that we must possess it to keep a man. Yet, it is so deceitful. When you look at history, has skin deep beauty ever kept a man? If it did, celebrity marriages wouldn't be known for failure. What keeps a man loving a woman is not her unchanging skin, but his unchanging character. Likewise, a woman's character keeps her loving her husband and two people set on loving each other is what keeps a relationship beautiful. 

Sisters, we need to turn off the ramblings of the world for a minute and draw close to the God that created us and hear from Him just what makes us beautiful. We need to hear Him tell us the way He knit us together in our mother's womb--skillfully and wonderfully. We need to hear Jesus whisper the way He saw our sin-stained souls and thought we were worth redeeming even at the price of His life. We need to hear the hard words that beauty is available to us all, but it will cost us everything. We need to hear that a beautiful bride follows her Love--and He leads us to a cross. Beauty is love and love is sacrifice.

You need to hear that great beauty is not defined by the shape of your body, but by the way you bear hardship in your body for the building up of others.

Beauty is not wrinkle-free hands with manicured nails, but a hand stretched out offering a generous gift to a stranger in need.

Beauty is not hips that move low to the rhythm of the dance floor, but a heart that is moved with compassion for the lowly.

Beauty is not that we are seen, but that we have encountered the Beautiful One and we carry His likeness to the ugliest places.

Dress simply and modestly so that you don't find yourself distracted from the pursuit of love and falling into a competition of vanity. 

If you must compete, outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10).

 Know what a real treasure God says you are and then go carry real beauty into the lives of your family, your friends, and the world.

1 comment:

  1. That is so true, Jessica! As a man, I can testify that despite all of the stress that media puts on a woman's outward appearance, it is a vain and ineffective substitute for true inner beauty, because everyone - even the most outwardly beautiful of women - is known by their character. Granted, there are lots of shallow and foolish men out there, but any man with good sense will stay away from a beautiful woman with bad character. And what is such a woman, who has placed all of her bets on that alone, to do when the outward beauty fades, as it surely does for all who live long enough?

    To a sensible man - the kind any smart woman should want - true inward beauty of character radiates out of a woman, obscuring all physical defects. It is truly the very best "beautifier" that there is! - Dad