Why I Dress Modestly

Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

Luke 17:1-10

One of the current hot topics of discussion between Christians and non-Christians concerns this idea of being a stumbling block for someone else. It manifests itself in several ways, but modest clothing is definitely the most volatile. Women say “I should be able to dress however I want without being stared at! It’s their responsibility to not make me uncomfortable.” To which I say, yes, it IS their responsibility to control their actions. But I would also ask, just because YOU want to do something, does that make it the right thing to do?

I know men who struggle with the temptation to look at women lustfully. I’ve discussed it with them. They don’t want to look, but they are surrounded on all sides by a sea of women dressed in a way that they can’t look at it. Everywhere they turn there is another women they have to turn away from. So of course they mess up sometimes. As Jesus points out, temptation (and succumbing to it) is inevitable. We are sinful people, and it isn’t always so easy for us to just look the other way. For many of these men, this particular temptation is painful and life-ruining. So I would ask the woman who wants to wear whatever she wants, which is more important? You looking exactly the way you want to look, or helping men avoid a temptation that ruins marriages and even lives? Yeah, it would be great to look great, but it would be even greater to be the kind of person who puts others before themselves. THAT’S why in the 21st century I still believe women are called to modesty.

I often use the analogy of being on a diet. Imagine you’re trying to lose 15 pounds, and your diet is super strict, but you’ve cleaned every piece of junk food out of your house, take a lunch to work with you every day, and  all these other things to avoid the temptation of chocolate. You are having dinner at your mother’s house this weekend, and when you get there the sweet, delicious scent of chocolate chip cookies is wafting through the house. How do you feel? Probably a little angry. She knew you were on a diet! But, she says, your father was really craving them, and you don’t HAVE to eat any. But they’ll be sitting right here in case you change your mind. Now you’re probably angrily texting your girlfriends about how awful your mom is. And if you’re anything like most of my friends, you’ll probably ending up eating at least two cookies before you leave.

I’ve experienced temptation too. It’s difficult and miserable. I know I would personally be thankful to anyone who did anything, even something small, to help prevent me from facing it, whatever temptation was. If my best friend was recovering from alcoholism, of course I wouldn’t drink around her. If my husband struggled to stick to a budget I wouldn’t hand him a brand new credit card. And if my mom was on a diet I definitely wouldn’t make cookies when she came over. So when there are men around I try dress in a way that is the least likely to catch their eye, just to help them out.

I know I’m just kind of tacking this here on the end, but I don’t want to ignore it. Because even though this story of the slave is less clear to me, I think it’s important. The obvious message is that, yes, Jesus wants us to treat everyone, even our inferiors, as equals. (And there isn’t really anyone inferior to us anyway, but the people at the time definitely thought there were. All men were created equal is a very modern idea.) But I also suspect He is criticizing believers for not trying to go above and beyond the call of duty. For being content with the status quo. I don’t think He wants us to just sit around and wait for a Bible verse to tell us what to do. Instead we should everything we are into making the world better for others. Which, let’s face it, is an awfully tall order.

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6 Responses to Why I Dress Modestly

  1. Jamie Carter says:

    I remember listening to a NPR broadcast talking about how Amish young men act around women. They lived in a world where women were so thoroughly covered, the sight of a tourist woman in Capri pants was enough to get them curious. They can’t help but look because they never had the chance to develop self control – a fruit of the holy spirit.
    Using the ‘diet’ metaphor, doing modesty is like trying to never eat pizza for the guy who can’t resist pizza while never eating doughnuts for the guy who can’t resist doughnuts while never eating ice cream for the guy who can’t resist ice cream while never eating tacos for the guy who can’t resist tacos, etc. You never know what is a problem for somebody else until you sit down at the table with the wrong food on your plate and they reach for your food. Some of the worlds most modest women, who cover everything except for their eyes so that they may see where they’re going are also the ones who still get lusted after and raped anyway. If they can’t prevent it in the most modest clothing of all, then what can be said for those in less modest clothing? You’re right that it’s a tall order, it’s one that nobody can fulfill.

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    • kmcr097 says:

      I see your point. Thanks for the food for thought! I’m not exactly sure I agree with it though. I’m not saying that we should expect to prevent ALL lustful thoughts in men through our dress. I just think we should not be trying to excite them. A lot of women’s clothing is specifically designed to be “sexy”, to get men thinking about sex. You’re definitely right that it’s impossible to excite nothing in any man ever. But I still think we can not go out of our way to do it.

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      • Jamie Carter says:

        The majority of the “sexy” outfits I see these days are limited to television shows. I can’t recall the last time someone scandalized the church by walking into the building in something too sexy for worship. Either everybody just knows what not to wear, or everybody who would wear the wrong things just doesn’t show up to churches anymore. I remember when my cousin told me about the time she took her friend to the church for the first time. She wore a similar outfit that her friend did – a tank top and shorts with sandals because of the relentless heatwave that week and she didn’t want her to feel like she was the odd one out dressed differently than everyone else. The elders took them both aside and berated them for having purposefully dressed in such a way as to tempt the young men; he didn’t care that it wasn’t their intention. Her friend was so embarrassed and confused that she never again went to church. Were they anywhere else, it wouldn’t have been a problem. The problem is that the worst motivations is always assumed to be the case, rather than understanding a person’s intentions in wearing what they do. If a woman is wearing something “sexy” then she must be purposefully tempting men into lusting after her. She can never simply be wearing her favorite color, a comfortable outfit, her favorite style or designer, or something that makes her feel like she’s radiant.

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      • kmcr097 says:

        I think it’s equally unfair to assume the worst in Christians, and assume they think she’s TRYING to be a temptress. (Although, to be fair, plenty of women do dress to look sexy, especially when going out at night, though probably not to church.) But again, my point is that it’s rather selfish to wear something that maybe makes you feel really awesome if you know that it’s going to make the people around you uncomfortable or struggle with sin. Even if that isn’t their GOAL, I think a lot of women are aware of it. And if you’re aware of it, it might be more loving to put the men in your life before yourself. Just buy your favorite color in a less low-cut blouse. I’m not saying we should all wear a burka or anything, just try to cover up the most obvious stuff.

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      • Jamie Carter says:

        http://www.mommyish.com/2013/10/03/10-troublesome-comments-christian-modest-hottest-series-teens/
        One of the comments here points out that it’s not the wardrobe that incites lust, it’s the fact that the wearer of said wardrobe is female. It doesn’t matter if it’s low-cut blouse or a less low-cut blouse or a turtleneck sweater. I saw another story of a young woman who was so anxious about modesty, she developed an eating disorder in an attempt to make herself as unsexy as possible, to make her body less curvy so that her clothes would be loose. It shouldn’t be about not exciting guys. She went out of her way to not excite men, sacrificing her own health for their sake. The conversation needs to change so that men develop self-control and learn to respect women. Modesty can be and is often that destructive – it steals confidence, sows doubt, instills fear, increases worry and causes blame.

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      • kmcr097 says:

        I don’t see when men can’t learn to develop self-control AND women can’t help them out a little. I don’t think the two have to be mutually exclusive.

        I also don’t think that pointing to extreme interpretations is an accurate way of reflecting the way a culture as a whole treats any given subject.

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