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Is Dressing Modestly Overrated?

Written By Hannah Spaulding, USA

I’ve always felt uneasy about the topic of modesty.

Growing up in church, I heard many different rules and principles about modesty. However, I often had difficulty accepting some of them—something I know other Christian girls have dealt with as well.

In high school, I witnessed the shame and degradation my friends felt when they were punished for dress code offenses, such as wearing leggings or shorts that were too short. They were often sent to spend the day in the administrative office or forced to wear clothes from the lost and found box over their offensive attire.

I never saw any of my male classmates punished for dress code offences, and the females punished were often of a larger body type. To me, this made the dress code system seem incredibly unfair. Seeing my friends humiliated for wearing the “wrong” type of clothing led me to conclude that strict principles of modesty were unfair, and their application resulted only in unnecessary shame.

As I grew older, I continued to struggle with these ideas of modesty. How were we supposed to know where to draw the line? And why? Some principles about modesty made sense and were easy to understand. For example, dressing with the purpose of seduction is clearly wrong.

But other reasons for dressing conservatively didn’t make sense. For example, I was told that I needed to cover up so that people wouldn’t assume the wrong things about my reputation, because my body belonged to my future husband, or so that the men around me wouldn’t be tempted to sin.

But that’s where the problem begins—when a woman is held responsible for the thoughts and actions of the men around her. In many societies, when a woman is sexually assaulted, she is told it is her fault because of how she dressed. I cannot disagree more. In fact, studies have shown that most people are sexually assaulted by someone they know, and that clothing is almost never a factor. Teaching young women that they need to cover up so the men around them will not sin contributes to a culture that normalizes and diminishes the significance of sexual assault and blames the victims.

Some ideas about modesty also suggest that the way a woman dresses can indicate how promiscuous she might be. This kind of thinking is dangerous, because it can encourage judgment and condemnation over mercy and grace.

So, is modesty important then? Though I’ve struggled with some of the principles and ideas that I’ve heard about modesty, I believe that modesty is important—but not because of what I’ve been told. Rather, it’s important because God calls us to be good stewards of the things He has given us, including our bodies.

I act and dress in the knowledge that my body is a temple to the Lord and a gift from Him. I choose to honor God and myself by dressing in a way that is appropriate, but also in a way that makes me feel confident in the skin God has made for me. This means I wear clothing that I feel confident and beautiful in, and yet keep certain parts of my body covered up. As the steward of my body, I have chosen to save those parts of myself for my future husband. I do this not because my body belongs to him, but because I want to be a responsible and wise steward of my body.

Proverbs 31:30 states, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” While this verse is not saying that wearing cute clothes and looking good on the outside is wrong, our main concern must be with inner beauty. Proverbs 31:10-31 describes the “wife of noble character” as a woman who is compassionate to the poor, trustworthy, wise, kind, and provides for her family.

When it comes to being a Christian woman, the way I dress is important, but it is only one aspect of living the life of a Christian. Being a Christian—man or woman—is about so much more than clothing. It’s about living each day as passionate, creative, intelligent, merciful, and generous image-bearers of God that we are created to be.

Experiencing Lent for the First Time

Written By Hannah Spaulding, USA

This year marks the first time I’m actively participating in the season of Lent.

Apart from it being an annual liturgical season, I originally had little idea what Lent was about.  However, a few weeks before Lent rolled around, I found myself being asked by many fellow students at my small, Christian college what I was giving up for Lent. Initially surprised at the question, I would usually flip it back to the one who asked, to avoid having to respond to it myself.

I was intrigued to hear that many of my friends were giving up things like chocolate, sweets, or other unhealthy practices. It seemed to me that Lent was simply a second attempt at a failed New Year’s resolution; a time for Christians to pledge themselves to being healthier, exercising more, and giving up unhealthy habits.

With this initial skepticism, I almost didn’t go to the Ash Wednesday service being held in my school’s chapel that Wednesday morning.  Like a typical college student, I was also exhausted, and wondering if my morning chapel break would be better spent napping on the couches in the library.  However, curiosity got the better of me, so I went.

Lent, as it was explained during the service, is a time of self-denial that helps us remember the suffering of Jesus and prepare our hearts to commemorate His death on Good Friday, and His resurrection on Easter Sunday.  Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent, the forty day period prior to Good Friday.

Lent was starting to make sense to me; after all, giving up chocolate for 40 days certainly ranked as suffering in my book. As the service went on, however, I began to realize that Lent had a much deeper meaning than merely giving up a daily comfort. It is not so much about giving up something as it is about starting something new; it is about denying ourselves in order to become closer to Christ.

The time came for the receiving of the ashes at the end of the service.  During a traditional Ash Wednesday service, there is a point in the service where the participant has the opportunity to have their forehead marked with a cross of ash.  The ash symbolizes grief at our sin and grief at the suffering Jesus undertook to redeem us from the eternal consequences of our sin.  The practice of giving up something from our lives, and then standing up to receive the ashes, encapsulates the Lenten experience in a symbolic gesture of penance and remembrance of the crucifixion and resurrection.

I still felt unsure if I should participate though; I had never been to an Ash Wednesday service before and I didn’t have something in mind to let go of yet. However, the risk of being the only one still seated prompted me to get up like the others to receive the ashes. When I reached the elder holding the basket of ashes, I bowed my head towards him and waited. “Because of your sins you will die, but because of Jesus Christ you will live,” the elder proclaimed over my bent head as he painted the symbol of the cross on my forehead.

Later that day, I sat down to reflect on my Ash Wednesday experience. It made me want to participate in the Lenten experience of suffering with Christ. I wanted to grow closer to God through denying myself of something harmful in my life, something that hindered my relationship with God. I was reminded of the verse in Hebrews 12:1, “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”

In the end, the decision was clear to me. Earlier that week, I had read through an article on Facebook about things to give up for Lent other than chocolate. Based on some of the ideas from that post, I decided to give up . . . worrying. I know that doesn’t sound like denying myself of something special or enjoyable. However, God has been working in my heart since the beginning of this year to surrender my worry to Him and trust in Him. I have come to realize that excessive worrying, while not exactly nice, is in reality a self-indulgent practice. God was calling me to give up feeling sorry for myself and taking a twisted attitude of pride in being more stressed-out than others. He was calling me to put those actions and attitudes aside, and to trust in Him.

Giving up worrying has been especially relevant in this Lenten season as changes in my family and school situation have led to a lot of uncertainty for the coming year. Now, more so than ever, I’m tempted to fill my days with worrying over the future and being stressed about what is to come. However, when I reflect on Jesus’ coming and resurrection, I am reminded that because He lives, I don’t have to worry. I am loved by a God who cares for me beyond what I can ever imagine and I know that I can trust Him with my future.

Making a Difference this Valentine’s Day

Written By Hannah Spaulding, USA

I’ve never been a huge fan of Valentine’s Day.

I understand dedicating a day to celebrating love, but somehow I’ve never been able to reconcile the ideal of love with the paraphernalia associated with the holiday. The deluge of teddy bears, chocolates, roses, and over-priced jewelry, all in alarming shades of pink and red, have often felt more like the trappings of a false and materialistic love rather than a symbol of true, authentic love to me.

Last year was the first time I celebrated Valentine’s Day with a special someone—not that I hadn’t cut out paper hearts, received chocolates and flowers, or exchanged gifts before, but the latter had always just been between friends.

I remember feeling an increasing sense of nervousness and anxiety about actually celebrating Valentine’s Day with a significant other. Approaching the day, I agonized over what I was going to get David, my boyfriend, and what I should write on his card.  We had only been dating a little over a month at the time, so this was the first exchange of gifts and cards for us. I was terrified of messing it up.

I finally settled on giving him a Lord of the Rings (LOTR) poster to spruce up his bare bedroom walls—a major contrast from my own poster-plastered room.  My card included a LOTR quote and a heartfelt message about the difference I had already felt in my life after one month of us dating. I received a bag of chocolates, fuzzy socks, and my own Nerf gun from David (for use in our frequent battles with his nieces and nephews). He also read me a beautiful poem that he had written, which I still have tucked away in the pages of my Bible.  My anxiety turned out to be unfounded; we both loved our respective gifts and cards.

Once this requisite exchange was conducted, we then set off on our planned adventure for the day. We had chosen roller skating for our inaugural Valentine’s adventure since we knew it would be an activity we would both enjoy.  True to our expectations, we ended our session sporting matching ear-to-ear grins.

I leaned against David as we sat on a bench taking off our skates, filled with warm fuzzy feelings and beginning to think my previous skepticism towards Valentine’s Day might have been misplaced.  Just then, we noticed an elderly man approaching our bench.

“Now,” the old man said as he held up his hand when he reached us, “I don’t want to offend your girlfriend or anything, but I just wanted to say that she has the prettiest smile I have seen in a long time.” David and I looked at each other in surprise.

“She does indeed,” David agreed, smiling at me.

“Don’t get me wrong or anything. I’m married, I ain’t a pervert, I promise.  I just wanted you to know that she has one of the prettiest smiles I have seen in a long time,” the old man said with a smile.

“She certainly does, sir, thank you.” David replied.

“Yes, thank you,” I added as the man shuffled away.

It touched my heart that a random stranger had taken the effort to compliment me on my smile, making that day just a little sweeter.

Reflecting on the episode, I believe that the old man embodies what Valentine’s Day should really be about. It shouldn’t just be a day for couples to celebrate; neither should it just be about the roses or the chocolates or the exchange of gifts, whether between lovers or friends. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone took time on Valentine’s Day to sweeten someone else’s day and spread more love in the world? After all, isn’t that what Jesus calls us to do—to love our neighbor as ourselves?

One year on, the old man’s kind comment still stands out in our memories when David and I reflect on our first Valentine’s Day together. And this Valentine’s Day, we want to pay it forward and sweeten someone else’s day as well.