On Modesty: When My Heart Breaks

As I write this, I just finished celebrating my mom’s birthday. We went to Maggiano’s at Northpark Mall here in Dallas. We ate good food and pushed the limit with even better dessert. It was a good dinner and light-hearted conversation, but my heart kept getting drawn back to what I had just seen.

I spent most of the day getting my mom’s present together. Then I spent an hour or so reading my review copy of When We Were On Fire by Addie Zierman. It was about a little over an hour before I had to meet up with everyone, so I decided to head to the mall early to keep reading so I’d remember to stop reading and go to dinner when it was time. Yes, I promise I would have forgotten. It’s a GOOD book!

An hour passes by before I know it and I get up and start walking to the other side of the mall. As God’s providence would have it, I find myself walking behind four or five teenage girls. Fifteen, maybe sixteen at the oldest. A couple minutes go by and then I realize something. Each of these girls are wearing shorts that barely cover their butt (as in they have to keep pulling them down to prevent the shorts from riding up) or skin tight pants. It was probably the constant adjusting that drew my attention away from my phone in the first place, because I most definitely do NOT normally notice the backsides of teenage girls!

Y’all, this isn’t the ghetto. This isn’t even middle class suburbia. This is Northpark. This is where we find the ridiculously expensive stores, and the people with enough money to afford shopping there. It wasn’t that these girls just finished athletics training or cheer practice or working out. It was Saturday, weekend of Labor Day. These girls were wearing skin tight clothes and too-short shorts because they wanted to wear them. Because they felt cool wearing them. Because they felt like they needed to wear them to gain acceptance and approval. Dare I say, they felt classy. What’s worse, they probably did all of this subconsciously.

The second all of this formed in my mind, I stopped smiling from the funny Tweets I’d just read. My pace slowed, and my soul became downcast for these girls. All I could do was start praying, right there in the mall. My heart broke for the girls who watched Miley Cyrus “perform” at the VMA’s, and then be ridiculed by the very audience that drives the “sex sells” and “sexy means value” culture that she’d grown up learning to cater to all these years. My heart broke for the girls who see Miley as an idol, wanting to be just like her. My heart broke for all the boys who saw Robin Thicke participate in that debacle and walk away unscathed. My heart broke for the Christian parents who have no idea this is going on, because they’re so removed from culture that they don’t see its influence on their sons and daughters. My heart broke for the kids who are being given black and white rules on what they can and can’t wear without the parents explaining why it matters.

My heart broke because I have nieces around this age. Nieces I don’t war for nearly enough. My heart broke because so many of us thirty-somethings are so content to make this “modesty” conversation about us. We keep fighting for rights and freedoms to dress how we want, or we keep framing the conversation around how the men part of us view the women half if women dress a certain way.

My heart breaks because it’s so rare that we speak of modesty in light of the fact that our decisions, right here and right now, could begin to shape the culture for the next two or three generations. My heart breaks because I know that until we stop making it about us, and start making it about the nine year old and the twelve year old who knows nothing about any of this, that we’ll keep our blinders limited to what we want and what we feel we have the right to do or what we feel shouldn’t be done…and we’ll get nowhere.

Christians, brothers and sisters, until we stop fighting with each other and start linking arms for the sake of the next generation, we won’t be impactful in this area. Until this becomes about realizing that a woman and her body is valuable and is to be preserved, protected, cherished, and treasured instead of about feminism or complementarianism or power roles, we won’t be able to speak gospel into this conversation. We can’t speak gospel when the focus is on ourselves. Because gospel demands that we lay down ourselves for the sake of one another, as Christ did for us.

Thanks to a Twitter conversation about whether or not girls should wear bikinis, I’ve been working on a series on modesty (which originally started out as a single post). I knew this issue wasn’t really about clothing and was going to address what I felt was the root issue. But the more I think about it, this is even deeper than I thought. It’s about a cultural ethos that devalues women and relegates them to sex objects, even inside the Church. That’s what we have to fight, Complementarians and Egalitarians alike.

I feel completely over my head in this, and it’ll take me a while to think and pray through this, but that is my hope with this series whenever I am able to put the pieces together. I won’t speak perfectly, but I will try to point the conversation that happens in this space toward God’s love for each of us, and how that affects modesty and should affect our hearts, minds, and decisions about what we wear and how we think and act.

4 responses to “On Modesty: When My Heart Breaks

  1. Interesting piece. I hope we can get to a culture where girls can choose what they want to wear, be it bikinis, or too short shorts, and it not cause us to be sorry for them, or think they’re being immodest or worry about their futures, but that men will not be so drawn to the idea of woman as sex object, and then whether they wore bikinis or short shorts or acted like Miley at the VMA’s they’d still be a human to us, and not a sex object.

    I think that’s what is most important. Freedom to be yourself.

    • I can see where you’re coming from, and perhaps I should have waited to post this piece until after my initial intro to the modesty series, for fuller context. I do agree that men need to see women as women and not as sex objects, firmly. I also know that every time I have talked to a girl wearing these type of clothes, whether it be in youth group or friends of friends, etc. it has always come about that they feel like they have to wear these clothes to be desired, to be pretty, to be valued. It isn’t just men’s perspective casting this vision upon them either. It’s an identity issue at its core, for both men and women.

      And, I would submit that the people who have been outraged or heartbroken by Miley at the VMA’s and so on have been so precisely because they see women as more than a sex object. It’s the people who are laughing and cheering who only see women as sex objects. To be sure, in many cases, the former could definitely have expressed their thoughts better and more robustly.

      The part of this that makes this tricky is that God designed men and women to want sex with each other. So, part of this is natural, the way God intended. It’s when we view women as only good for sex that we come upon a twisted variation of God’s good design. Much like the chaff growing intertwined with the wheat, it takes much work and wisdom to separate the two from each other. That’s why I feel like I’m in over my head, and why this will probably end up being a research paper before it’s finished, lol.

      Freedom isn’t being yourself. Freedom is laying down yourself to be in Christ. Anything else we argue for is a poor substitute for real freedom.

  2. for some they might still choose to wear those clothes even after we have helped them know they’re loved as a human being.

    and that’s okay.

    I think you’re still focusing on the wrong part of the problem by focusing on the clothing at all.

    And while God designed us to have sex, I don’t think he designed us to want it as deeply as people tend to make it in these conversations. Sure we experience attraction, but I think even in husband/wife relationships we shouldn’t be thinking all that sexually about our wives, or husbands. We are capable of having conversations even with a completely naked woman without going there, at all.

    It is hard, to be sure, but it’s possible. And worth working towards.

    this isn’t to say we can’t enjoy sex, or like our spouses naked forms and be turned on by them, but we have to be able to turn that off if they’re tired, or not interested, we need to be able to at a moment’s notice go back to thinking of them as human and sister in christ first.

    and with women we’re not married to it shouldn’t even go there at all. it doesn’t have to.

    • I agree that clothing isn’t the problem, but it is a symptom of the problem.

      Yes, men can and should control their thoughts, but that only addresses half of the issue.

      And I think there are two levels to be addressed here: 1) A general cultural issue, where we discuss ideals for modesty and what may serve both men and women best, including but not limited to clothing. 2) A specific and personal issue where gospel needs to be applied and where walk in love and with grace while the Holy Spirit works on hearts.

      We often try to blend those two together, and that isn’t helpful to the discussion.

      On my phone now, but I may have more thoughts about the rest of what you said later…

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