Monday, July 13, 2009

the mystery of modesty

Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments,
but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.

1 Timothy 2:9-10

There are many aspects of modesty. Here I will write mainly about modestly in the form of dress, but modesty could also refer to the way one feels about herself, how she talks, how she carries herself, and how she thinks. It seems oftentimes that dressing discreetly is perhaps the easiest practice of modesty, so this is where I will begin.

As seen in the verse above and others, women are advised to dress in modest clothing. Discovering the importance of modesty for me has been a journey, a journey that has kept me forever mindful of G-d's design for beauty and also of the fallenness of mankind. Modesty meant something different for Adam and Eve before they sinned than it means for us today in 2009. Eve owned no clothes, but was modest in her thinking, in her actions, in her love for G-d and Adam. So modesty must go beyond our clothing, but it needs to start somewhere...

Modesty and mystery go hand in hand. There is a beautiful section on women's mystery in the book, Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge. A woman longs to be beautiful, but not with just any beauty... a beauty that needs to be unveiled by a man. As the authors write, "One of the deepest ways a woman bears the image of G-d is in her mystery. By "mystery" we don't mean "forever beyond your knowing," but "something to be explored."" One of the most powerful ways a woman can foster her mystery is in the way she dresses. Once something is seen with the eyes, it is no longer a mystery. Men are intrigued by mystery, because as I wrote about earlier in "Hide-n-Seek," they were made to pursue a woman as one pursues G-d, who is indeed mysterious Himself. As Captivating goes on to mention, there is a sense of dignity in mystery as well. A mysterious woman must also carry herself with dignity, just as G-d is never without dignity. Dressing provocatively is no way to gain dignity.

If we women simply focus on ourselves, our mystery, our dignity, what the Scriptures say about modesty, perhaps we miss the big picture. What really opened my eyes was grappling to understand how men feel about this issue, and from what I've read and studied, godly men desire women to dress modestly, despite the fact that they struggle with looking at and lusting after scantily clad women because they are stimulated by what they see, as women are more stimulated by what they feel and hear. (If you have not read them already, read Every Woman's Battle, and then read Every Man's Battle so you see both sides of the coin). Men have to take responsibility for what they choose to look at, and we women need to understand that we are responsible for what we choose to wear. A woman's modesty can help train a man's eyes to understand what true beauty looks like in G-d's sight.

I found this beautiful quote from an orthodox rabbi's wife: "The Almighty, in His great Wisdom, has provided us with the laws of Tzniut, variously translated as modesty, privacy. Better yet, Tzniut is the de-emphasis of the outer self that enables the essential self to emerge. Practically speaking, this means that our behavior in speech, dress, and in the way we carry ourselves should convey the message to ourselves primarily and to others secondarily that I need to be attractive and not attracting. Attracting undue attention to my physical self proclaims that the totality of my person inheres in the physical presentation, that what you see is what you get. In contrast, when I am private and modest in my demeanor and to the extent I expose only that which is appropriate, my statement is that my body, important as it is, is no more than a vehicle for my essence. I am making the statement that it is indeed my character, my personality, my attributes which are the expression of the image of God in which I am created."

The way we dress also attracts the kind of man that we will end up marrying. My husband tells me often that he is attracted to my modesty. There is a place for modesty within marriage as well as outside of it. I found a very interesting article on modesty and mystery:( It states: "In general, mystery attracts. Something is kept secret and guarded because it is deemed too unique for common knowledge or benefit; it is reserved for the benefit of the select and privileged. The secrecy both conveys the intrinsic worth of what is being hidden and challenges and beckons the outsider to prove himself worthy of being privy to it. This is why a concealing manner and modest dress is so attractive and arousing. This is also why people can dupe others into thinking something is worthwhile simply by surrounding it with an artificial aura of secrecy. The reverse also applies: if something possesses intrinsic worth, treating it with respect and awe generates a sensitivity to this aspect of it." In other words, is your body worth something to you? If so, cover it with dignity until that worthwhile mate comes along with whom you can share it with. And even then, don't lose your mystery...

Dressing appropriately can be as simple as standing in front of the mirror and asking yourself (and G-d) if what you have on is going to invite a man to lust after you. As I shared with the class at PBA, this is what I mean by modesty: Dressing in a such a way that allows inner beauty to shine through, presenting yourself to the world in a respectable way, covering up those parts of your body that fuel sexual stimulation or lust, leaving something to the imagination by the way you dress. And this is not what I mean by modesty: wearing cheap, ugly, or plain clothing,
dressing like your grandmother, a total disregard for make-up or other beauty enhancers,
a lack of style, taste, or fashion sense when choosing clothes to wear. In today's society, I have found it difficult to find clothes (especially shirts) that I would consider modest, but I improvise by wearing layers or even by wearing some shirts backwards. Because of its importance to me, I find ways to put it into practice in my life. And I encourage you to do the same.

It's not about wearing ankle-length skirts or long-sleeve shirts... it's about the way you present yourself to the world, to your brothers and sisters in the faith, and to your G-d who has given us His infallible word as a guide.

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