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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Hearts and Hemlines: What Does it Really Mean to be Modest?

“You know you can’t have that one, it’s a two-piece.”

“Um, no. Those are way too short.”

“Spaghetti Straps? Think again.”

If you shopped near Mak and I at Target, these are some of the things you would have overheard me saying repeatedly.

Until a year ago, modesty was kind of a big deal around our house. Don’t get me wrong, knees and shoulders were exposed—we aren’t the Duggars—but there were rules in place, and Mak’s wardrobe was carefully monitored for modesty. We were making sure she was following the rules.

But, here’s the rub. I started to realize that what I was wearing really didn’t have much of an impact on how I served God or his people. And if the neckline of my blouse didn’t affect my ability to love and follow Jesus, then maybe the length of Mak’s shorts didn’t matter so much either.

The wrestle continued as I read the following passage from Jen Hatmaker’s latest book, For the Love:

“If they (our kids) don’t love Jesus and people, it matters zero if they remain virgins and don’t say the F-word. We must shepherd their hearts, not just their hemlines.”

I took a moment to reflect on my parenting and what I was placing first. Was I prioritizing the “rules” over the “relationship?” Definitely. When my child is dressed modestly and well-behaved, I get to look like a good parent, and she gets to look the part of a precious Jesus Girl. But we know appearances aren’t what God values. He looks at our hearts.

Which led me to this question:

 Is there more to modesty than simply covering ourselves up?

As I began to think more closely about the idea of modesty and what it means, I decided to go to the source—the Word. Mostly because I’ve found it to be pretty handy when I find myself stuck in the parenting mud. Or any mud, really.

A popular verse for this topic comes from 1 Timothy.

“Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.” 1 Timothy 2:9-10 (ESV)

The Greek word for modesty used in this passage is kosmios, which means “orderly” and “well-arranged.”

It’s pretty clear what Paul is instructing here: we should be dressed in an orderly way, not overly gaudy; and what should be noticeable about us is our good works—our hearts.

Modesty means so much more than not showing too much skin, as most of us believe; it is an attitude. Modesty means pointing others to God and away from ourselves. It means that our kindness and our deeds should be more glorious than our new diamond earrings or gold bracelet. People should notice how we serve before their eyes ever see our pretty new handbag.

Modesty isn't as simple as being too sexual. It has always been about giving up attention we want for ourselves and giving it to God instead. Modesty has everything to do with our intentions, and very little to do with how we clothe our bodies.

 I fear we have taken parts of these verses out of context, and placed value on covering up our bodies, instead of baring our souls. It’s easier to measure the length of our skirts or the width of our tank top straps than it is to examine the parts of our hearts that crave the attention God should receive. Likewise, it is much simpler to ask women and girls to cover their bodies than it is for men to focus their attention on God rather than a scantily clad woman.

 I’ve sat through more than one sermon, as well as youth group events, where men make the request of women and girls to “help” them avoid sin by covering themselves up. Men are smart, honorable, kind beings—and, like women, they have eyelids that open and close, and necks that turn in both directions. Both of those abilities allow men to look away from anything that might cause them to sin. Even a woman in a short skirt.

Furthermore, women from all over the world who are forced to be covered from head to toe are still lusted after, and even raped. In Matthew 5:29, Jesus tells men who look upon women with lust to gouge out their own eyes—not ask women to cover themselves up.  If we wear an outfit with no intent to seduce a man, the sin is theirs, not ours. However, if we wear an outfit solely to attract the sexual attention of a man, that is intentionally taking our brother in Christ’s eyes off of God, and we are guilty in that case.

Modesty is being intentional in our hearts, letting Christ have the attention at all times.

I have had to examine my own heart as I parent my way through this whole modesty thing. I’ve had to look at my behavior and ask where I’m lacking modesty. Am I giving the glory to God, or am I more concerned with how I look to others? Do they see me before they see him? How do I change that?

So, as we go into summer, our shopping trips will sound a little different. Instead of dictating to my daughter what she will and will not be allowed to wear, we’ll begin with her heart instead. We’ll discuss why she chooses certain clothes and talk about the intent behind each piece. I’m hoping that by examining her heart instead of demanding she wear knee length shorts, we might both learn a bit more about who we are in Jesus.

Here are some things I’m going to ask her to consider:

Dress with yourself in mind:

Where will you be wearing this outfit?

What activities will you be performing?

Are you comfortable?

 Is your outfit age appropriate?

Dress with intent:

Why are you choosing this outfit?

Are you hoping to get someone’s attention?

 If so, why do you feel you need attention from that person?

What if we looked at modesty differently? What if we asked ourselves about our intentions? About which pieces of our clothing and accessories make worship about us instead of God? What about our behavior, tone, and actions seek attention for ourselves instead of pointing others to him? The terrain gets a little more rugged when we aren’t solely focused on whether we’re dressed in a revealing manner, doesn’t it? When we have to look at the rest of our outfit, or our desire to gain admiration through attention seeking, modesty isn’t as simple as being buttoned up.

So, this summer, I won’t police the hemlines or the the width of the straps. I’ll be shepherding the heart. God is so much better at leading my daughter than I am, and I am trusting him to guide her heart in all things-- even choosing a bathing suit.

Moms of daughters, I’d love for you to weigh in here. And moms of sons, I’d love to hear from you as well. I’ve got a boy coming up next, and I need your wisdom! 


  1. I LOVE THIS. I am a believer in dressing modestly (not too scandalous, please!). Your approach seems so healthy and wonderful. When my daughters grow up and stop wearing only the jeggings and t-shirts I lay out for them, I will be thrilled to look at this from your point of view. Love.

    1. Thank you, Allison! I was speaking to my husband about the blog a few nights ago, and said, "One day she's going to be an adult with her own money, and I want her to walk into a store and make the right choices because she knows who she is in Christ." I realize that I could force her to wear what I want her to wear now, but I would rather the lesson last because she knows who God is, and what he wants for her. I'm so glad this was helpful to you. And oh man, please enjoy the jeggings and t-shirts. It gets a little more complicated in a few years. Fun, too-- we share accessories :)

  2. This is great. I'm going to keep all this in mind for both myself and my daughter.

  3. Becky, thanks for sharing! I love this and the very good questions at the end. My daughter is only six but one day I will be in your shoes and this will be quite helpful.

    1. Megan, six is such a fun age! Twelve year olds bring new challenges, but so much fun! I'm so glad you found the post helpful :)

  4. Great piece. You have looked at that passage exactly as it was meant. We hear tons of sermons about gils dressing modestly, but how often do we hear one about dressing expensively? That was Paul's point--don't call attention to yourself for yourself. I love it, and I love the intent to talk to your daughter, hear her voice, and offer wisdom, not rules.

    1. Jill, thank you so very much for your comments. I appreciate your feedback and encouragement!

  5. "I fear we have taken parts of these verses out of context, and placed value on covering up our bodies, instead of baring our souls. It’s easier to measure the length of our skirts or the width of our tank top straps than it is to examine the parts of our hearts that crave the attention God should receive." This is very good. I have an 11 year old. This fall is middle school. Wow. So many feelings there. But this has been a constant conversation this year. I mean, I didn't understand modesty when I was in middle school or high school and I'm still understanding what it is. I totally agree that we are going for the heart and I'm not about behavior modification. I want to fully trust the Holy Spirit. I guess this is why we must keep praying as parents, huh? lol. Thanks for this post Becky. I really appreciate what you have said here. What a valuable and transformative job we have as moma- but even more- what a transformative job the Holy Spirit has! <3