The Oxymoron of “Modesty”

I am having a difficult time deciding how to begin this blog, so, I am just going to throw it out there and begin.

Yes, that is a picture of me in my beach attire. I thought it was fitting for the theme of the blog. Plus, it is a flashback to warmer days on the beach, there is currently snow on the ground outside my window.

This is a touchy subject, and I’m sure it will offend someone, but then again, someone somewhere will always be offended right?

Modesty.

I told you this would be a tricky one. Before I dive into the details, let me explain why.

I recently happened upon a Facebook post from someone I do not know personally bragging about their “modest” beach apparel. In this post, they specifically stated they didn’t mind people looking at them in such clothes.

Herein lies the problem.

For those of us who grew up in the UPC, or other such organizations, women’s modesty was taught as clothing rules: skirts or dresses only, to be worn below the knees, past the elbows and above the collarbone. The UPC tacks on a few additional rules just for fun, such as no makeup or jewelry, The verses used to support such beliefs are Deuteronomy 22:5, 1 Timothy 2:9, and 1 Peter 3:3.

Now, this blog is not to debate the pants and skirts argument that stems from Deuteronomy 22:5. To be honest, I am tired of that entire conversation, as it is such a ridiculous debate since we are no longer under the Old Testament law, and said verse clearly does not apply to us. Not to mention, people wore robes in Biblical times, there were no pants and skirts back then so this argument all the way around is moot.

The point of this blog is the definition of “modest” in the Bible. The UPC as a whole seems to miss the boat entirely as to what this word actually means. And honestly, it’s a little frustrating to watch. The main verse they use to promote their doctrine of modesty is 1 Timothy 2:9-10:

In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.

I included the KJV here, as this is the version I grew up with and most often have heard cited by UPC ministers.

In the UPC, women are praised for how “modest” they are with their clothing, after all, modest is hottest right? But what truly is modest? As I already mentioned, their version of modesty is a skirt or dress that stays within certain guidelines. It doesn’t seem to matter to them the cost of their modest clothing, the elaborate styles of their hair, or the brand name of their church high heels or purses. They also don’t seem to mind, and actually take pride in the way dressing as such brings attention to them in public.

Let’s take a closer look from the “world’s” viewpoint.

In today’s society, women wear pants, people wear swimsuits to the beach, and beehive hairdos are not exactly seen on a daily basis. Keeping those facts in mind, let’s be honest with ourselves, dressing in UPC style attire makes you stand out like a sore thumb. It makes you look like a religious zealot and makes you pretty much unapproachable to the average person. Is this the version of modest Paul was going for?

Let’s look at 1 Timothy 2:9, 10 in the NLT to help break it down:

And I want women to be modest in their appearance. They should wear decent and appropriate clothing and not draw attention to themselves by the way they fix their hair or by wearing gold or pearls or expensive clothes. For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do.

“Not draw attention to themselves”, right there that seems to blow the UPC version of modesty right out the window. But to be fair, let’s continue researching.

Personally, when researching a particular subject or verse, I like to go back to the original Greek text and use an interlinear Bible app to compare. Here is the verse laid out as it is directly translated from Paul’s original writing:

Likewise also women in apparel respectable with modesty and self control should adorn themselves not with braided hair or gold or pearls or clothing costly.

This doesn’t say anything about standing out from the “world” or looking different. In fact, if we look at 1 Peter 3:3,4 these verses seem to go together in theme:

Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. This is how the holy women of old made themselves beautiful. They put their trust in God and accepted the authority of their husbands.

Modesty according to the Bible has absolutely nothing to do with how long your skirt is, what you are wearing to the beach, or how plain your face looks without makeup, but everything to do with your attitude and how you should behave in moderation in every aspect of your life. I certainly don’t see how writing a long post about how you wear a “modest swim skirt” to the beach for people to stare at you lines up with the Biblical definition. In fact, it pretty much goes against what Paul was trying to convey. Even if you go back to the King James Version of 1 Timothy 2:9 it includes the word “shamefacedness”. What does this word mean exactly?

The definition for shamefacedness is this:

Showing shame, bashful, modest, or shy.

Sigh… I suppose the entire point I am getting at is this: is modesty sticking out in public and being proud and bragging about it? Or is it more along the lines of not standing out in a crowd and being approachable to those who may be looking for a shoulder to lean on?

Even Jesus himself got frustrated with the religious folks of his day with their long phylacteries that they prided themselves in. Here are Jesus’s own words regarding this practice:

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Matthew 23:12 ESV

I could go on all day about this subject, this is definitely a trigger for me, but I will end on this note, research.

Research for yourself the definitions, Biblical context, and today’s application for words thrown around in religious societies. Had I never looked through an Interlinear Bible app or challenged ideas like the definition of modesty I would still be in the same boat as the poor woman who posted pridefully about people looking at her in her swim attire.

Do I judge her clothing choices? No. Do I care if she wears a skirt to the beach? Not even a little bit. But I do take issue with the misuse of Bible verses and the idea that others who chose not to stick out in public are being “immodest”.

Those ideas are what I am speaking out against.

Not Alone

Sitting on a rock over looking a gorgeous lake at a women’s retreat I begrudgingly accepted an invite to, I am recapping this morning’s events thus far.

It’s not that I wasn’t looking forward to getting away from the usual hustle and bustle this weekend, but it was more the usual social anxiety putting a damper on my promised relaxing weekend away.

As usual, the awkwardness of having to open up to people I barely know is uncomfortable to say the least.

Not to mention, I am used to the ladies retreats of my past where you are constantly with a group of people and expected to show up, dress up, sit through several long services and shop till you drop for two and half days straight. There was very little quality time with you and God, and even less time to connect to the people around you with no pretenses in place.

I suppose that was a little of what I was expecting.

I feel like I came expecting the worst.

And let’s be honest, waking up to a room of chatty Cathys this morning at 6 am was not exactly my cup of tea, but something did occur to me today.

While the panic attacks, triggers, and loneliness I have experienced in the last 3 and a half years have come as a surprise to me, I realized today, I am not alone in the struggle. No pretenses here, just a group of real women, who like myself, face monsters from their past and struggle with the feeling of not being good enough.

There is something to be said about the realization you are not alone in your crazy. There is something reassuring and almost peaceful to acknowledge the fact we all have our own portion of insecurities and issues. There is a calm that occurs from the depths of your soul when you look around the room and are honest with yourself and those around you in saying you don’t feel like enough.

And we aren’t enough, not by ourselves. But with the redeeming power of the cross on our side, we are a force to be reckoned with.

I wish I could be an open, outgoing person who loves to meet new people and takes on a weekend away with 150 women who are practically strangers head on with no insecurities. I am not that person. Maybe some day, but right now, that is not me.

But for right now, I am content. Content to sit by myself for a while inhaling the magnificence of my surroundings. Just me and God. Because with Him, I am enough.

This Is What Healing Looks Like.

Heads bowed as we sit in a circle as a family. Tears streaming down everyone’s faces as we each take turns pouring our hurts out to our Heavenly Father.

I would be a fool to think my children have any less battle scars than I do. Even though they are young, and were so young when we left, they each carry their own baggage, and the weight sometimes seems unbearable. Somedays, I can see it all over their faces as they learn to navigate through the land mines of past relationships.

But, as we sit in a circle as a family and expose our hurts to each other, we are strengthened. I learned that while my son is currently struggling with a past friendship, he has recently officially given his life to Christ, and is working toward having a closer relationship with God. Just listening to him describe his own personal revelation of Jesus and God’s grace made my heart swell.

My daughter who is more beautiful than she knows, and recently experienced a blatant snub from someone in her past life has matured so much in her prayer life. As she spoke with God, I can feel the burden in her heart toward those we left behind. Even if some of those people no longer look at her the same, she is still concerned for their well being.

My wonderful husband, who is my rock, still reeling in pain at times from the passing of his father, praying over his children with grace and compassion, leading our family through change both good and bad.

This is healing. The tears, the laughter, the pain and the growth.

Healing looks like my daughter’s smile, and her tears. Healing looks like my son’s compassion and his anger. Healing is both my triggers and my blessings.

Healing is all of these things wrapped up in prayer and given to God.

This is what healing looks like.

Triggers Are A Thing.

Completely transparent, open and honest blog today. This probably will solidify any thoughts anyone may have about my current level of crazy.

Triggers are a thing. I had no idea.

I have heard it said, read about it at times how certain words or things can “trigger” someone’s anxiety and to be honest, I had always sort of dismissed it. Now, I get it, and it seems so silly that it happens to me.

I have been blessed beyond measure in my lifetime so far. I haven’t experienced any obvious trauma like so many other people. My problems seem so trivial compared to some. And I am thankful.

To be completely honest, the fact that I am seemingly so hung up on getting past the church hurt is frustrating to me. There are some days I feel like I am conquering, but then it seems, more often then not, I feel overwhelming waves of anger, anxiety or hurt all over again. I get upset with myself for allowing these feelings to creep in.

The level of betrayal is mind boggling. Not only did the church you invested your life in deceive you, many of the people who were supposed to be your “church family” leave you high and dry. You feel foolish and taken advantage of. But, I am two and a half years out, why do I still struggle with this?

Prime example: a few days ago my husband and I were watching a documentary about the Jonestown massacre. Horrendous act of pure evil. But did you know, Jim Jones got his start in a Pentecostal church? The documentary showed clips of an Apostolic church service like what I grew up in and I lost it. No, I am not comparing the Jonestown massacre to leaving the United Pentecostal Church, or saying that Jim Jones was Pentecostal in any way. He was clearly a sociopath. However, simply the images of that church service were triggering for me. I couldn’t sleep, I felt panicked all over, and I bawled like a baby. It was definitely a uncontrollable physical response I can’t explain.

Another example: someone having a completely normal conversation with me and they drop the word “truth”. That’s the worst. In the church, that word was used all the time. As in, we have the “truth” and all the other churches are just a waste of time and will send you straight to hell. Now, just hearing the word “truth” makes me weak in the knees and my stomach turn. It is an involuntary physical response. It is so crazy!

If someone had come to me and told me these things while I was still in the UPC, I would have thought they were feeling conviction and God was telling them they were wrong for leaving. That view seems so small to me now, but it still echoes in the back of my mind. When we left, someone said to me they hope I can’t sleep at night and would be completely miserable until I came back. Even though I KNOW better, I still think, did I mess up by leaving? It’s a torturous cycle that I cannot wait to break.

It just goes to prove, spiritual abuse is real and man, does it mess with your head. Even though logically, I have no real doubts about leaving, and I also firmly believe I am where God wants me, somehow these illogical teachings still sneak in without warning. It’s exhausting and I am over it.

I am excited Thanksgiving is this week! Spending days with friends and family will give my mind rest. I have so many blessings to be thankful for, the cross, my family, and the peace of God that passes all understanding just to name a few! Going to try hard to focus on the positive, because even though I have triggers, I am so much happier overall than I have ever been. And for that, I am thankful.