God, My Heart, and Clothes | Part 4
The following article, “God, My Heart, and Clothes,” is adapted from a chapter in the book Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World.
A Word to Fathers
Dads, I want to urge you to take responsibility for your daughters’ dress. Fathers are absolutely essential to the cultivation of modesty. When a young lady dresses immodestly, it usually means her father has failed to lead, care for and protect her. Without a father’s care and protection, she may be daily exposed to the lustful minds of men.
My three daughters are grown and married now, but from an early age I sought to impress upon them the importance of modesty. Before an article of clothing became a permanent part of their wardrobe my girls had to get my approval. This wasn’t always easy— for them or for me. Modest clothing is hard to find. Sometimes, they’d arrive home after an all day shopping trip only to hear me say: “That’s not gonna, work, my love. I’m so sorry, but exhaustion from shopping doesn’t excuse immodesty. We’re not going to compromise.”
Here’s what my daughter Nicole wrote about how my wife and I led her and her sisters:
My parents were committed to raising modest daughters. They educated us about how men are stimulated visually. They examined any article of clothing that came into the house, giving it a thumbs up or sending us straight back to the store with the receipt. I’ll admit it was frustrating to spend hours at the mall and have nothing to show for it. There were moments when that frivolous, selfish desire for cool, tight jeans overtook my desire to serve others. That’s when Mom and Dad would remind me of the young men who were trying to glorify God. My clothes could either help or hinder them. When they put it like that, I was quickly saddened by my selfishness. v
We must not simply oversee our daughter’s closets; we must teach them God’s perspective of modest dress, and educate them about the temptations of men. And we must have clear standards, informed by Scripture and not culture. This will make it easier for them to follow our leadership when difficult choices are necessary.
Author Nancy Leigh DeMoss provides two simple criteria for modesty: Women should avoid “exposing intimate parts of the body” or “emphasizing private or alluring parts of the body.”
Ultimately, fathers, your job to raise a modest daughter culminates and concludes on her wedding day.
Several years ago, my friend Lance Quinn asked Carolyn and me to teach at a weekend retreat to his congregation, The Bible Church of Little Rock. One of the messages he asked me to share was on this topic of modesty. At the conclusion of the sermon, the church’s worship pastor, Todd Murray, presented an additional appeal to the congregation. He urged all girls to consider modesty even when shopping for formal attire and wedding dresses. His words were laden with care and compassion, yet they carried an appropriate soberness. Here’s a little of what he said:
Ladies, please don’t forget to apply these principles of modesty to formal events and weddings. In recent years I have become increasingly grieved by the immodest dresses of both brides and bridesmaids at the weddings that I officiate. I have observed a number of young ladies in our fellowship who have dressed modestly all their lives appearing on their wedding day in extremely provocative dresses, exposing more of themselves than on any other day of their lives.
I assume the best about what is going on in the hearts of these young women. I don’t think that they went to the wedding dress shop determined to be provocative. No doubt, they just wanted a dress that would be elegant on this day that they have dreamed of all their lives. When a bride and mother set out on their expedition to find a wedding dress, they are, quite naturally, thinking like . . . women! Unfortunately, there is no one in the shop who is thinking like a man.
I’d like to make a radical proposal, girls. Why not take your father with you to the wedding boutique? If that thought is just too much for you (or your dad!) at least consider taking the dress out on approval and allowing your dad to see it before you make your final purchase.
Todd’s proposal might be radical by cultural standards, but it is the biblical norm. The standard of modesty and self-control shouldn’t change on your daughter’s wedding day. If anything, it should be even more important to honor God on that momentous occasion.
Having three married daughters, I know the challenges involved in finding modest wedding attire. However, with a lot of time and effort, it can be done. As Todd mentioned, the dad’s role is crucial in this process. I helped our daughters by providing guidelines for appropriate bridal wear as they went shopping with their mom and then giving final approval to their choices.
Once again, please be on guard against the temptation to be self-righteous toward those who choose differently. If you think a bride is dressed immodestly, her wedding day isn’t the appropriate occasion to comment on her dress. Simply rejoice with her in the goodness of God displayed in her marriage.
But if you’re a bride-to-be, or the father of a daughter who’s preparing to get married, I hope these thoughts serve you in your effort to plan a ceremony that brings glory to God.
The Right Adornment
Notice in 1 Timothy 2 that Paul goes beyond addressing a woman’s apparel. He says he desires “that women should adorn themselves . . . with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works” (2:9–10).
He’s very clear about what makes a godly woman attractive. “Good works” are to be what’s most noticeable about a woman who professes godliness. Not her wardrobe, but her good works—an observable lifestyle of serving others. That’s the appropriate adornment for women who profess to be Christians. And it is an evidence of the transforming effect of the gospel.
This may mean less time applying makeup, styling hair and choosing clothes. It may mean more time sacrificing on behalf of your family and your local church.
Adorning yourself with good works means less time shopping and more time serving. So, which are you more preoccupied with — shopping or good works? Now, this is not a categorical criticism of shopping. The four women in my life think shopping is a gift from God. It’s probably no surprise that I don’t view shopping as favorably as they do. I would argue that shopping is actually a product of the fall. But that’s because I’m a man. And as a man, I don’t shop. If I go to the mall, it’s to enter one store and buy one specific item. I’m not really “going to the mall”; I’m not walking in and out of various stores depending on what catches my eye. No. I’m on a mission to get a single item and get out of there as quickly as I can. But for women, as I understand it, shopping can be a relaxing and enjoyable experience, a gift from God. But that gift, like any gift, can become an idol.
John Piper writes about coming across a review of the book The Body Project by Joan Jacobs Brumberg. This book looks extensively at a century’s worth of changes in how girls view themselves. In the introduction, the author contrasts the diary of an adolescent in 1892 with that of a teenage girl in the 1990s. The girl in 1892 wrote this:
Resolved, not to talk about myself or feelings. To think before speaking. To work seriously. To be self restrained in conversation and actions. Not to let my thoughts wander. To be dignified. Interest myself more in others.
The 1990s teenager wrote this:
I will try to make myself better in any way I possibly can with the help of my budget and baby-sitting money. I will lose weight, get new lenses, already got new haircut, good makeup, new clothes and accessories.
The book’s back cover summarizes what was true a century ago:
“The ideal of the day . . . was inner beauty: a focus on good deeds and a pure heart.” In contrast, the environment for girls today is “a new world of sexual freedom and consumerism—a world in which the body is their primary project.” vii
This cultural shift — from good works to good looks — parallels the departure from godliness to worldliness. Women who are professing Christians must be discerning enough to resist and reject that shift.
So, what are you consumed with—your clothing or your character? What are you known for—your good looks or your good works? If you’re a mother, what is your daughter learning from you in this regard? She’s surely studying you; as she does so, what is she learning— the latest fashions or good deeds?
Once again, let me remind you that the Bible doesn’t forbid a woman from enhancing her appearance. But here in 1 Timothy 2, Paul isn’t just advocating modesty in dress; he’s insisting that more time and energy be devoted to spiritual adornment in the form of good works. And he’s warning about excessive attention devoted to appearance to the neglect of good works.
v. Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Mahaney Whitacre, Girl Talk: Mother-Daughter Conversations on Biblical Womanhood (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 141.
vi. The “Modesty Heart Check” is also available at the girltalk web site — www.girltalk.blogs.com. vii. Joan Jacobs Brumberg, The Body Project (New York: Random House, 1997).
This post is part 4 of 5; the entire series is also available as a downloadable PDF.