Part Three: Diving In!

August 28, 2008 at 2:39 pm (Articles, Godly Living, Modesty) (, , , , , , , )

I wrote in my previous post (part two) that my goal in these specifics that I am about to bring up is not to “lay down the law” as far as how we dress, but rather I intend to challenge you to think about what you wear in certain situations in light of your day-to-day standards of modesty, which should be based on God’s word (see part one) and be in submission to your God-given authority (father or husband).

So let’s dive right in to the first situation in which many girls are pressured to compromise their standards…swimming. Whether it’s at the beach or at a pool party with your church group or family friends, we need to be thinking about what we wear, seeking to glorify God in it. Now, some of you may not even believe in mixed swimming, and that’s fine—I encourage you to stand firm in that conviction, and I ask that you bear with me as I address the majority of Christians who don’t have a problem with mixed swimming. It’s been a challenge to know where to start since this is a potentially volatile subject, but after much careful consideration and consulting with my husband, I have decided to begin with my own journey…

My Own Story

At the age of 13 or 14 I was given parental permission and even encouragement to wear a two-piece swimsuit, so I went ahead and bought one. It wouldn’t quite qualify as a bikini—it was more like a sports bra with matching bottoms, so many would consider it fairly “modest”. I felt somewhat self-conscious wearing it at first, but my parents thought it was fine and as a result, so did I.

As I grew as a Christian, I began to question what I was doing, seeking to bring everything into submission to my Lord and Savior, so I eventually switched back to my high-necked one-piece swimsuit. I felt much more comfortable in it! And eventually I began wearing board shorts over it, covering some areas that were just a bit awkward to have exposed in public! This was an improvement (I didn’t feel so much like I was wearing underwear for all to see!), and I know the guys around me appreciated it, but I also recognized that even in a “modest” swimsuit, I was still eager to put it on and display my body—not all of my skin, so I was doing better than most—but I could still show off my form. Nevertheless, I continued to wear my one-piece with shorts. That is, until I found out there were other options…

One early summer day, at the end of my senior year of high school, my youth group had a get-together at our youth pastor’s house. They had a pool and, though none of us had come prepared to swim, we decided it would be a fun way to cool off. I ended up borrowing a darker colored T-shirt and some long gym shorts so I could swim. It was at this time that I realized I was the most comfortable when I was covered up! When I sat at the edge of the pool, I didn’t have to worry about my legs or rear being imprinted by the pebbled patio; I didn’t have to adjust my “bottoms” when I stood up; I didn’t have to put on nearly so much sunscreen; I didn’t have to worry about anything of my upper-half showing; and I didn’t have to worry about the inevitable fat rolls on my belly when I sat down. I was free from wondering what everyone else thought about my body—Was I skinny enough? Will they notice my “farmer’s tan”? Do they think I look as good as so-and-so over there? I was free to enjoy my time in the pool with the other girls, and I didn’t have to worry about any of the boys looking at me (whether I wanted them to or not). And the extra fabric, despite what I may have assumed, didn’t seem to slow me down in the water.

After that day, I never went back to a normal swimsuit. I’ve worn dark T-shirts and shorts for over five years now! At one point, when my family and I were preparing to go to the beach, they insisted I wear some kind of swimsuit (something that looked like it belonged on the beach, rather than standing out because it was “tacky”). This was a bit of a difficult situation. I told them I wanted to obey, but that my convictions were such that I would have a hard time going back to a swimsuit. I told them I wanted to find a surfer shirt made for swimming, and they said that would be fine. So I got in the car that day and headed off to a couple of stores, praying that I could find what I was looking for—the only thing that would be a good compromise between what I was most comfortable wearing and what my parents preferred. God answered my prayer and I came home with a made-for-swimming T-shirt that pleased my parents and fit my convictions! I praised the Lord for hearing me and graciously answering!

I share all of that to give you a bit of a background so that you know I’ve “been there, done that” as far as swimsuits are concerned. I’m not sitting here at my computer screaming at girls to cover up, assuming they all should know better. No, it’s not like that at all. There was a time I didn’t know any better. A time in which I flaunted my body and thought it was ok. A time in which I thought I was limited to what the world had to offer in the way of swimwear. But now I know we can do better. And we’re free to do better! Free to reject what our culture calls normal and free to create new options to the glory of God!

But before we get creative, let’s back up a little bit. Remember how we defined modesty as dressing and acting with a “sense of shame”? I want to take you back in time a few years (or in my case, over a decade) to our pre-teen days.

For Shame!

Back in 1997, I went to the end-of-the-year pool party for my sixth grade class. As an out-of-the-loop 12 year-old, I wore the same one-piece I’d worn since I was ten. My good friend and fellow outcast Tyra and I had a good time being, well, goofy girls, splashing in the pool by ourselves. Meanwhile, the more popular girls came giggling out from behind the side of the house. Some of them were already in their swimsuits—most sporting two-pieces of one kind or another. One girl, however, donned a pair of overall shorts over an apparently newly-purchased blue and yellow bikini. Her face was red with a sheepish grin.

By now the girls were in plain view for all to see. And by now the boys had paused their eating and talking about baseball to see what was about to unravel. With the encouragement and nudging of her friends, the bashful girl stepped forward and removed her overalls—and immediately wrapped her arms around her half-naked body! Why did she do this, especially considering the fact that she was already known as being fairly “loose” for a sixth grader?

Somewhere around the age of 12, most little girls become women. And most have some sense of shame about their newly forming bodies. This is natural! And perhaps God-given! A little girl learns almost overnight that she must take care to guard the treasure that has now been entrusted to her—she feels the eyes of people around her, some admiring her body, some more than admiring it, and some scrutinizing every square inch! Her natural reaction is to cover up.

Enter worldly wisdom, stage left. Perceiving a girl’s natural shame, her “more mature” peers and worldly psychologists alike encourage her to be “proud” of her body. Their wisdom would have girls “comfortable” with their bodies, with their sexuality—comfortable enough to flaunt it and eventually throw it away. The world tells us that as women we should take ownership of our bodies, be proud of them, and show them off without shame no matter what anyone else thinks, no matter what harm or discomfort it might cause others. This view is rooted in pride, selfishness, and sensuality. It shows no understanding of healthy, biblical shame, and it rejects a woman’s body as a special treasure created by God. Instead she is made an object and a tool—purportedly to be used for herself, but inevitably used by those around her.

The reality, however, is that most of us in America have bought into this way of thinking in one way or another. Some of us wear things that trip up many of our brothers, and we justify it by saying “It’s my body; I’m free to dress how I want,” or “They’re accountable for their thoughts,” or “I don’t feel convicted about that.” The truth is, we are responsible for our own actions, and if we “don’t feel convicted” about some of the immodest clothing we wear, it’s probably because we’ve bought into the world’s lies about our bodies and the attitude we should have toward them. We’ve allowed our conscience to be seared by the world’s proclamation of what is normal and good and right. Consider this passage in Philippians, chapter 3:

17 Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. 18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. 20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. (emphasis added)

So, those who are enemies of Christ, who set their minds on earthly things, glory in their shame. Their pride, their glory, is in the very things they ought to be ashamed of. When we set aside the natural shame that should lead us to cover our bodies, and instead “set our minds on earthly things” by buying into the world’s values of pride and self-promotion, we end up glorying in our shame. We boast in and show off what we ought to have covered up! Don’t you see that this has no place in a Christian’s life? In fact, a believer’s heart, in contrast, is set on things above and the day when we will see God’s glory and in which this temporary body, which Paul calls our “humble state” will be transformed into Christ’s likeness. Our bodies have been given to us to glorify God, not so that we can glorify our bodies (which would be equivalent to boasting in our shame). See 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 and Romans 12:1-2. The only time we are supposed to let down our guard is for the one man that God gives us to in marriage—the one man who is commanded to delight in our body as God has created us (Proverbs 5:18-19).

Have you lost the sense of shame you had in your pre- or early teen years? Let’s seek to “renew our minds” in God’s word and with applied wisdom so we will learn to be ashamed of revealing our body to anyone but our husband!

As we continue this discussion on modesty and swimwear in our next post, we’ll get into the specifics and practical application of sticking to our standards in this slippery situation!

part one / part two / part three / part three cont’d / part four

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2 Comments

  1. Situational Modesty and Upcoming Posts « Pearls and Diamonds said,

    […] for the series on Situational Modesty, only “diving in” to one situation thus far: swimwear. As I have tried recently to write about other situations I have come up dry. I really think that […]

  2. Part One: Setting Standards and Sticking with Them « Pearls and Diamonds said,

    […] one / part two / part three / part three cont’d / part […]

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