Do Hard Things
I have a mean little censor that follows me around, and has for years. My censor is an actual person, a person in my life who at times has made me feel torn-down, stupid, small, and laughable. At least, my censor started out as this person, and then morphed and grew into something a bit different, a bit twistedly combined with other things, maybe a bit meaner. It's hard to admit about my censor because I'm embarrassed that I've let them bother me for so long--more than bother, actually; more like stunt, hinder, discourage. And I am sure for certain that this person has no idea how much they have impacted my life in some ways (and I know that's not their problem but mine. No one is responsible for my decisions but me, and I can't blame them or anyone for my own actions or inactions. Still, I wish people would realize how they really can and do affect others in good or negative, and often lasting ways...and I need to remember that, too. I've done my share of damage with careless actions and words.)
I'm tempted to think that none of you are following what I'm saying right now. But I don't believe that, actually. We all know that a hurtful remark can stick with you for days, years, or even all your life. If someone defines you in an unkind way, that label has an awful way of bonding to you like krazy glue (which Owen put on his cheek last week, but the way, but that story is for another post on another blog!). I gave my censor some of that power, (power I'm convinced they had and have no idea of) and when I let that become part of the fabric of my thought and my self-image, it became something that affected me often. It, in part, contributed to preventing me from taking risks, from doing things that I might fail at (because then I was sure my censor would be out there laughing somewhere, and letting others in on the joke). It often kept me from speaking out boldly, because my censor might label me this or that according to what I stood for or spoke up for. I often (not always) let myself allow this embellished, ever-present, exaggerated censor cause me to take the safe and boring and pitiful and unadmirable route to places in life.
And my censor still hangs around. It's a lot quieter, a lot smaller, a lot more irrelevant to my feelings than it ever was before, but it sometimes still wiggles its way in before I even realize what's happening. I'm having to ignore my censor right this moment, in fact, so that I can write my real, true thoughts on this blog.
A couple of days ago, while reading a book, I was filled with some conflicting emotions: part of me felt sad and ashamed, and part of me felt joyful and inspired. I'm reading a book called Do Hard Things, written by teenage twin boys who are challenging their generation to rise above the low expectations of society (I can hear my censor snort skeptically). When I heard about it, it really appealed to me, though it's written for teenagers; in fact, I think that was part of its appeal. Because, honestly, though I may not look like I'm 15 any more, I sure do feel like it in terms of my spiritual and intellectual growth, and many of my life experiences (or lack thereof)(in the area of motherhood and marriage I feel more mature, and so very blessed to have been able to have and experience these wonderful things, but here I'm talking about me as a part of society, as a person, and as a child of God.). I didn't expect as I read the book to come across a wonderful answer to a prayer I began praying back in May.
The book writes about a 16 year old girl named Katrina Martin who loves clothing and anything to do with it, and always has (sounds like me!). She wants to go into fashion when she grows up, but there's a catch: she wants the clothes she designs to be modest. She said that first she had a desire to dress well, and then that grew into a desire to please God with how she dressed. But she had a little problem: She really couldn't figure out what modesty meant. The book writes, "She knew modesty was a heart issue, but also a clothing issue. She was puzzled by the lack of resources, and she was especially frusterated that nothing she found presented views on modesty from Christian guys' point of view." Reading that reminded me of my own question to God that I started asking several months ago. "What is modesty, really? How do you pin it down? It seems to be different for everyone. How do I figure out what you want of me?"
It's like I wrote in my first Whatever Is Lovely post: "We live in a world where there are so many pressures, so many things pulling on us. We live in a gray world where there are some tough questions that need to be asked and answers to be sought. What is right, what is wrong? I know my husband is created by God to be visually stimulated and I want to be attractive for him. Where’s the line of how to be beautiful for your husband without being a stumbling-block to other men?"
Where's the line? How could I know, if it's such a hazy area? (Plus, what would my censor and others like them say? Won't they laugh at me and call me extreme? Won't they think I am legalistic? Won't they say that I want to be modest because I'm a judgemental baptist and this has something to do with the church I go to? Maybe the "real person" censor would say that, maybe not. But the hybrid, exaggerated, twisted censor that is reading this over my shoulder is laughing scornfully in my ear. But what I know is that I'm not doing this to impose unnecessary rules on myself. And I'm definitely not doing this to please anyone at my church, where I certainly will never win a popularity contest. And I just don't think of myself as a "baptist" or any denomination. I go to a baptist church because it matches most closely with my own interpretation of the bible, but I disagree with a few things our church generally believes. I find my pastor's sermons to be wonderful, intelligent, interesting, and founded on the words of the bible, and I feel that I learn a lot on Sundays (sunday school is great, too). But if my pastor were to say something that I felt conflicted with something the bible says, or was added as a side-note but not based on scripture, then I would reject it in the first case and take it with a grain of salt in the second case. My relationship with God is my motivation and truth--my censor is laughing here saying "Sure it is." and is calling me self-righteous--but anyway, I don't need a pastor or a church to be my conscience or my brain, because God gave me those things for my own. My censor would say that I don't watch certain movies or tv shows or read certain books because I'm baptist. I say that I want to do or not do things to please God, and I say if the bible tells me to do or not do something, that's good enough for me; I don't need it confirmed by a pastor to make me want to do it or not do it. My censor is labelling me but I'm sick of being labelled. I'm a person who wants to follow God. Label me that, and that's it.)
Well, I prayed what for me was a difficult thing to pray--for something that seemed impossible to get an answer to that I could actually apply to my life. But God proves as always that He's way bigger than the impossible.
Katrina, with the help of others, took the initiative and made an anonymous survey for guys and girls to take, posing statements like, "Low cut-shirts are a stumbling block." and then letting people rate that statement on a scale from "Strongly agree" to "strongly disagree." Then the voters were also allowed to comment on each particular statement and their reason for why they chose what they chose. It's an awesome survey and it's presented just as-is, as the results and statements were. In the first 12 hours the survey went online, it got 420,000 hits and actually caused the server to shut down. In other words, lots of people put in their two cents on this.
When I found the survey, I felt like God handed me a very practical reference to how Christian guys feel and what they struggle with. Now I can let my conscience and my daily prayer be my guide. (My censor is saying, "You must think a lot of yourself to think that every guy wants your bod." (-: There's one survey comment that I really liked that I feel explains my take on that. Here's what he wrote: "The most beautiful woman I know doesn't cause me to think impure thoughts about her through her dress. Dressing immodestly is actually less beautiful, and more sexual. A plain woman (not ugly or beautiful) can put on a skin tight pair of pants and a low cut shirt and cause just about any man to lust after her. That doesn't mean she's caused him to think she was beautiful." That's how I think about it. I don't think I am so irresistable that I must be a stumbling block to all guys. But I do think that if I dress in certain ways, I'm going to cause a guy or two to struggle or stumble, simply because of how guys are wired and the fact that I have female body parts. I used to try to get attention from guys with my clevage or short skirt or etc., but now I realize that I may have gotten attention, but I didn't get true admiration. I want to save my seductive side for Adam and Adam only, and try to convey lovliness to the world around me.)
I said I felt a little sad and ashamed when I read about Katrina and her survey. To be honest, I didn't so much feel ashamed because of the way I used to try to get attention because of my poor self-image, as because I didn't actively seek an answer to my question the way Katrina did. The past is in the past and I can leave it there, but I didn't really do anything to move forward from it. I think I know why, too. Because the issue just wasn't quite important enough to me. And because when I'm unsure about what I should do, it's easier to do nothing. If I had sought answers, I'd have had to do something about the answers that I found. I'd have that responsibility on me. I'd have to make a choice. And I only half-heartedly wanted that responsibility. But God helped me anyway, because he loves me so much, and because He's working for my good. He gave me the answers I needed though I barely sought them. He's pushing me to a place of responsibility in this area. Because He knows I'll be so much happier His way than mine.
I felt joyful and inspired when I read about Katrina, first because it was an answer to prayer, and also because it was an encouragement that there are other women out there seeking answers to these kinds of questions--she's ten years younger than me and yet I look up to her for her heart and her persistence. And I believe she will start her own clothing line, and that, with God's help, it will be great.
I know there are probably lots of people who will have differing opinions on this subject, people I totally love and admire. I value and respect those opinions and would like to hear them if anyone wants to say something. I don't want to debate or argue, just to hear and understand where you're coming from, if you have something to say. I still feel like this subject is different for everyone according to what God lays on their heart. I do feel that God has laid this issue on my heart and has given me answers specific to me and my motives and etc., but I believe at any given time God is doing good works in everyone He loves (which is all of us!), and they may not be the same good work at the same time. Maybe he's growing us in different areas at different times. What I know for sure is that 'He who started a good work in each of us is carrying that good work to completion'--each in the way He knows is best. (Also I could say a bunch more on why it's so hard for me to want to dress modestly sometimes, and why I feel like the men in our lives are in part at fault for our struggles with that, but I'll save that for another post, because this one is already frighteningly long!)
Here's a link to the Modesty Survey if you're curious. Click on "Survey Results." Don't be confused when you read a bunch of statements--those aren't the results. You have to actually click on each posed statement and then scroll down to see the consensus (I was confused at first. I was like, "hhhhuuuhhh??") .
Every day, I want to keep trying to figure out what is lovely; how to be the woman God wants me to be. I can see that God is and will keep helping me in this.
I want to, as one person wrote in on the survey,
"Walk like you are a princess of the Kingdom of God."