I made myself a pair of cut-offs before heading to the beach last week, only this time I cut them to hit a whole four inches above my knee. Gasp! Scandalous, I know! But for me this is yet another step in my freedom from the life that I was once bound to; a life of rule keeping, list embracing, and a shame-based moral code with no room for error.
You see, for a woman like me who once donned only skirts and dresses that fell below my knees, believing that pants were immodest, that I should wear shirts with neck lines up to my ears. I also had a heart that believed I was doing it all right; shorter shorts are a big step in a good direction. For a woman like me, and maybe like you, modesty has been yet another mask of the imposturous self; another link on the chain of imprisonment.
While my life may have looked proper and pure on the outside, clothed from head-to-toe during those years, the extra yards of fabric only hid my fear of others discovering who I really was and the mess I had made. The worse things were on the inside, the better I had to make them appear on the outside. It was exhausting! I used a list of rules to secure in my mind that I was doing ok. My self-righteous heart told me that if I dressed more modestly than others then God would love me more; it was all just an effort to cover up the ugliness of eating disorders, self-injury, anxiety, and depression.
It wasn’t until I began to understand the gospel that I could see what I really was. I had just as much of a dirty heart as did Gomer (Hosea 1), yet I was living the life of the Pharisee. For years I tried to clean myself up on the outside so that I could make myself approachable to God, until Jesus interrupted my life with the same strong words that he used for those whose behavior he detested, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness”(Matthew 23:27). And then he told me that he wanted to hang with me, not the me that was properly covered up, not the me that was doing it right—or thought she was doing it all right. He wanted to hang with the real me – his beloved mess.
As someone who once dreamed of running away and joining the Amish so I would feel more at home, I have stayed miles away from this controversial subject. When I hear the call from blogs, books, and conferences to theoretically button up my shirt or lengthen my skirt, I feel as if I have just been punched in the stomach. Maybe you do too. You see grace is not grace if it comes with a set of rules that must be followed or else, it is not grace if it is followed by a “but”, and it is not grace when we pair it with an “if.” Grace is only grace when it stands alone in all its scandalous freedom.
So if grace stands alone then where does it leave us on the whole modesty issue? It leaves us in a free-fall; a glorious, liberating fall into trusting our sisters to the hands of their redeemer. Grace leaves us without the list of how-tos and without the question of “what-if?”. Grace leaves us to cling to Jesus and nothing else. And as we cling tighter and tighter to Jesus the doors to our prison cells are opened, our hearts are transformed by His one-way love, and we are set free to revel in God’s favor because we already have it in our nakedness.
Christ didn’t die for the way we dress, he died for the condition of our hearts; hearts that cling to sin whether it be in rebellious immodesty or in self-righteous cover-ups. He lived a modest life in every sense because he knew that we wouldn’t. He embraced whores, prostitutes, and tax collectors without reservation and pursues us with just as much longing and acceptance. He chastened the ones who thought that their outward appearance would impress his Father, the ones who couldn’t stand the company he kept.
Christ didn’t come for the righteous; he came for sinners (Luke 5: 32). That’s you and me. That’s the scantily clad and the covered-up. And that, my friends, is good news.