(Photo by Selma Komisky)
Purity From The Inside Out
By Cherise Stewart
Growing up in a strict Pentecostal church, my idea of beauty was not formed by the society around me, since for me watching TV or movies was not permitted. Instead, my idea of a woman’s beauty was defined by modesty, obedience, and long uncut hair.
In both my church and the outside world, we women had some strict standards to live up here to. No make-up, no pants, skirts below the knee, shirts to the elbow, no jewelry, and long uncut hair. Modesty to the utmost limit.
Much of these “standards” were reinforced by scriptures such as this one: “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes” (1 Timothy 2:9, NIV).
We couldn’t argue with the Bible, so this meant that we young women had to get creative on how to differentiate ourselves.
For me, this meant funky tights, bright colors, big hair, fun purses, and the most unique shoes I could find… Oh, how I loved the shoes! I learned to have fun with my style while staying within the limits of “the rules.”
The problem was that under all the hairspray, clear mascara, and perfectly perfected outfits was the message that it was our job to keep the men and ourselves pure.
Keeping the men from having any “inappropriate” thoughts or feelings about us was our responsibility. We were not to tempt the men to commit adultery with their eyes.
We were the primary source of lust and temptation.
The UPCI Positional Papers state that, “The basic reason for modesty of dress is to subdue the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life.” The UPCI document continues, “The exposed body tends to arouse improper thoughts in both wearer and onlooker” (https://www.learnreligions.com/guidelines-of-the-united-pentecostal-churches-700118).
With all the focus on how we looked on the outside, there was not much attention paid to what was going on inside. We missed the message that we were created in God’s image, beautifully, and purposefully made.
Our bodies became a source of shame, something to be hidden. Shame has a way of making us feel small, unimportant, and unworthy.
Brene Brown explains, “..a well-known research professor at the University of Houston who is an expert on shame, vulnerability, and resiliency, defines shame as ‘the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection” (https://www.promisesbehavioralhealth.com/addiction-recovery-blog/damaging-effects-of-shame/).
We missed the message that we were more than the clothes we wore, the length of our hair, or how obedient we could be. If we failed to conform, we were rejected. We were robbed of the truth that God does not care about how we look, he cares about our hearts.
Even though you may not be in the same situation, you may feel the pressure of the world around you to conform. We are all influenced by the world’s standards of beauty and sometimes compromise ourselves, our values, our purity, or our peace to fit in with the people around us. When we fall short, we can feel rejected and unworthy of love or belonging.
You might be carrying some shame and not even realize it. Shame is the opposite of Grace. It holds us back from living out our God-given purpose. It keeps us small. Shame tells us we are responsible for controlling others’ thoughts or behaviors. Shame is the lie that we don’t deserve to belong.
God has made you for a purpose. He knit you together in your mother’s womb and you are perfectly and wonderfully made (Psalms 139:13-14). Our purpose does not involve compromising ourselves for the sakes of others. It also does not involve shaming ourselves to please (or not tempt) the people around us.
God wants our beauty to shine from within. The “LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7, NIV).
Take a moment to consider the ways you might be compromising yourself to fit in with those around you, without even realizing it. Reflect and ask God to take any shame you have been carrying and replace it with his love and grace. After all, it’s your heart he is really after.