Freedom for Personal Style after Leaving a Plain Church
The break for Thanksgiving was good; I cooked, and cooked some more, and kissed my baby nephew, tickled the next one, and took walks and played games with the rest. Everyone says this at Thanksgiving, but I don't even care that I'm going to join the cliche crowd; I am grateful for my family.
Meanwhile, I've been thinking about how hard it is to make good choices in style and fashion after leaving a Mennonite or Amish church.
In a plainer church setting, nearly everything external gets decided for people. What you should drive, how you should live, what you may have, what you may not have, who you should associate closely with, and what you may not wear. If you leave, it pitches you into a world you're not prepared to handle with much discernment. So little is taught about how to manage beauty, style and fashion that most people flounder along making... interesting choices.
Personally, I was never part of one of the “plain-plain” churches so it was easier to find my way, but it still took years to build a style I loved and felt comfortable in. Some of it was experimentation (buying clothes or products) but most of it was changing my understanding of a few things.
Looking back these things ended up guiding my clothing choices quite a bit more than I expected.
1. GOD ISN’T OUR CLOTHING SCAPEGOAT
I wish I had understood that “God looks on the heart” was never intended to be finished off with the unwritten disclaimer "now make sure you also wear clothes that please God." It seems backwards to me now to think that clothes could please God. If He's after our heart, and that heart is focused after His heart, than to Him there's probably little difference in the eternal perspective between an Indian sari or an American tee shirt. A cape dress or kimono. A regular suit or a plain suit.
However, I would never presume to speak for God, though it seems plenty of people do. Under the name of God many styles of dress have been condemned, when in fact all they were condemned by is man. Can't we begin to see how useless and at worst, spiritually harmful it is to take micro-cultural opinions and assign them as facts from God?
For example: do wear long sleeves if you want, but to impose that belief on someone else under the guise of a command from God is twisted and even dangerous. Certainly, make rules for your kids and help guide them into a good understanding of style and fashion, but never use God as a scapegoat for what is really your own (or the church's) reasoning.
Takeaway: it is unwise to say with confidence, "God says we should not ___" when it fact there is nothing God said that directly or contextually supports it. By all means, say it for what you believe and we can respect that you have decided this, but don't superimpose it as God's command with yours tucked neatly out of sight.
You can let go, and:
2. PUT CLOTHES BACK INTO THEIR PLACE
Growing up, I knew that the inside of a person is what is considered most beautiful, but I didn't act like it. The verses about the women in Paul's day (who invested all their worth in fancy clothes and hairdos) were held up as moral examples of what not to be, so it was easier to go along with all the rules and regulations that were going to protect against this error. What wasn't easily visible was the fact that all this doing was putting large amounts of time and effort into making rules that focused heavily on the external anyway.
It never fixed the heart of it. Our rules were our validation, just as the fancy clothes and hairdos gained some measure of approval for the women in Paul's world. Many of us had missed the point just as they had.
Somewhere along the line God's love became more and more real to me, and along with it the realization that He has next to no interest in nit-picking over clothes. If he had, wouldn't there have been clothes and clear directions from the beginning? I saw that while it was still necessary to wear clothes (I hear all the gasps of relief) it was for the sake of people. We became naked to each other, not God, who has always seen us just as we are. God, as it turns out, was after our hearts all along.
There is a restful simplicity in that confidence. With this reality the choices we make are no longer from the shame we feel, but knowing that He sees things from the inside out, and He is restoring us. It is true freedom to give up our own notions of what is right, and realize that a heart full of adoration toward God is what pleases Him most. With this understanding it is possible to stand up straight, and create expression, interest, art, color, sophistication, and beauty in personal style. It is equally possible to stay in a church with rules and regulations to follow simpler codes of dress.
Takeaway: clothes were never meant to bear the weight of acceptance, and clothes can't be "wicked" or "holy" unless we are. It's why you can be a Mennonite and praise God. It's why you can take that same person, transfer them to India, put them in a sari, and they can worship God. You can argue until the cows come home that clothes are important, but your argument will hold no water until it is acknowledged that they can't change a person.
After things are set in order on that point, we can begin to have reasonable conversations about what to wear. Meantime:
3. REVEL IN THE FREEDOM
I think we’re all much too hard on each other. Leaving a tight-knit world where everyone looks and thinks the same to a world that is highly individualistic means sensory overload. What looks glamorous from afar easily turns into cakey makeup, heavy blue eyeliner, zebra nails, and interesting clothing choices in the hands of the amateur. It screams "I have no clue what I'm doing."
It takes time, and thought. Sometimes it takes years for confidence to straighten and stand tall. It takes years to build a style that takes little thought when you wake up and get dressed. It takes grace.
Perhaps you have had time to sort some of this out, so now it is time to look past some of the faux pas of the amateur and think of how fun it is to have those rainbow glitter fingernails for the first time, even if it is on a 32-year-old woman with five kids trying it out. Maybe it's tacky, but she'll find her way.
- Think of what an awesome mom she is, stepping out bravely in color and glitter. I bet her kids just adore her.
- Think of the way she probably met God that morning in the rainbow colors of the sky, over a steaming pot of hot water-turned-into-coffee, and danced in her heart for the joy of life.
- Think of how delighted God was to meet here there, and probably acknowledges those nails were pretty on her, because they came from the overflow of a spirit and soul that were resting in Him. After all, His view starts there, at the heart of it all.
And you likewise: rejoice, and dance in freedom. Realize that God looks through your heart, and people will also eventually get there if you are patient with them.
I'm delighted you were here today.