A little over a week ago, I sat behind a man in church. I don't know him well yet, but we usually sit behind him and his wife. He is very active in the worship ministry of the church. He's friendly and welcoming. I have nothing but confidence in the sincerity of his devotion to Christ and no reason at all to question it.
He's a very laid-back, casual guy. On this particular Sunday, he was wearing a clean, untucked Hawaiian shirt and jeans. He was clean and tidy in every respect.
After a few songs, for which we were standing, I began to pay attention to the pattern on his shirt, and a repeating figure began to emerge from the busy pattern. It was a hula girl. In the context of a Hawaiian shirt, the hula girl certainly fit, so no surprise there. Upon further examination, the image emerged to me a little more. She was wearing the typical grass skirt, and a pair of halved coconuts. Yep. Hula girl all the way. It was obviously a cartoon drawing and only for the truly demented would the image have been at all erotic or a stumbling block in any way. And I have to admit that I found myself honestly delighted to see my neighbor wearing that shirt in the assembly of God's people, because of what it said about his heart.
As it happened (does anything ever "just happen"?), the sermon was on Romans 12: 3-8:
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
"I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think..." And then it goes on to point out that each of us has a purpose, a reason for existence, and it has to do with doing something for the service of others. Our pastor elaborated on the passage saying that there's a converse too that also applies: Don't think too little of yourself either. Self-deprecation has no place in the Body of believers. You've been saved by grace. You have a God-determined value and a role to fill.
The big idea here is not to think too much of yourself, and not to think too little of yourself, but just to think about yourself LESS.
So I see the man in front of me, and I imagine him getting up that morning and looking forward to being there, worshiping, singing, greeting people. So he grabbed a clean shirt and put it on and left the house, not spending any excess time on the toxic image-management attitude, not studying himself in the mirror and grinning with that "Wait'll they get a load of me" smirk and swagger. Not wondering whom he would displease either. Nope. He just wasn't thinking about himself at all. And that is so refreshing.
It reminds me in a way of what is now coming across as overkill on these modesty debates. I am raising four girls in a culture that sees their physical form as the one thing about them it can't get enough of. I'm so far greatly blessed that the ones who are old enough to be under the consuming eye of that culture are very inclined to make wise and tasteful choices about the clothing they wear and the way they present themselves. Yes, they are girls. Yes, they want to be pretty, and I certainly want to encourage that. Girls and women are made by God to be beautiful and he receives glory from the feminine form which is his design. I don't want them in any way to reduce or downplay their femininity as if it is something evil.
But I also really don't want to build into them an obsession about their image in other people's eyes either. No one is responsible for another's perception or another's sin. And overly emphasizing their body image can do no good at all but possibly great harm--teaching them to be self-obsessed; teaching them co-dependency (another toxin we women so often fall prey to, even in thinking we're being holy and righteous and diligent).
I want them to think about themselves less, and get on to the business of living the life that God has for them which is walking with him in all things, and using their gifts for the good of their brothers and sisters and the greater whole of humanity, moving his creation forward with their skills and contributions.
One look in the mirror. One quick check. Not a long study. Not a deep analysis of the visual image. A glance, and then, get busy, thinking less of ourselves at either extreme.