The Modesty of Personal Restraint
The Single Woman and the Modesty of Personal Restraint
by Lydia Brownback
As the spring season blooms, talk about modesty heats up in Christian conversation as fast as the weather. Bloggers, radio hosts, and the rest of us lament the shorter hemlines, deeper necklines, exposed bellies, and bare bottoms in thong bikinis at the neighborhood swim club. But immodesty deals with a lot more than revealing too much skin. We are just as prone,if not more so,to overexpose what’s under our skin.
Revealing too much about ourselves is immodest too. When Peter painted his picture of godly womanhood, it included outward modesty-how we handle “the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing” – but it also included the modesty of personal restraint-a gentle and quiet spirit,which, he said, is very precious in God’s sight (1 Pet. 3:4).
I wish Carrie had known the wisdom of Peter’s words. Fresh out of college and starting her first “real” job, she came to work each day eager to be part of the team. But after just two months of work, Carrie experienced a personal crisis, and it began to affect her performance. Carrie was never at her desk. Instead, she spent the better part of the workday pouring out her struggles to her colleagues behind closed office doors. Finally, a female colleague was asked to talk to Carrie and to put a stop to it. But Carrie didn’t understand. What was wrong with being open and honest? Were office friendships forbidden? It’s not appropriate, especially with the men, she was told. After all, how would their wives feel if they knew you were pouring your heart out to their husbands? Carrie had no boundaries because she lacked “a gentle and quiet spirit,” the modesty of personal restraint that Peter taught. Happily, Carrie learned through the experience and went on to cultivate a godly self-restraint.
There is a time and place to open up and share our sin struggles and personal concerns, and if we are careful to apply Peter’s words about the modesty of personal restraint, we will be wise not only about the time and the place, but also about the people we choose to share our hearts with. The book of Proverbs warns us, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (4:23). Along with this there’s general biblical call on all of us to love one another, which means that we are called to guard the hearts of others, too. We might be tempted to think that this verse is guiding us toward self-protection, but it is not. What we are called to guard is our heart -our passion – for God, and we do this primarily by holding at bay anything that would compete with that passion in ourselves or in those around us.
Sharing confidences and personal experiences with someone forms a bond. There is always an element of vulnerability when we choose to trust another with our confidences and with not rejecting us when our weaknesses are exposed. If we share a little bit with someone and all goes well, it seems safe to share more, and before we know it, a bond has formed. This can be a great blessing, but when we allow it to happen in the wrong context, it is unwise, and great hurt can result.
Single women are free to enjoy the company of single men, but there is a way to go about it that reflects Peter’s idea of modesty and keeps hearts guarded. Time spent in groups is always wise because group conversations tend to be less personal. The group dynamic provides a safety net for the heart. On the other hand, private conversations and e-mail chats lead naturally to bond-forming, and if you overexpose your soul in a relationship where there has been no stated commitment, you are risking the hearts of both involved.
Single women are not free to enjoy the company of married men – other women’s husbands- in the same way they are with single men. This includes pastors. Pastors are our God-given shepherds, certainly, but many if not most are also husbands. We are free to take our concerns to them, but there is a way to open up that shows appropriate personal restraint.. It’s one thing to seek our pastor’s counsel, perhaps repeatedly. But there is a difference between a genuine need for his wisdom and our desire for his attention and involvement in our lives. Countless phone calls and endless e-mails are probably going too far. This is the point at which most pastors will wisely redirect us elsewhere.
Inward and outward modesty is also a must in the workplace, as we saw with Carrie. Many women today are likely to spend some portion of their lives out in the job market. This means that men in the workforce spend more waking hours with their business colleagues -a significant number of which are women -than with their wives. Those of us in the workplace ought to consider that one of the primary motivations for modesty is safeguarding the marriages of our colleagues. A low-cut blouse isn’t necessarily going to lead to an extra-marital affair; however, when we recall Jesus’ words about what constitutes adultery, “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:28) we see the need to be extra careful about what we wear in the office.
Modesty of speech is also crucial in the workplace. Office banter can be a slippery slope. Working together is also a bonding experience, and, naturally, friendships arise. But because this is so, it is all the more reason to restrain what we share about ourselves with our coworkers. “Wait a minute,” we say, like Carrie did. “We’re just friends! There’s nothing wrong with that.” Oh, but there is. Sharing verbal intimacies with a man is the exclusive right of his wife. It takes something away from her when we focus her husband’s attention onto ourselves, however harmless our intent. The best of marriages takes work, and because of that there are certainly seasons in which a man can be especially tempted by an illicit attraction. The new and different is exciting to almost everyone, so even the most innocuous revelations about ourselves can prove distracting.
Of course, there exists the very real possibility that friendship with a man -a single guy or another woman’s husband- however innocent at first, will morph into something more. But if there is no commitment to accompany the attachment that has developed, or the attachment violates a commitment made to someone else, heart destruction is sure to follow. Believing that this can’t happen makes the possibility of it happening even greater. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall,” Paul warns (1 Cor. 10:12). We’re not above it. None of us is. No one intentionally seeks out a destructive relationship, but they happen all the time. And they typically develop one conversation, one shared laugh, one lunch meeting at a time.
Are you as modest with your heart as you are with your clothing? It is a great way to love your brothers in Christ. It is also the best way to guard your heart and the reputation of your Savior.
This article was originally published by NEXT webzine, April 2009 (Used with Permission). Lydia Brownback is the author of the On-the-Go Devotional series (Crossway); Fine China Is for Single Women Too (P&R, 2003); and Legacy of Faith: From Women of the Bible to Women of Today (P&R, 2002) and a speaker at women’s conferences. Lydia is an editor at Crossway Books, and she blogs at The Purple Cellar.