Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Changing the Perception of Purity

I have something on my heart. It's not an easy thing to share because it's on a topic that everyone likes to avoid. But I'm feeling sassy enough to bring it up, so let's hope I don't regret it in the morning.
I started a blog post that was meant to gently share my thoughts on this but after more than half an hour and only finishing a couple scant paragraphs I realized that I was going about this the wrong way. So instead I'm unleashing my real, raw emotion because I think this topic deserves it.

Modesty. Purity. Sex. Breastfeeding.

In the modern American Christian church we've got a little problem. We've been teaching our young ladies and gents for quite some time that modesty equals covering your body and purity equals saving yourself for marriage. But I've got a bit of a problem with that. I do believe that God designed sex for marriage and I also believe in wearing clothing that reflects modesty. But there's more to purity and modesty than the superficial, outward reflections of what God is doing in our hearts.

It wasn't until Kris and I were engaged that I started to become aware of the major flaw in the system. Now, as we're approaching our five year anniversary and I'm breastfeeding our second child my eyes are increasingly opened to how skewed our teachings are.

I have talked to too many young women who walked into their marriages terrified of sex. Why? Because after years and years of being taught a one-sided theology of the importance of modesty and sexual purity they're lost. They've valued their virginity and their covered bodies so much that they can't find pleasure in the act of sex. They are filled with so much mental conflict over finally giving up what they've held onto for so long. Then, a little down the road, they are approached with the task of giving birth to, and breastfeeding, a baby. I have a little newsflash for you here: God doesn't reach down and place a holy covering on every new, modest Christian mom. Birth is raw and it's eye opening. Breastfeeding is a learned skill. Neither of these things comes as naturally as you might think and both require an immense amount of comfort in your own skin.

If we really want to impress upon Christian men and women that purity isn't defined by virginity, but instead a state of being in Christ, then I think we'll pull them into the depths of God's abundant love. That is where the real teaching begins, you know? But here's the catch: we aren't going to change this flawed perception of purity without talking about sex. I'm so tired of the idea that simply saying "Save sex for marriage!" we're somehow teaching a deep truth. It takes talking about the WHY and the HOW and the WHERE in the bible do we learn about that? In depth, real, raw discussions of the every day challenges of sexual purity in today's American culture.

What I want is for every woman struggling with this is to understand a little something that I've struggled with and learned along the way. Modesty and purity are as much a state of your heart as they are of your body. God made your body and he didn't add an ounce of shame. I want to see our young women saving themselves for marriage because they believe in God's design for sex, not because they think that God is standing in heaven with a checklist. I want to see them choosing clothing that is a reflection of the modesty and purity of their hearts, not a shallow representation of their church's teachings.

These are my very short and to the point musings on this topic. Seriously, I could go on and on and on. But I'd like to hear the thoughts of others in my faith community who have been a part of this generation of teaching about purity! Please feel free to (gracefully) share your thoughts :-)


Megan Hill said...

I Love this!

Being as we grew up the same way with the same teachings, and how I now as well am married and have children. I totally agree with you. Being comfortable with John in that intimate area of our relationship was hard for the first year. Honestly it was hard until I had children and through the process of giving birth I was literally forced into being confident in my body and self being. Being raise to in a social aspect where I was not confident really hindered me. And honestly, it goes for guys as much as it does for girls. I know John felt the same way. We were very uncomfortable and awkward for a long time, when we shouldn't have felt that way seeing as we were bonded one in Christ. It hindered our intimacy and feeling totally comfortable with your spouse. When I had Ryan, I felt so horrible and embarrassed when giving birth. I about had a heart attack when the herd of nurses came into the room when it was time to push. I was mortified that even though these people were trained in this, that I am just another number on their list and they are medical professionals, they were seeing me naked! God made us in his image. Yes, we do not need to go flaunting our bodies for all of creation to see, and I am the furthest thing from a nudest lol, but I believe in certain situations we should have confidence in our bodies. When it is with a spouse, feeding your child, giving birth, heck being able to look at our own bodies in the mirror and feel confident. We need to know and instill in the next generation that your body is beautiful, God made it and you to do AMAZING things like make a human being. You are right that purity is more of mind, spirit, nature, your walk with Christ, than it is physically. You could have had a past life as a stripper and as long as you are now walking with Christ and have worked it over with him on forgiveness and have changed your life around, your purity of heart in Christ needs to be your new standard and not what your past was. I love this topic! Also, coming from a mom that tried to breastfeed, I couldnt breastfeed my second son due to such high anxiety over the fact that this child was touching my breast. This is suppose to be a natural thing, but my mind couldnt get over it. Also, when I became pregnant I was initially excited, but as my body began to grow and change, I became less confident because my body turned into something that society has taught me in "gross", "ugly", or "fat". I dont know where Im really going with this, other than I agree!!

Mother of a Sea Monkey! said...

Intentions. Everything comes down to intentions. Modesty is an attitude, not a clothing style. Purity is an internal focus, not a physical set of rules. Both of symptoms of focus, not the focus itself.

What does a girl think when she puts her clothes on for the day? What goes through mom’s head when she nurses her baby in public? If their intent is to distract and draw attention, neither are being modest no matter how covered or uncovered they may be. If the girl’s focus is to dress attractively but not distractingly, then she has an attitude of modesty and purity. And if mom’s focus is to just meet the needs of her child, then she has an attitude of modesty, even if there’s some (or a lot!) boob exposed.

God practically screams this concept at us throughout the entire Bible! “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” “Man looks at the outward appearance (not in a good way), but God looks at the heart.” “Whatever is true, holy, right, pure, etc., think on these things.” Even in the epistles where Paul addresses wearing jewelry and other outward adornments, it still all goes back to an attitude of modesty. Not a list of appropriate hem lengths and necklines.

Do I believe in giving our girls (and boys too!) guidelines on what is appropriate? Sure! But in a “love your neighbor” kind of way; not in a way that is going to induce feelings of guilt over other people’s sin and devolve into shaming the innocent.

I believe in teaching my daughter to be aware of perceptions but not to focus on them. I believe in teaching my children to recognize other people’s struggles and to do everything within their power to come alongside and help, rather than be a hindrance. I also believe in teaching my son to look the other way and control his thoughts; I believe in teaching him that a mom breastfeeding her child is God-designed and having a child attached should be all it takes to de-sexualize the breast. Just like other parts of our bodies can be very, very sexy; but when those parts are being used for their primary function, then sexy is no longer on the brain.

The system is broken; but that is because humans are broken. What we can do is teach, counsel, and encourage one person, one child at a time. The world at large will not be fixed but Christian parents and church leaders can do their part to help the next generation of Christians have more grace and understanding toward fellow believers. And to gosh darn quit focusing on how broken the unbelievers are!! We know they’re broken!! That’s why they need Christ! If someone is concerned about rape culture and same sex marriage and abortion in our nation as a whole, then tell them to get out there and evangelize! That is the only way to do anything that lasts. Everything else: changing laws, moaning about how messed up everything is, getting angry over unbelievers doing what unbelievers do is useless. Start with one person, one relationship and bring them to Christ and let God take care of the rest.

But that’s a whole other soapbox…. :-)

Becca, this is beautiful. I am so glad you felt the need to put your thoughts into words. More people need to hear this message. I look forward to future blog posts on this topic!