What is true holiness, and how do you worship? That's a loaded, rhetorical question that's been on my mind lately. I have a four-page translation that's due Thursday and I haven't yet begun to read the material for the Bible study I'm teaching tomorrow night. So here I sit blogging, pondering the unanswerable.
A couple things recently have brought this general topic to the forefront of my so-called mind. One is a general (although strong) desire I have to follow God and be sure that I am in obedience to Him. A fellow blogger posted a probing entry on the subject of heart-holiness recently, which has helped articulate my own uncertainty about the matter. Ashley and I share a heartfelt passion to serve our Lord with our whole being. I want to worship and be fully devoted to His use. I desire a heart like His. I fail so completely that generally I don't know where to start.
What's interesting is how confusion about a seemingly-trivial matter can throw me into a tailspin of uncertainty and even insecurity about my standing with Him. One thing Ashley has written a lot about is modesty, and I agree with much of what she and others convey to Christian women. Never particularly vain by nature, I don't think that's been a problem in my own life (although I don't own a single denim jumper and never will, thankyouverymuch). I think I'm pretty modest already, uncovered head notwithstanding.
"Is Next......SVIM-VEAR!! Veddy Niiiiice...."
Swimsuit season is nearly upon us.
Let me say from the outset, I strongly dislike bathing suits. Fortunately, living in New England, you really only have to consider them for about 5 weeks out of the year. But summer does invariably come, and unless you are a recluse or a Mennonite, there might be a chance you will be somewhere near a body of water when it's hot.
So yesterday I stopped at the mall with my daughter, who already has a bathing suit.
Just so you know, we're talking about 1-piecers here. I have never owned a 2-piecer, more out of self-protection than anything else. (Irish skin that has never seen the sun should not be exposed to the sun for hours at a time. Bad things will happen.) So I'm going through the racks bemoaning the fact that the only even REMOTELY modest suits for women only come in huge sizes. My daughter (the 12-year-old fashion consultant) directs my attention to the tankinis, which cover most, but not all, of the tummy. "These are more stylish," she helpfully offers. "I don't care what's stylish," I snap. "I care about modesty."
As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I realized the absurdity of that statement. If I really cared about modesty, I would not have been in the swimwear section of TJ Maxx. I explained that I hate bathing suits because they're immodest by definition.....when else does a person walk around with 90%+ of their body showing. My son clarified, "Well, that's because you're swimming. In the water." In case you're wondering, my aversion has NOTHING to do with body image insecurity or anything like that. I just finished drafting a 17-chapter book on eating disorders, and I can honestly say that is so 1993. BT,DT. This is rooted in nothing more sinister than a desire for reasonable Christian modesty.
I seriously considered buying a pair or spandex knee-length shorts and a top instead. My mind started spinning (I actually said to myself at one point, "What Would Ashley Do?") Then I chided myself for being stupid, and started an inner dialogue with the Lord. "Well, I don't think any of these are modest; even if they add a tiny scrap of fabric for a skirt, I would never wear a skirt that short....is having your back uncovered immodest? What if I just don't buy a bathing suit. That won't kill me. But.....Lord, what if the kids want to go to the pool this summer? Should I go and just sit there in jeans? Or not go? But then won't I be sinning by not being a good Mom? Well, you know my heart....." As I went down this rabbit trail, I realized there was no good solution to this dilemna short of moving to Northern Canada. So I suggested we go do something else (we were getting hungry anyway).
I finally did decide on a suit at Old Navy and my daughter and I each got "swim skirts" to go over our suits, but that's not the point. This ridiculous shopping dilemna points to a different battle I wage often: a desire to follow God's will (ie. be holy), and a seeming inability to do so.
I do not want to agonize over such models as this when I think of "holiness":
No indeed. Rules and regs distract us from the true purpose of holiness, which is pleasing God out of a heart of love. As CCEF counselor Ed Welch wrote, "Obedience is post-liberation thankfulness". It truly is a matter of heart condition, a concept that should be self-evident to any blood-bought child of God.
But here's the rub. Holiness is gonna show up in outward behavior. We are, in a sense, to be different and set apart. If we look just like the world, something's wrong. It's not a matter of measuring the inseam of your shorts to make sure they come within a centimeter of your own arbitrary standards of modesty.
But where does the line fall between hypocrisy, and necessary outward display? (Again, rhetorical question). Here's another thing I struggle with, that frankly I think is more serious than the bathing suit issue.
I do not like to sing in church. Now, granted, in my early years as a Christian, it might have been a childish rebellion associated with the nun in 6th grade who shrilly berated us pupils who had not sung in chapel. However, I haven't seen Sister Ellen Marie in 25 years so she doesn't get a vote here. It's an internal thing, and I can't seem to fix it.
The fact of the matter is, I can't sing. Not a note. I may have gifts in other areas, but no musical ability or sense of rhythm whatsoever, so those around me should be spared. Still, that's not the whole story - lots o' people can't sing, but there is clearly a biblical precedent for singing and music being acceptable worship. I can't weasel out of the injunction by claiming 'Well, my writing glorifies God and I tell Him eloquently all the things I love about Him. That's my worship.' Now, it's obviously true that we worship God with our lives and in many ways, but that's not the point.
Last Sunday, I realized something: people who raise their hands in church make me feel inferior. Yup. I actually envy them - because they are 'holier' than I, and are able to give God a purer, truer worship that I can't seem to muster up. This is a symptom of Recovering Charismatic-Wannabe Syndrome, without a doubt. Regardless, I should be secure enough in my identity in Christ that I wouldn't even notice.
But I do, you see. And I notice the phenomenal sound of the worship team (they are professionals and have released a CD), the predictable spontaneity of the worship routine - two fast songs; two slow ones - and struggle to squeeze the requisite emotion up like the last bit of toothpaste out of a tube. I have difficulty being joyful on demand. As horrible as this makes me sound, I confess that the emptiness I often feel during corporate worship only underscores my lack of true holiness. God forgive me, during the third song, I catch myself thinking, "only one more to go."
It's not a matter of disliking the music or disagreeing with the lyrics (with a very few exceptions). In fact, a lot of the praise songs we sing in church I also listen to in the car, and agree in my heart with the words. I still don't sing though, even in the car. Well, maybe once. Or I might have hummed. Does anyone else ever feel this way in church? The more I consider my aversion to singing, the more self-conscious I become about it, and that's yet another counter-productive rabbit trail. Focusing on "self" is the very opposite of holiness - including scrutinizing our own spiritual shortcomings.
I don't think the answer to cultivating holiness is "fake it 'til you make it", and in any event I'm not going to start getting jiggy with it in church. I am far too white and nerdy to consider pulling a stunt like that. I know God knows my heart, but there is just no music in my heart. This belies a lack of true holiness, the child-like abandon that the hand-raisers seem to have.
I'd like Him to light the fire again. I just don't want to sing about it.
6 years ago