Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Of Bathing Suits, Holiness, and Hand-Raising in Church

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.


Ashley Weis said...

PS- I am not, nor do I want to be, Catholic :)

Ashley Weis said...

And on to my comments about this post, now that we know I'm not Catholic. :)

First of all, that's hilarious that you wondered what I would do. LOL! For the record, I have a tankini with a skirt bottom, and I ONLY wear it around my family. I don't go swimming around extended family members. We don't even bother going to the beach IN season (but we do go off season). George doesn't want to dodge half-naked women all day and I don't want men staring at my half-naked body.

Although, I did see these bathing suits: http://www.modest-swimwear.net/

Although I don't see a need for those, since I don't swim around other men anyway. If I'm with a bunch of women.... who cares... but there's no need for other men to see my like that... no thank you!

For Christmas, I'm getting you a jumper and one of those bathing suits, to help you become holy. :)

Anyway, I know what you mean about people raising their hands... but honestly, I dated a guy who did that and behind the scenes he was looking at child pornography and doing sexual things with other men and gambling his life away. SO, I guess that's why we're not supposed to compare and envy, we really don't know what's going on in the heart!

But personally, I do admire women who seek modesty. I mean, truly, truly seek modesty IF their hearts are in it, and they aren't just doing it out of some strange need to be plain to feel holy and humble. If they truly are humble, then I admire them for what they are doing, because I don't know if I could ever be like that.

But I don't know if I quite envy them... If they are free in that, and I am free in what I'm doing because of Christ, then we're all in the same boat.

But I do wonder what holiness looks like when it's manifested in our lives. Especially when so many non-Christians think we are all a bunch of phony, half-hearted, annoying people who use Jesus like a drug and don't live any differently than non-Christians....


So yeah, and I'm not Catholic!!!!

Barbara said...

Take courage, dear Pilgrim.

Matthew 14:

Peter said to Him, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." And He said, "Come!" And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus.

But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!"

Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"

When they got into the boat, the wind stopped.


Do you imagine, as I do, a man who has taken his eyes off of His master and turned them to the situation around him, momentarily placing greater faith in his ability and his situation than in the Christ who called him?

These battles are why Spurgeon's morning June 28th reading stays so ever-present as a comfort.

You may also appreciate Chapter 19 of All of Grace - Why Saints Persevere.

His yoke is easy and his burden is light. If the law could save, Christ would not have had to die.

Marie said...

Yipes; mea culpa! Please forgive me!! Well, even if you were I'd still love you anyway. ;) I'm not a full-throttle 5-point Calvinist, either. We're all on this journey together.

Yes, "WWAD?" actually flashed through my mind for a sec. Perhaps we should start making bracelets with that theme? LOL! I knew you wouldn't be offended by my posting that - it's all in good fun. We take ourselves way too seriously at times (general 'we') but I've gotta tell you, I've gleaned much food for thought from your writing. Being principled is important, but you can totally see where I fall into the trap of comparing myself to others at times and wondering what others would think. (gasp!)

We're not big beach people, either - but maybe b/c we're so busy.

As a side note, my husband had the opposite problem when we first moved here from Bulgaria - over in Europe, ALL the guys wear Speedos. Even the elderly. So he couldn't understand why he was getting funny looks the summer we spent down in VA. Then he noticed the ridiculous, down-to-the-ankles baggy trunks the American guys wear in the water, and figured he'd better conform. I still tease him about his old "Speedo"!

Marie said...

Thank you Barbara; I will check out those links as soon as I finish this translation. I love Spurgeon and he seems to have a rare insight into the weaknesses of the human heart.

I do try to rely on Christ's holiness and not my own, b/c none of us can simply conjure it up on our own - but still, there is that principle of what Jerry Bridges calls "dependent responsibility". He does expect us to give our whole hearts. Sometimes I find my heart just isn't in it. More noticeable when I happen to be in church at the time, KWIM?

Barbara said...

I've had that feeling of being constricted to the point of gracelessness and my love being darkened, as if a snake (serpent?) were wrapping tightly around me, squeezing out all life and joy. And I'm saying this probably as much as to me as I say it to you, because it is such a constant (and common)battle. The Galatians, who had fallen prey to the Judaizers, remind us this is an old battle against an even older enemy.

We can never be perfect in this flesh - we are not yet glorified. And as long as that flesh hangs on, you can't give your whole heart of your own strength (see Romans 7). I know I often have to confess my idolatry of self and ask Him to break it and make it His own. "God, I've still got way too much of me in me, please make me Yours, save me from myself..."

I found early on in the absence of any leadership that I would go to Christ and His word for my answers to these things and I found Him to be faithful to answer through His word and through faithful, godly expositors of it. If I get wrapped up in my own inability and shortcomings and tendency to look at myself and those around me too much instead of to Christ, the only place I can take that - and my folly of getting hung up in that to begin with - to is the cross.

All of it.

All of grace.

No doubt that was His Providence, taking this proud, self-sufficient woman and removing all crutches, forcing me to seek His face and His will and His character, to want to know Him rightly, in His timing and for His glory. It's only just begun, I look back over the past year and I see His hand in all of it, including the struggles with assurance and with my own ability, and the way He ordains these things to prune us and make us fruitful. His sheep hear His voice and they follow Him, praise God! But through these things, Christ just becomes more glorious, more precious, more everything, He increases and I decrease. He molds us, sanctifying us in the truth of His word, conforming us to His image - not all at once, but over time. He who began a good work in you will be faithful to finish it.

Ever read Grace Abounding by John Bunyan? Godly man that he was, he spent 4 years in torment over the idea that he might have committed the unpardonable sin and he details the push/pull of that torment. I was talking with a dear brother not too long ago about that, and he made the comment that "It seems all the great men of faith over the course of history all had huge struggles with their assurance."
I think he's right.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness...for they shall be filled.

Because there are no great men or women of God, there are only weak and feeble men and women of a great, mighty, majestic, glorious, and faithful God. We are submitted to Him not by our own power, but by His grace. Our repentance is a grace, a gift in and of itself, though we must certainly not harden our hearts against it when He answers that request.

And love - Christ's prayer to His father - He who is one with the Father: a visual depiction of Jesus praying His high priestly prayer from John 17, verbatim from the Scripture. Listen to it, it's personal to you. He's talking to you. He's praying for you. He prayed for his disciples, even as He knew that Peter would deny him three times and that the rest would scatter in fear. His tenderness and His mercy stood firm for His own. He is unchanging; His tenderness, love and mercy continue to stand firm. A battered reed he will not break off, a smouldering wick he will not put out. He loves you - whether you raise your hands or not, whether you wear a swimsuit or not. We will always get into trouble when we compare ourselves to others rather than to the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit teaches. Christ saved you. He bought you. He will keep you. Seek Him and His voice through the Scripture. Know Him. Love Him. Trust Him.

Blessings to you, sister.


Ashley Weis said...

Yes, Geebs wants to be Catholic, not I said the wife! Gives me heebies.

Anyway, I'm not a handraiser in public worship... but I have dated a guy in the past who thought I wasn't spiritual enough because I don't do that... uhhh... yeah... same guy with the sexual issues...

Sometimes I don't even sing in public worship... because I like to concentrate on the words and really center in on Jesus... singing can distract me sometimes... did I hit that note right? yadda yadda...

Ditto with relying on Christ's holiness. I really think that's what gave me freedom through all of this to still be ME, but still seek to be like Him.

But I LOVE The Pursuit of Holiness. I really think we should be diligent and active in our walk with Christ... and our pursuit of holiness.

For me, it's hard to stay balanced. I'm either extreme in the grace-abuse or extreme in the lay it all down.

Ramble on.... Ramble Bamble...

Marie said...

@ Barbara:

Words of wisdom, as always. No, I have not read that particular John Bunyan book, but I read Pilgrim's Progress with my son this year and there was much insight in it. Yes, the great men (and women) of holiness have indeed struggled with the question of assurance - we want to be with Christ, yet are so keenly aware of our own sinfulness that we are tempted to despair.

Interesting note on that: recently, I purchased my older kids each a Christian homeschooling history textbook, as I am sick to death of the revisionist history they're fed in public school. The authors of one noted that both Luther (an admittedly flawed man) and Ignatius Loyola, founder of the counter-Reformation Jesuits, struggled intensely with their own sense of sinfulness. However, while Martin Luther turned to the free grace available in Christ, Loyola embraced a self-generated works-righteousness. Same age-old dilemma of a tender, God loving conscious;very different routes to rectify it.

@ Ashley: ramble on, by all means! I love talking these spiritual things out with like-minded sisters. We are doing "Pursuit of Holiness" at church in the winter - I can't wait. I got SO MUCH out of his "Respectable Sins". I like the fact that Bridges is uncompromisingly sound doctrinally, but it doesn't eclipse the centrality of living for Jesus. Your doctrine shapes the basis of your walk, but Christianity is not limited to head-knowledge. He strikes that balance in his writing that many other (equally great) writers lose. John Macarthur is great too, though. Wonderful book on forgiveness (I reviewed it recently), but I was tempted to get enmeshed in the whole monergism/synergism debate in chapter 1. It's easier to hash out the doctrinal distinctives (for me, anyway) than to truly surrender and walk led by the Spirit.

Ashley Weis said...

Yes, you are more of an intelligent person than I am... :)

I don't know anything theologically. George tried to explain it to me and I start zoning out. And I'm really trying to understand, it just doesn't click.

So I wonder how that shapes me?

Ashley Weis said...

Oh, and great comment Barbara!

Marie said...

I'm convicted that it's more important for our heart to be sanctuary than our mind to be a concordance.

Exhibit A: the Pharisees.

It's too easy to go down that road with a purely intellectual approach to faith, but it's even MORE dangerous to throw out intellectualism altogether

Exhibit B: charismania.

Barbara said...

re Luther/Loyola, I don't know much of Loyola but I know that the burden and conviction of sin is a common one that leads us to seek to be comforted, and that it matters where we go for that comfort - only through the narrow gate can it be removed; trying to work it off is death.

Speaking of Martin Luther, I happened upon a quote of his today in a little book I have "Table Talk" -

"A householder instructs his servants and family in this manner: Deal uprightly and honestly. Be diligent in that which I command you, and you may then eat, drink, and clothe yourselves as you please. Even so, our Lord God regards not what we eat, drink, or how we clothe ourselves. All such matters, being ceremonies or middle things, He leaves freely to us on the understanding, however, that we ground nothing thereon as being necessary to salvation."

- Martin Luther's Table Talk,Of a Christian Life, DCCII

I agree that we are to love the Lord our God with all our mind and so a deeper intellectual understanding is needed of things, moving from the milk to the meat, as it were...still, we are all gifted with different things and have different purposes in the body; it remains true that for all the striving and tribulations we are privileged to endure through the grace of God as part of sharing in the sufferings of Christ, it is still true that Jesus gently rebuked his disciples by telling them that it is such as the little children - presumably, the humbly trusting ones with a childlike faith and a freely loving heart - to whom the kingdom belongs (obviously one who is a child of God's and thus one who is in the covenant of God and so is under His care, and who has been given a love for His word and who hears the voice of the Good Shepherd). I would have to say that for that to become a part of an adult's spirit in this world is most certainly no less than a miraculous gift of His grace, indeed a rebirth.

Marie said...


I had not read that particular Luther quote before, but I like the sentiment behind it. I just found a great discussion of another famous one of his about "spiting the devil" - of all place, on internetmonk.com. It's a few paragraphs, but worth the read: http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/a-luther-quote-to-wake-up-the-sleepers

Great minds think alike....pretty much what you've been saying all along about relying on Christ's righteousness, not an awareness of our own.

4simpsons said...

Great post, thanks for your candor!

I too am in the "I hate to sing and know I should sing" group.

I am definitely not a hand raiser, but I respect those who do. To me it is all about authenticity. Outgoing / hand raising is fine and so is a more contemplative style, provided that is what you really are.

P.S. Loved the White & Nerdy video. Hadn't watched that for a while. I always laugh at the guys locking the car in a panic, and Donny Osmond's dancing was too funny.

Marie said...

That WAS Donny Osmond, wasn't it?!? LOL! I never noticed him before, with Al in the foreground. He was a riot!

I am definitely not a hand raiser, but I respect those who do. To me it is all about authenticity. Outgoing / hand raising is fine and so is a more contemplative style, provided that is what you really are.

That's exactly what I think. When I was hanging with the Pentecostals, the pastor there used to say it was pride holding you back if you weren't super-demonstrative, but I never really bought that and frankly didn't need the added measure of guilt. Now they've advanced to "Holy laughter", barking like dogs and rolling around on the floor at that church, from what others have told me who've come out. I suppose that would be pride, too, if one didn't participate (yeah, right).

Faking, of any sort, goes against everything the Gospel tells us about truth and facing what's in our hearts. There's no way an insincere worship can ever please God, but neither can a lack of worship. There needs to be enough time spent in personal prayer, I think, to generate that true humble and grateful heart and thus be able to approach the Throne with adoration.