More Than Clothing

More Than Clothing

Allowing Our Lives to Reflect His Radiance

by Jasmin Howell | October 1, 2017

Going Through the Bargain Bin

When I was in my teens, a good friend with a knack for thrift store shopping introduced me to the local Value Village and Goodwill stores, with their tantalizing sale racks and bulging bargain bins. And as the old saying goes, it was love at first sight. Racks and racks of clothes stretched out as far as the eye could see, with endless potential — all for dollars a piece!

My artist's mind put outfits together like a painting layered with swirls of color and texture, each piece of my outfit like a carefully placed brushstroke: a funky sweater, a cute skirt, a wild pattern, a unique pair of shoes, some snazzy jewelry, a gorgeous scarf, a chunky ring. The possibilities were absolutely endless, and I loved it! Over the years my collection grew significantly, and — since most of my clothing was collected from various consignment or thrift stores — it was nothing unusual for me to regularly add a piece here or there as something caught my eye (and something always did). I bought extra hangers more than a few times to accommodate all the new items!

No matter what I was doing, my clothing was forefront on my mind. Was this the right scarf to go with this shirt? Were these the right earrings to match these shoes? Was this skirt exactly the right length? I often changed my outfit multiple times until it felt just right, and often a few times a day. Sometimes, even after I left the house, I would worry about the combination I had put together.

But the compliments didn’t hurt. Friends, family, and even strangers would stop me to ask where I had found such-and-such an item. I took pride in saying, “Oh, I got this at a thrift store!” and people would shake their heads in disbelief. “That is so unique!” I would often hear. My unique style — and my eye for a great bargain — became part of my identity, something that I felt set me apart.

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Glorifying the Lord in Our Bodies

In my case, what started as a fun hobby slowly turned into a burden, a place from where I derived my confidence or where insecurity raised its ugly head. You’d think so many compliments would have increased my confidence, but instead I grew more insecure. The more that I became caught up in how I looked (or how I felt about how I looked), the less freedom there was in my life.

As months and years passed, I didn’t notice the growing weight of this burden; the emotional heaviness that came with “dressing to impress” and the desire to please others and be noticed. Frankly, it was exhausting. My wardrobe — and ultimately my body — had turned into a complete distraction!

As women surrendered to Christ, we are to “…dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning [ourselves], not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God” (1 Tim. 2:9-10 NIV). Obviously, there is a place in our lives for taking care of our bodies, caring about how we dress, how we do our hair, etc. Dressing modestly and with decency is something we are encouraged to do, but with certain aims in mind — and promotion of self is not to be one of them! Being “modest” is actually a way to put others above ourselves. The encouragement to be “decent” is actually an encouragement to get dressed with a “sound mind” — which is to be the mind of Christ. All of this is to reveal that when we have a basic regard for our own bodies, we are not a distraction to others. But if we have too much regard for our bodies, we can also be a distraction — by dressing to get attention for ourselves, rather than dressing simply to be clothed and ready for service to the Lord and to others. 

More Than Clothing

There is a very interesting detail in the story of Gladys Aylward, missionary to China. While raising money for passage to China, Gladys decided to sell her single pair of durable leather shoes and put the money towards her fare. But still needing shoes to travel, she went to a local bargain bin and dug up a cheap pair. The only catch? Both shoes were for the left foot! It was these shoes — not the seemingly more practical, expensive pair — that Gladys wore to China and which stayed on her feet for many years of ministering in that country. No doubt the effects of wearing two left-footed shoes for so many years had painful consequences — not to mention looking a bit odd! But for Gladys the sacrifice was worth it for the joy of pouring out her life and obeying God’s call. Could she have kept the expensive leather pair and still been an effective minister for the Gospel? Of course! But the thing that amazes me most about this story is that her own comfort and style did not hold sway over her decision-making! She sought first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and knew God would take care of the rest! (See Matthew 6:31-33.)

So, what does her story illustrate? Should we sell all our clothes and wear garbage bags? Do we have to give up fashionable or durable clothing items to serve Christ? The Word of God wisely encourages us, “do not be anxious about your life … nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not … the body more than clothing?” (Matt. 6:25 ESV). 

Obviously, this wisdom is present because God knew that we humans, men and women alike, would get caught up in appearances and make a very basic need — such as clothing — into an unhealthy focus in our lives. I do not share this story to say that practical shoes are a selfish thing to own, or even that owning nice clothing is a hindrance to having a poured-out life. But our lives are about so much more than the external! It’s the heart-state that I found encouraging and challenging in Gladys’s story — she held her earthly possessions with a loose grip and was not defined by them. Her clothing was only a means to an end, not an end in itself. And when her means helped her to more swiftly respond to the call of God, she gladly surrendered them. At a certain point in my life, I couldn’t imagine doing away with any single item in my closet. What if I needed that perfect scarf to complete an outfit, or what if I never found a shirt that fit as perfectly as this one?

My clothing OWNED me.

One day I woke up and realized that my wardrobe and how I felt about my body was dictating my day, from my feelings to my choice of activities. I was increasingly aware that the Lord was calling me to become untethered from these things, so I might be freed up for greater givenness to His work and not be limited by my own need to look and feel a certain way. 

Cleaning Out Our Closets

Do you relate? Maybe it’s time to clean out your closet. 

I did just that a while ago — in obedience to what God was asking me — and took 13 stuffed bags to the local consignment store (you’re gawking … I can see it). Did I have anything left over, you ask? Yes, I still have a sizable collection, but only those things that fit perfectly, are timeless, and do not cause me to be distracted by their style, shape, pattern, etc. However, I’m not actually referring to our physical closets.

Simply cleaning out the physical excess of my closet wouldn’t have been enough to change my heart in this area! The more important thing I needed to address was the internal thought-closet of my life — full of worn-out, distracting, burdensome, and ill-fitting ways of thinking that had nothing to do with the mind of Christ. These had to go!

What kind of thoughts do we need to exchange for the truth of Christ? Take a look at these questions! All have at one point or another been part of my personal thought process … so you’re not alone if you relate to any of these. Be honest before the Lord as I have had to be!

1. Do my thoughts about my body type and shape dominate my thinking and distract me from being outward? 

Consider: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil. 2:3-4 NIV).

2. Does how I look affect my mood? Do my clothes, hair, makeup, etc., make me happy or sad; insecure or confident; prideful or ashamed?

Consider: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13 NIV).

3. Do I obsess over how I look, taking a glance at myself in every mirror I pass by? 

Consider: “Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, and revive me in Your ways” (Ps. 119:37 NASB).

4. Am I convinced I can’t be happy or content until I look and feel a certain way? 

Consider: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it” (1 Tim. 6:6-7 NIV).

5. Am I convinced that a particular piece of clothing will make me more confident and capable?

Consider: “Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him” (Jer. 17:7 NIV).

6. Do I get dressed with a certain person in mind (guy or girl), hoping to get their attention, compliments, or approval?

Consider: “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10 NIV).

7. Do I need to work out a certain amount each day, eat certain things, or dress in a certain way in order to feel okay about myself?

Consider: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31 NIV). 

In Matthew, Jesus says to the Pharisees, “you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy — full of … self-indulgence!” (Matt. 23:25 NLT). We can dress and care for our bodies in a meticulous way, putting a lot of thought and energy into our outward appearance, while neglecting the state of our inward life before the Lord. Outside we may be perfectly put together, but inside we can be rife with anxiety, bitterness, selfishness, strife, jealousy, anger, and much more. God does not condemn a beautiful outfit, but He does warn about the cost to our spirits when we neglect Him in favor of our own pursuits. Or when thoughts for our own beauty take up so much space in our minds and hearts that we no longer have — as our highest aim — any thought for reflecting the true beauty of Christ. Above all, how we live (dress, eat, act, etc.) should reveal, point to, and radiate Christ through our lives. If the attention is always on us, something is wrong. Fashioning our bodies, our self-image, and our appearance to appeal to the world around us can be a full-time, all-consuming process. And in the end, though the external may be made more beautiful, we have still left the inside — our spirits — untouched. 

If you realize that you are deriving your sense of worth (or lack of worth) from your external beauty, clothing, the compliments from others, etc., it’s time to clean out that thought-closet and begin to believe the Word of God! He says, “Why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you — you of little faith?” (Matt. 6:28-30 NIV). So put your confidence in His care of you! Put His opinions above the opinions of those around you. Put aside your thoughts for yourself and your own physical beauty, and let Him clothe you in His splendor. Allow your life to be a reflection of His radiance, not your own!