05 September 2012

Walk with Him Wednesday ~ Divine Dress Code

For three weeks, Ann has challenged the Walk with Him Wednesday participaters to write on the the practice of habits...

Last week, I considered at the habit of dressing. I find this funny play on words amusingly interesting, for "habit" not only means a behavior so frequently repeated, achieving automaticity and requiring very little conscious thought, but also refers to a uniform, usually associated with a specific profession (i.e. a nun's habit). I hear habit used most often in conversation negatively: I bite my nails; I've tried repeatedly with only limited success to break this behavior pattern.

Colossians 3.12-14 describes a desirable habit: joyfully choosing to abide by a divine dress code... regularly clothing ourselves with a uniform that cries out "This woman's life is characterized by the presence of Jesus!" I can't begin to imagine all of the daily differences if every day, I automatically dressed according  to His heavenly standard.

But wait a minute! How many of us actually "unconsciously" get dressed each day, with little thought or consideration of the day's plans and upcoming activities? It does happen occasionally, but when I do, I often find myself unprepared or not properly arrayed for a particular situation. Perhaps it is better to think of clothing ourselves as one of those habits which we unconsciously assume will happen each day, but which clearly demands the habit of thinking about what we need to wear and whether it is appropriate for what we think that day will hold. In other words, without even thinking about it, each day I automatically go through a decision making process where I deliberately and thoughtfully choose my attire choice.

This is certainly NOT the first time the Lord has brought me to these verses; in fact, He repeatedly redirects me to this passage time and time again (see this Bible study from 2007 or this blog post from 5 days ago) - I must be a slow learner... 
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

When I first taught these verses, I took the items of clothing most Nigerien women wear every single day and matched them up with the specific virtues listed in these verses: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, authentic forgiveness, and love. 

Undergarments, chemise (or shirt), pagne (or length of material wrapped around like a skirt), head covering, sandals, shawl or scarf, and jewelry - what most women would "put on" each day before leaving her courtyard... we matched each virtue to a corresponding item of clothing  women generally "put on" before leaving their homes. Even now, nearly 5 years after I first taught that study, women in the church will occasionally make a remark about remembering or forgetting to "wear" one of those spiritual virtues.

And I sometimes think back to that study when I'm getting dressed here... African style. Since I don't just wear the local styles of clothing, however... and my kids don't wear them most of the time, I figured I might as well think through this dressing habit again, with the physical stuff I "put on" ... and in that sense, make it more relevant to myself. (A really good reminder that often we teachers prepare lessons we think others need, forgetting how badly we need to make application of those very principles ourselves!)

It's September now... the beginning of the most wonderful time of the year, as far as I'm concerned. That's partly because I LOVE autumn-appropriate clothing. So, that's what I'll use as I pick clothing items to correspond to those spiritual virtues listed in Colossians 3. One of the things about this particular strategy... it is best if personally determined, because each virtue has its own unique challenges for each individual prayerfully seeking to live them out.

First, I'll choose undergarments to represent humility. I tend to be full of pride and self-importance, thinking far more highly of myself that I should. Thus, it is imperative that the first thing I do each day is confess that very natural, normal and self-centered way for me to act before the Lord and ask Him to help me stay humble. "Let this attitude be in you which was also in Christ Jesus... Who emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant..." When humility is that first layer, the very first thing I "put on" as I start my day and closest to my skin, then everything that happens throughout the day must pass through that layer that says I am intent on this purpose: to "do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard [others] as more important" than myself.

Then, I'd pull out a turtleneck to represent compassion. Compassion means I'm not only willing, but I choose to suffer together with another. In other words, when someone hurts, I allow myself hurt right along with them and for them. To hurt with someone means I need to see things how they see it and understand where they are standing. Compassion sees right and wrong, but doesn't judge or condemn, instead offering grace, mercy and the hope and encouragement to consider an alternate path. That turtleneck covers my heart, because if I want to be compassionate, I have to allow my heart to see and feel.

Next comes a good ole' pair of jeans, which I'm choosing to represent kindness. Jeans are casual and don't need to be pretentious. They are work clothes, and kindness sees a need, determines how to help, rolls up the sleeves and pitches in. Kindness treats others like I hope they'd treat me under similar circumstances. Kindness serves in useful and practical ways. And just like a favorite pair of jeans, kindness puts others at ease and allows others to feel comfortable around me. 

On a crisp autumn day, the subsequent article of clothing I'd put on would be a soft, thick and warm pair of socks; those can remind me of genuine forgiveness. They protect my feet from blisters when and where my shoes rub, insulate my toes from cold as I pad around in the house on cool basement floors, and when I'm out in the more frigid weather, prevent frostbite. Socks are closely linked to my favorite pair of hiking boots. It is those boots that come into direct contact most with the dirt and muck of the world - and I need long-suffering patience to interact in this world without letting negative attitudes and hateful feelings towards those who disagree, cross my path or hurt me or those I love. Forgiveness then comes into play when patience has been insufficient; some insult or pain has penetrated and then needs to be dealt with before bitterness or callousness settles in.

Then it is time to put on a thick sweater, soft comfy sweatshirt or an oversize button up plaid flannel - which directs my mind towards the virtue of love. Christ's love must cover all and should be one of, if not the first, things others notice about me. The Bible teaches me that others will know I am a Jesus-follower by God's love actively shown working in and through me - first shown to brothers and sisters in the faith and then extended to others all around me as the Lord brings opportunity. The example of Christ confirms that God's love, manifested in His own, is what changes hearts and changes this world. "For God so loved the world, He sent..." are words so well known and oft repeated that it is easy to ignore the impact they should make every single time I hear or read them.

The very last thing I do before I head out to face the world is find a clip or hair band to gather my hair back from my face and put on my glasses so I can then accurately see and perceive the world around me. This makes me think of gentleness, which is, for me perhaps, the most challenging component of this divine dress code. Gentleness is not usually a most pragmatic response. And often, I treat others abruptly or harshly simply because I did not see... all caught up in my priorities, I forget to look, I don't notice and then react matter-of-factly or even distantly instead of thoughtfully, gently, carefully responding to others and/or situations taking place around me. Gentleness implies a soft, sweet response that  only becomes possible if and when I look at and actually perceive others the way God sees them...

Now... if I only made this dress code a priority instead of quickly throwing on whatever I grabbed first and running out the door with little consideration or forethought. It is my prayer... but of course, that means I'll probably be challenged pretty quickly in these areas, right?

What articles of clothing would you choose to correspond with God's divine
dress code, that would help you to think 
about clothing yourself with these seven virtues
each day as you prepare to represent Jesus to a watching world?

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