Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Proverbs 31- clothing

Right now, a storm is howling outside. I've been watching the weather, and it's going to sweep across the Mid-West and bury some major cities in snow. In Austin, we're expecting some wind and rain, and some pretty frigid temps, but nothing frostier than that.

The wind has been throwing rain drops at my window the past few hours, begging my attention. Ok, wind, I'm awake- you win. But it's the perfect time to write about the next verses in Proverbs 31. Verses 21 and 22:

When it snows, she has no fear for her household:
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.

I've been praying about these verses, and what God would have us learn from them. I find it really interesting that clothing is a part of the Proverbs woman's M.O. I mean, we joke all the time about women loving to shop- loving clothes and shoes and that sort of thing, but I honestly wouldn't have ever thought that God would be in on that joke. I don't think it is that God is in on a joke. What I think is going on here is really interesting, though. God is describing this woman as a woman who pay attention to the way she and her family are covered.

What I see going on here is that the Proverbs woman is demonstrating her care for her family by making sure that they are clothed well. "Scarlet" in the Bible typically refers to very valuable fabrics and yarns that were dyed with crushed insects to make them a brilliant red. The main purpose of that clothing, it seems from the verse, is to keep out the cold. When it's snowing, she's not worried, because her little ones are bundled in high quality scarlet fabric.

But she also adorns her house in fine fabrics. Her bed is covered in fabric that she has made, and she herself is covered in other rich fabrics of the ancient world (and today!) - purple and linen.

So what's the message for us Proverbs women today? What are we supposed to learn from this? Do I need to abandon my blog and start online shopping? What is the Lord saying?

I think a look ahead at verse 25 gives a hint:

She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.

Again, the woman's reliance on God shines through. Her confidence is in her Lord, not her outfit. Her real "clothing" is the strength, dignity and beauty of a woman relying completely on the Lord, a woman who fears Him more than she does Stacy London from "What's Not to Wear."

But I do think it's significant that the Proverbs woman is also clothing herself and her family well. I think yet another Godly balance is demonstrated here as a challenge to today's Proverbs women.

Clothing is such an easy idol to bow down to. I've spent plenty of my time worshiping at the altar of my closet. It's easy to think that we "need" to wear certain labels of clothing because we think that they will give us value, worth, show the world a certain "status" or make us look thinner or cuter. Clothiers depend on this kind of "snob effect" to drive their profits- I remember studying the "snob effect" in economics when I was in college. Thinking that we have to have clothes from a certain store, or even thinking that we always have to have the newest trend doesn't lead to the real clothing that the Proverbs woman wears- dignity and strength. There's nothing dignifying about despising what we have that is of good quality simply because we want the newest, the latest, the most expensive because we think it will add to our worth.

However, the polar opposite of that scenario is also void of dignity. It's easy to fall into a mindset that we will never spend any money on clothing. We're after the cheapest deals at the cheapest stores- if we ever shop for clothing for ourselves. We complain when children want something new, and can become harsh and demeaning, crushing their joy, making them question their worth. We boast about how frugal we are, and take pride in how much we can "do without." We can even go on in clothing that is dirty, tattered, worn out simply because we are too stubborn to purchase something of better quality.

I realize that resources are scarce for a lot of people. And I'm not writing this to get you or me to buy anything. But what I think the Lord is most interested in is our hearts. I think it's precious that the Lord desires His dignity-clad girls to demonstrate their love for their family members by dressing them appropriately for the weather. I don't think He's calling us to give in to every child's whim, but I do think that He is asking us to demonstrate His love and care by providing family members with clothing of good quality- not necessarily just what we happened to find on the clearance rack. I'm not dogging clearance, I'm a big fan, actually, but if it's so cheaply made that it won't last, really, what are we saying about ourselves and others? Are we not demonstrating that we see ourselves and others as only ever worth the cheapest and most cheaply made? And, also, what's the point? We'll need to replace it soon anyway.

The issue is not with what we are wearing, it's with our hearts. God is much more interested in what you have stored up in your heart, than what is stored up in your closet. Having an "I have to have the latest trend" or "I only wear clothes from such and such a store" attitude demonstrates that you don't trust Him to clothe you with what is truly of value. In contrast, becoming stubborn to the point that you refuse to buy something new, ridicule and judge others for wearing expensive clothing, complain to your family about the cost of their clothing and/or boast about how you never purchase anything for yourself indicates that you see yourself very differently than God sees you. What I mean is this, we can easily make frugality sound super-pious and disguise it as "good stewardship" but sometimes what's really going on is a belief that we are not "worth" the cost of a new dress, a new coat. And sometimes, at an even deeper level, deep-seated resentment is dressed up in "frugality" but what is really going on is that we are bitter toward God and others for what we do or do not have. We look down on others with an air of moral superiority for the nice things that the may have and console ourselves with prideful thoughts about how humble we are because we don't have such things. Proverbs 31 should be a quick call out of that kind of thinking. We should never worship nice things, but we don't have to shun them either. When we do so, we reveal the prideful attitude of our hearts.

One of my favorite stories about this sort of thing comes from Wetherell Johnson's autobiography. After serving as a missionary in China for many years, four of them spent in a Japanese prison camp, she returned to Europe with just the clothes on her back. At a Salvation Army camp on her way home, she was given a beautiful coat, of fine quality, a simple dress and a pair of shoes. She said that many other refugees tried to trade her for the coat, but she hung on to it and wore it for many years. What I love about this story is that Wetherell Johnson, a woman richly robed in strength and dignity, did not believe that the coat gave her value, but she believed that she was valuable enough for the coat. She didn't shun the gift in mock-humility, saying "I already have everything that I need." She received the high-quality gift with thanksgiving- it was a gift to her from God.

And that's really the point. We don't have to clothe ourselves in designer this and that, because God wants to adorn us with the things that last. But, He does provide for needs- to keep out cold, to remain clean and go about our daily business in modesty and propriety. He would never tell you that you are not worth scarlet, linen or a beautiful coat. You shouldn't believe that you aren't worth it, and you should be careful not to make other people feel that way either.

Practically, I think that we are called to select coverings for ourselves and our families that meet our needs, are of good quality and will last, while trusting the Lord to clothe us with what is most important.

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