“Vergüenza ajena” and 5 steps towards modesty in dress

To have vergüenza ajena in Spanish means “to be embarrassed for someone, to experience shame that they should experience.”

I personally have experienced vergüenza ajena many times because of someone else’s silly actions, but I’d like to talk about one subject in particular: clothing.

Yes, I know it’s summer, and it’s very warm. There are different ways of dealing with the heat and clothing. We could take our hot weather styling tips from the people in tropical areas who wear colorful, loose cotton dresses and flip-flops. That’s the perfect way to beat the heat.

Being a visual person, perhaps I notice things more than others. One thing is sure: Christian women are not taking as much care as they used to in their clothing choices.

It is not because there isn’t any modest clothing in stores. There is. Midis are in this year in lovely, flowing fabrics, pleated and not. Cute dresses abound. Tops are looser this year. So, it’s not because we can’t.

Getting married? There are more modest dresses now than in many years. Sleeves are back in style. There’s something for every taste for both bridesmaids and brides.

Not very long ago, I asked a large group of women in ministry, “How would you define modesty?” Many replied that modesty begins in the heart with a desire to please God in actions and dress. Some referred to the meek and quiet spirit that God loves (1 Peter 3:4).  

Modesty is more than dress. It’s an attitude.

But, it’s also about dress. God expects women to be dressed in modest apparel (1 Timothy 2:9). This passage is talking mostly about a woman’s spirit. I agree. It seems, though, that women who love God should also dress to please Him.

What modesty and pleasing the Lord looks like varies in cultures and climates. For example, a woman living in northern Alaska will dress to be warm, and the lady at the equator will probably wear a sleeveless, loose dress. Is the bundled up woman more modest because she’s wearing more clothing? Let’s not be ridiculous.

So, if a woman loves Jesus and wants to please Him in every area of her life, how should she dress? I believe we have some hints in the Bible.

  • How do the godly women we know dress (and act)? For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves (1 Peter 3:5a). Our clothing examples should be godly women.
  • We’re not supposed to call attention to ourselves by over-the-top dressing. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel (1 Peter 3:3).
  • Good works and dress go hand-in-hand. Both our sensible, controlled lifestyle and our clothing should form a sweet testimony for the Lord. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works (1 Timothy 2:9-10).
  • Modest. The online dictionary defines modest: “(of a woman) dressing or behaving so as to avoid impropriety or indecency, especially to avoid attracting sexual attention. (of clothing) not revealing or emphasizing a person’s figure.” Granted, different people have differing ideas about what is proper, decent, or revealing.

In a junior-high camp one summer, I taught the girls about modesty. We did an experiment. I had bought a fashion magazine, similar to Vogue—high-class, with full-page fashion photos. We used about fifteen of them, holding one up at a time. I asked the girls as a group, “What do you look at first? What part of the model’s body draws your eye?”

Some of the photos showed off parts of the body Christians would not wish to emphasize. Sometimes it was the cut or shape, and sometimes it was bare skin. A few of the photos only emphasized the woman’s face. The girls responded immediately, shouting their answers. It was obvious in each photo what was emphasized.

I believe it is easy to dress modestly, if a woman desires to do so.

Any Christian woman or girl who wants to please God in her dress can take these steps:

  1. Try the item on in a room with the biggest mirrors you can find.
  2. Ask yourself, where does my eye go first?
  3. Determine: is any part of the item too tight, revealing, or short?
  4. Pray. Ask the Lord, “Does this please You?” Listen for His answer through the Holy Spirit.
  5. Consider if your pastor’s wife or any godly woman you admire would wear this.

Don’t cause other Christians to be embarrassed (vergüeza ajena) for you. Take the time to dress with care.

Modesty in dress is important. It pleases the Lord.

What I saw outside my window: Proverbs 7

Proverbs, Chapter 7 surprises because of its detailed description, as well as a few hidden extras. Let’s study!

Again, this Proverb begins with “My son”—a father instructing his son in wisdom. This is actually God teaching us, as well. He says, keep my words, and lay up my commandments with thee (verse 1). Not only keep my words but store them up as well. Remember them.

You’ve heard the saying, “apple of my eye,” which means something precious. Verse 2 says that the Father’s law is the vital apple of the eye. Keep my commandments, and live; and my law as the apple of thine eye. Many times we think about God’s love, mercy, kindness, etc. as precious, but here, it says His law is special. Value God’s law.

Verse 3 continues this theme, saying the son should bind them upon thy fingers, write them upon the table of thine heart.

Verse 4 is a little bit different. It personifies wisdom—as his sister or kinswoman. Verse 5 says this kinswoman will keep the son from the strange woman—whom we already know is an adulteress or prostitute. It’s an interesting metaphor: a sister. Sisters care. They want the best for us. They stick with us through thick and thin. Wisdom is like this.

The Father looks out his window, and lo and behold, he sees young men, among them one who isn’t wise at all. He’s on his way to her house (7-8). I think it’s worth pointing out that the young man in this passage has already made a bad decision and is on his way. What should we teach our sons? Avoid making bad decisions in the first place. When you’re already on the path towards wrong, it will be hard to resist.

It’s night and very dark (9). Should we be surprised? Remember, Proverbs often makes the comparison between light (God, righteousness) and darkness (evil).

How’s the woman dressed? In the attire of an harlot (10). Unfortunately, many Christian young women come very close to dressing this way. Think of what a harlot wears. Modesty never looks anything like that.

She’s also subtle—tricky (10). There’s more. She’s loud, stubborn, doesn’t stay at home, and goes out to lie in wait for some poor guy—to trap him (11-12). Contrast this woman with a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price (1 Peter 3:4b).

She catches him and kisses him (13)—physical first, talk later. This is always the wrong order. If your date comes on physically and refuses to truly communicate and doesn’t wait for marriage for all intimacy, you need to run. This is the wrong order of things.

With an impudent face, she pours on the seduction, “I’m free; I searched for you; I came to find you. My bed is ready, and it’s beautiful and comfortable and smells wonderful. Come, make love with me all night.” (14-18) It’s embarrassing even to read this. How can any woman be this forward? But, this same scene happens over and over in every city in the world. “I thought I might find you here” is the oldest come-on line in the book.

Years ago, we were part of a tour with a group of young people. A few of us parents went along. In a major European city, we were going out to get into our bus after breakfast. Would you believe that there were prostitutes on every single street corner—four at every crossroads? Strange women, trying to entrap men of little understanding.

Verses 19-20 give the detail that this harlot is actually married, but her husband’s away, and she knows he’ll be gone for a while. Do women do this today? Oh, yes. (And, so do men.)

With her much fair speech she caused him to yield, with the flattering of her lips she forced him (21). By the way, she didn’t have to do much forcing. He was already on his way to her house when we first saw this man. He wanted to be seduced. The fault for his sin was all his. The adulteress was personally responsible for her adultery, as well.

The next part of this Proverb shows the consequences of adultery and fornication: He goeth after her straightway, as an ox goeth to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks; Till a dart strike through his liver; as a bird hasteth to the snare, and knoweth not that it is for his life (22-23). Look at this carefully: slaughter, stocks, a dart through him, he doesn’t know he’ll die. The consequences of sexual sin are extremely serious.

The end of this Proverb broadens its warning to children, not only the son. The warning is clear: Let not thine heart decline to her ways, go not astray in her paths. For she hath cast down many wounded: yea, many strong men have been slain by her. Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death (25-27).

“Oh, but Mrs. Keiser, I would never go with a prostitute” Or, “I would never sleep with someone else’s husband.”

Did you know that many Christian women watch dirty movies, read risqué novels, and view porn on a regular basis? They have gone down the path towards that house.

Many strong men (and women) have been slain by her. Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death (26-27).

If you view anything that distracts you from having a pure mind, quit and get help. If you have a porn addiction (viewing or script), get biblical counseling. If you enjoy reading descriptions of immorality, quit and get help—and substitute squeaky clean Christian reading for it. These activities are addictive, just like gambling and drugs, and you may need counseling. Find your nearest Reformers Unanimous meeting place.* Get the help you need.

Wisdom is your sister. She wants the best for you.

God wants you to enjoy a clean, happy life.

Jesus said, I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly (John 10:10b).

*Reformers Unanimous, also called RU Recovery Ministries, is a faith-based organization for people battling any kind of addictive behavior. Its program includes group Bible studies, accountability, and support. For more information and finding a group near you, access their website here.

** For a post about Christian girls and modesty, you might enjoy “Why do some girls who truly love the Lord dress immodestly?”