Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Clothes Rant

Every now and then, a topic of discussion comes up that crawls under my skin and stays there. One of them is attire for Mass.

I came back to the Church at 17, and at that time I owned maybe one pair of dress pants. I wore jeans to Mass every weekend, thankful just to be there, grateful that God loved me just as I was.

As I got older, I started to make a conscious effort to dress more formally for Mass. I wanted to look my best for God. The jeans stayed, but t-shirts gave way to blouses and sandals or boots.

But today I sit in the pews and I worry.


In the Catholic circles I navigate now, discussions about clothes always turn to "suitability" and "appropriateness."

And it becomes a string of one-upping: who wears jeans, who says jeans are unsuitable, who wears dress slacks, and who wears a full suit or a skirt, saying that's the best way to honor God.

There's always someone who throws in the line that we should dress as though we were seeing the President. That one is my favorite. Now where did I hang that bridesmaid's gown ...

Underneath at all, there's a current of condescension: if you don't do these things, you're not being reverent. You're not making an effort. You're not giving God what He deserves. You're not good enough.

After a while, as you sit at Mass with these voices in the back of your mind, it can almost break your spirit.

Weeks later, you pull on your best blouse and dress pants, look critically at the curvy form in the mirror, and think, "Well, at least no one will think anything of me today."

Feeling safe at last, you head out the door.


This is the place I find myself these days, somewhere between endlessly frustrated and outright defeated.

I have always had the heart of one who sought to honor God everywhere I went and in everything I did. That internal state remains the same regardless of what I'm wearing.

But I am getting older now, and the college student label no longer "excuses" me. I find myself bending over backward about one too many things, if only to prevent cracking under the pressure of becoming a Godly woman. I do what I have to do in order to be accepted and to feel like I'm satisfying the church culture around me.

I want to shout instead to the women in dresses and the men in suits that they're not good enough, either; that they are no holier or more beloved in the eyes of God than I am, despite our efforts.

I want to embrace the girl I've seen the last few weeks in chains with green hair, sitting in the front pew and going through the Mass like she means it. I've seen people nudge each other and whisper about her.

The week we lost power in a terrible storm found me walking into Mass wearing a concert tee and short shorts — we didn't have any water to do laundry and it was all I had clean. People stared at me. Feeling humiliated, I wanted to turn around and walk out.

Instead, I thanked God with so much joy for something I so often forget: God is holding nothing back from me. Not from me or from anyone else there, for that matter. We give Him our broken hearts and He gives us everything.

Maybe I'm too progressive. Hell, maybe I just don't understand.

But for right now, for this place in my life, I am trying. I confess that there are days I just want to hear, "Yes, you are beautiful, and yes, you are good enough."

The God of all creation says that about me!

I want that to be the only thing that matters.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The woman of my dreams?

I watched an interesting video tonight by Catholic speaker Sarah Swafford on the idea of emotional virtue. It's a simple term she coined that means to control and harness our emotions in a way that lets us grow in virtue.

I'm not going to leave that video here tonight, though. Instead, I thought it would be good to do a little freewriting. So much is going on with me right now (hence my long absence – mea culpa!), and a lot of it is too jumbled for my usual posts here. Tonight, I just feel like writing, even if I don't have any "wisdom" to share.

Swafford said that the first step to being virtuous with our emotions is to have a goal in mind. "Ask yourself: who do I want to be? What qualities do I want to develop? Who is the woman of my dreams?"

Her premise was that in order to find the man of your dreams (moral, kind, strong, etc.), you have to become the woman of your dreams. If you have low standards for yourself, you'll attract guys with low standards and vice versa.

I already have the best man I could have hoped for (yuck, excuse the mush! ;)), but that's no reason to stop striving to grow. If anything, I find myself wanting to work harder.

So, here goes:

Who do I want to be? 

I want to be brave.
I want to be emotionally strong.
I want to be joyful.
I want to be classy and elegant.
I want to be gentle and nurturing.
I want to be self-assured.
I want to be modest -- inside and out.
I want to be secure in my identity as a woman.
I want to feel comfortable in my own skin again.
I want to accept with grace who I am.
I want to concern myself only with what God thinks of me.
I want to put others first.
I want to be selfless.
I want to be firm and courageous in the face of opposition.
I want to persevere.
I want to work at my goals with a peaceful and confident attitude.
I want to trust God fully for all my concerns and needs.
I want to embrace what God has given me, and be accepting of what He hasn't.
I want to live in the present moment with hope for the future.
I want to be a shelter for my future husband.
I want to be a reflection of God's love to the world.
I want to make a difference.
I want to love like Jesus.

That's the ideal version of myself. That's the woman of my dreams. Isn't she beautiful?

You'll notice I purposely avoided negatives ("don't, less, instead of") when making this list. It was tough to speak positively without criticizing my flaws, but if I hope to make progress in this, I need to talk about (and to!) myself the same way I want to treat others – with compassion and respect.

I guess it's important to see the progress I've already made, too. I've come a very long way, that's for sure, especially in the last year. Little by little, I'm becoming the woman of my dreams. I just need to keep at it and be patient.

What would your list look like? Feel free to leave a comment or write a post of your own. :) Have a great week, folks.