A Modest Proposal

“Brady, Meghan is sick; we should pray and ask Jesus to go be with her. Will you lead the prayer?”

This is the simple question I asked my then three-year-old son one morning while we were sitting at breakfast. He took a breath, contemplated for a moment (he was in deep thought apparently coming up with a plan for how Jesus would literally “go be with” Meghan).  He folded his hands and said, “Jesus, get off the cross…(pause)….get modest…(pause)…and go be with Meghan.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle at his innocence and call one of my mom friends. I told her the story and said, “What kid says this?” She laughed and replied, “Well, the kid of a mom who speaks about modesty!”

This was a proud moment in my life knowing that what I am trying to instill in my son was working!

Brady knows that Jesus isn’t modest on the cross, so Jesus would need to put some clothes on before He left the house. At the time, I couldn’t really explain to Brady the circumstances of his wise observation of Jesus not wearing very many clothes. Now that he is six, I have been able to share that Jesus isn’t wearing clothes, not because he chose to be immodest, but it was done to Jesus in order to humiliate Him and to strip Him of his dignity.

Interesting how this was such a punishment in Jesus’ time, but in this day and age, people do it to themselves—not realizing how it compromises their own dignity and their own mystery.

Modesty means to refuse to unveil the mystery of who you are. Unfortunately, I meet so many young men and women who have rarely ever heard the word “modesty” and have never understood they are a great mystery and the need to protect that mystery.

Since I started speaking to teenagers on moral issues 20 years ago, I have heard so many stories of pain over being used, abused, and bullied. I have heard so many stories from distraught and broken teenagers who chose to have sex before marriage and those who became addicted to pornography. Many of the girls I have spoken with have shared how they used their bodies by dressing scandalously to get a guy to like them. They were so desperate for love, they settled for use, pretending it was love.

I firmly believe that modesty protects. It protects the one who dresses in a way that discourages another from viewing them as an object for self-gratification. And it protects those who see a person dressed modestly against impure thoughts and the desire to lust. Modesty builds strength by protecting a person’s chastity and helping one to speak a language with their own body and clothing.

I meet tons of young people and married couples who feel duped because they were never told about the importance of who they are. They say that they would have understood their value and the beauty of their mystery, they would not have made some of the troubling choices they did.

Before marriage, I decided that when I had children, I was going to teach them about important words and concepts from the beginning, hoping that one day when challenges arose like a desire to dress skimpy or use their body to attract someone, that they would know their worth.

I still want my son, who may not struggle with modesty as much as my daughter (being a girl in the USA), to know the beauty of modesty. I hope when he one day encounters overly-sized Victoria Secret models on billboards while walking through a mall, or when a girl he likes dresses too sexy, that he will know that there is something wrong. As he grows, I will teach him why modesty is important and why desiring others to dress modestly is important to his own virtue and theirs as well.

If my son or daughter is tempted or pressured to view pornography, I will share with them what I heard Saint John Paul II say once. He said, “Pornography is not wrong because it shows too much, it’s wrong because it shows too little. It shows a body without a soul and that is counterfeit.”

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I always want my son and daughter to look at others and themselves in the most authentic way – as bodies with a mind, a heart, and a soul. I am realizing as a mother just how hard that is, even at their young ages. All I can do is keep trying to help them form their consciences to know why certain things are wrong – wrong because they attack the dignity of souls. It is incredibly difficult to shield my children’s eyes from immodesty when we are surrounded by it, from magazines in the grocery stores, girls at the local coffee shop, and even kids’ books.

One day when Brady was younger, he opened a book a friend sent us from Australia as a gift. It was about a girl whose family kept giving her all these clothes, so by the end of the book, she had layers of clothes on. On the last page she is in a tank top and underwear, all the clothes are on the floor, and she says, “Can I just get a pair of jeans.”  I was shocked to find the girl in the children’s book was so revealing.

Brady noticed it too and spoke up about it, saying, “Momma, she is not modest.” I said, “Well Brady, maybe she doesn’t know about her mystery; what do you say we draw some clothes on her and help her to be modest?” His eyes lit up, he ran and got me a black marker because he wanted her new outfit to be all black. We decided what kind of outfit we would draw on her, and so I drew right there on the book! I loved the teamwork Brady and I had in doing this project. I also like that he saw that there isn’t anything we shouldn’t do to help others protect their dignity—even if it means drawing on a book. For weeks, when people came over, he would show them our great artwork and how we made “Jesse” (the main character) modest.

About a year later, a friend gave Ella a few Barbie dolls for her 3rd birthday; I cringed a little. I didn’t want a bunch of naked Barbies lying around the house to tempt my son’s curiosity. Since I had already been speaking about modesty and using markers to draw clothes on characters in a children’s book, it only seemed fitting I draw modest bathing suits on the Barbies or any small doll that showed up at our house without proper attire. This time I used colored nail polish. Problem solved! And, in doing it, it provided a great teaching moment as I explained that I was covering up the Barbie to protect her virtue.

Now, some of you may be thinking that I’m crazy talking about a doll’s virtue; it’s not that I believe she has virtue…that is reserved for real humans. But when my children play with dolls, they play with them as if they are real people as most children do. I want their playtime to reflect the morals and values we are trying to instill at home.

Modesty is a virtue. Some virtues can be given by God (i.e. faith, hope, and charity (love)), others must be cultivated, mature, and allowed to flourish in order to attain and maintain. Modesty falls into the second category and therefore requires much work, sacrifice, and perseverance in order to overcome the constant temptation to swim with the current cultural tide instead of against it.

We are trying to help our children to keep their eyes on the prize. The prize is fulfilling and loving relationships with others, which are never self-centered, objectifying, or based on their usefulness. This is the ideal, and I know that sadly it is more the exception than the rule today, but without seeking the ideal, we lose hope.

My children will have far more temptation and pressure to abandon this quest for virtue than either me or my husband had, which requires us to be constant examples, models, and mentors for them. We must continue to encourage them in their trials, support them in their defense of virtue, and give them all the tools necessary to help cultivate the great virtue of modesty for them and for everyone they encounter.

My prayer and hope is that this simple teaching will expand the minds and hearts of my children to be an automatic thought as they grow older. I pray they will never view another human being – another human soul! – as an object or thing to use. I pray they will always protect their modesty in order to protect their dignity and that they will do the same for others! And finally, I pray they will never judge those who are immodest, but seek to teach them about their beautiful and special mystery.

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