What you wear to the beach is a secondary preferential matter, but our clothing choices should never be divorced from community input. Our physical bodies are part of a greater body that has a corporate responsibility of putting the beauty of Christ on display in a fallen culture.
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Rick, I have enjoyed these chapters on modesty. It has been helpful and convicting. You talked a lot about the heart and theory, but may I ask a more practical question? Can you tell me about your stand on swimsuits? I know bikinis are immodest (underwear covers more than that).
As a Christian, I’ve struggled with this issue for my kids, as well as for myself for a long time. We’ve required one piece suits with dark t-shirts, but I’m not sure this is enough. I strive for my family to be modest without being irrelevant to our society. The balance between fitting in but not compromising biblical expectations is a challenge. I’d love to hear another opinion from a like-minded believer.
Practical modesty is a tough question for me to answer because it’s a secondary issue question that releases every believer to be free in Christ to choose what they want to wear to the beach. The tension for me is that some people could interpret “my way” as “the way,” which is not what I believe at all. With topics like this, I try to communicate the importance of the articles “the” and “a” carefully.
- There is a way of doing things.
- There is the way of doing things.
The “what should I wear to the beach” question falls under “a way” of decision-making, not “the way.” Understanding the “article question” is an enormous and necessary distinction to be made. We should be careful about making our expectations and preferences on secondary issues mandates for all Christians to follow. I have an opinion on beach clothes (and so do you), but nobody should upload my opinion for the way for all Christians to follow.
Your question is a tough one, but it is also a humble one. And even though there is purposeful freedom across the Christian spectrum to pick and choose what you wear, you should never dismiss the importance of community collaboration on secondary issues. You are not expected to lock step with every believer on secondary issues, but Christian humility should always motivate you to seek wisdom from other believers, which you are doing.
- You are free to do what you believe is the right thing for you to do.
- You are wise to seek advice from others because you are part of a greater body.
Of course, I’m not the first person you should ask, which is why I assume you have already discussed this with your husband–your co-collaborator in life. My wife is the first person that I would ask because we are one flesh, which makes her opinion essential in our family discussions. I would also recommend you talk to your children about this. I assume you have.
Those who are most affected by your decision should be part of your decision. Collaboration does not mean you strictly follow your children’s perspectives, but it is a way to honor and respect them by inviting them into this discussion.
Let me illustrate: Over a two year period, Lucia and I began the decision-making process about attending another church. As we were coming to our decision, we let our children know where we were in the process, and then asked their thoughts about a church change.
My youngest daughter asked, “Why are you asking us since you’re going to do what you want to do anyway?” I suspect her question could sound rude or disrespectful, but it was not. She was humbly asking out of curiosity.
She was confused as to why we were talking to them about changing churches because she ultimately knew we would do what we thought was best for our family. Her query presented an excellent opportunity to walk her through parent/child collaboration. I told her that our conversation about a church change is similar to how we relate to the Lord.
Ultimately, the Lord is going to do what He wants to do with our lives, but that does not mean He’s a disinterested Deity. He intends to relate to us. He wants to hear from us. He wants interactive, loving, communicating relationships with His children, and that is what I want with my children. Yes, I will lead our family, but not as a distant, dismissive, or disinterested dad. I want our children’s participation, even though I’m soberly aware God mandates me to lead them.
She understood this perspective and was gracious in our discussions. Your children will know too, and they will respect you for encouraging them to participate in family discussions, especially on culturally relevant topics like this one.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. – Matthew 22:37-39
What Our Children Wear
Our kids are in their teen years, though our worldview and discussions about beach clothing did not begin when they hit the teen years. We have been intentional in teaching our children an “across-the-board” worldview about loving God and others throughout their lives.
It’s important to begin teaching your children a “love God, love others worldview” before they can walk and talk. Like the sex talk, if your first discussions about beach clothing are when your children are teenagers, it’s too late. They have cemented worldviews, and presuppositions by the time they are teens.
In the early years, your worldview shaping teaching is more conceptual than practical. Your initial parenting goal is to build a theoretical basis for the future practical matters. You will walk them through the practical aspects when they grow older. Some of those conceptual ideas are respect, honor, discretion, and humility.
You must be modeling these types of concepts in your marriage. How you interact with your spouse determines if you can connect respect, discretion, and other “fruit of the Spirit” ideas in the minds of your children.
These early concepts are important because you are shaping their minds by the two best commandments: love God and love others more than loving themselves. If you lay that foundation early, respect, honor, discretion, and humility will be ready when teen temptations come knocking.
Before the teen years, our children only knew about the concept of modesty. Because fear of man was not that big of a problem, the temptations of cultural norms and expectations did not resonate with them. The preteen years were more about playing at the beach while the teen years are more about looking good at the beach.
Their early training is paying off now. While our children want to blend with their culture by being relevant, they are not interested in looking sexy. Thus, our daughters wear one piece swimsuits, and most of the time they wear shorts to cover their bottoms.
Two other considerations:
- Spiritual Submission
- Physical Protection
Spiritual submission – Lucia has excelled in teaching our daughters to ask my opinion about their clothing preferences. She also models this personally; she wants my opinion and input about her clothes. She has trained our daughters to seek my advice. This will serve our girls well should they marry. Spiritual submission and biblical leadership are essential for any marriage or family to function well.
Physical protection – The other aspect is the physical dangers of being in the sun. Honestly, I don’t want skin cancer, so I don’t go to the beach without a T-shirt type swim top. Our entire family does this. I’m not sexually tempting to anyone, and couldn’t care less about that, but I do care a lot about skin cancer.
We all have nice, fitting, and “cool” looking swimwear that protects our bodies from the damages of the sun.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:3-4
What Does My Wife Wear?
Lucia humbly models an exceptional love for God and others. As we have talked about modesty for this book, our modesty conversations reignited. She told me the other day how she appreciates my input because she does not know how to think like a man.
Before our children’s teen years, I did not go in-depth with them about sex, sensuality, and sex-related issues. Now that they are young adults, we have launched into more detailed discussions. With Lucia it has been different, I have talked at length with her for over two decades about sex, sexuality, and temptation.
Lucia is my greatest ally and my most effective discipler, which is why she needs to know about men and sexual temptation. More importantly, she needs to know about me and my weaknesses, temptations, and failures. This not only helps her to care for me, but it helps us as parents to more effectively lead and shape our children to live well in God’s world after they become independent adults.
Three Stages of Childhood
Internal Adorning Determines External Adorning
What Lucia wears to the beach begins in her heart, and the two main things that control her heart are spiritual and physical carefulness. To put it plainly, she does not want to dress sexually tempting for others, and she does not want to die of skin cancer. Thus, Lucia dresses for the beach like the rest of our family. Her humility motivates her to model the expectations she has for her children and her husband.
If you do not model the things you teach your children, your children will more than likely dismiss your teaching. – Rick Thomas
For us, the beach is about (1) pleasure for our family, (2) function in and out of the water, and (3) modeling a relevant Jesus to those around us. While we want to have a good time and we want to be able to swim with relative ease, we do hope that what we wear does not draw unnecessary attention to ourselves.
Drawing attention to ourselves by “over-modesty” or by “giving sneak peeks” of our sexuality are not biblical goals. We have one “modesty goal,” which is to put the beauty of Christ on display. Dressing in a way that the culture interprets as weird does not do that. Dressing in a way that captures the lusty looks of others also does not do that.
The modesty sweet spot is to not bring positive or negative looks by what we wear but to draw engagement by how we interact with our family and the culture around us.
Call to Action
Modesty is more than a “what we wear” issue; it’s a worldview issue that plummets the depth of your heart while extending across the spectrum of all the people within your sphere of influence. No man (or woman) is an island. We are all part of the main continent of humanity. (Paraphrase from John Donne’s, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions.)
How you think about God and others matters. The foundational ideas of honor, respect, discretion, kindness, love, and humility will determine where you land on the modesty question. It’s essential you begin with those concepts before you start addressing your clothing choices.
Everything Jesus did poured out of His humility, discretion, love, kindness, and other fruit of the Spirit categories. (See 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and Galatians 5:22-23 for two solid fruit of the Spirit character forming templates.)
- When you think about your beach clothes, do you begin with your heart or your clothes?
- Would you say the general characterizations of your heart are humility, love, respect, and discretion? (I’m not asking if you have perfected these things, but would you say the presence of these elements characterize you?)
- One of the ways you can answer the last question is by your willingness to submit your clothing choices to a trusted, courageous, and loving spiritual mentor. Have you done that? Will you do that?
- After reading this book, are there any things you need to change regarding your heart or your clothes? If so, what is your specific plan for change?
Also published on Medium.