Not Another Modesty Post

Maybe some of you are tired of talking about Modesty.

It’s okay, I’m sort of tired of talking about Modesty, too. A popular Christian website recently published my piece on Modesty and Lust from August. It has over 400 passionate comments in one week.

Bloggers I’ve been following for years are engaging with my story, responding to it, adding their own voices. Which, I know, in a broader view, isn’t much. The waves of popularity and anonymity drive hard into Internet beaches.

There’s always something new to discuss.

But for someone who wasn’t writing publicly 6 months ago, it’s been kind of crazy. These types of discussions are like riding the Bumper Cars at an old carnival. It’s outrageously loud, jolting, and I’m guessing I’m not the only one with a headache.

It’s taken more energy than I expected to open up, to have my life discounted or celebrated, to wade through the resulting arguments and counter arguments, to hear stories of other people’s pain. It actually puts me on edge when people champion my story. I don’t really know what to do with even the tiniest measures of success, other than practicing saying “thank you” and trying not to run away.

And I definitely don’t know what to do when someone attacks my story.

I’ve considered quitting.

But, I think this discussion and the way it gets volatile so quickly tells us something about ourselves.

And that’s why I’m not ready to stop talking about it yet.

My friend Allison is helping me navigate this crazy wave. She reminded me that when people try to hurt me, they are usually acting out of their own woundedness. Recognizing this motivation doesn’t mean that I have to take more abuse or offer some cheap forgiveness where I’m still wide open to hurt or limit the consequences for someone’s bad behavior.

But it does offer me some hope.

When I look over my life, I’m reminded of the wounds I have and the wounds I’ve caused. I have weaponized scripture to keep myself in the right and others in the wrong. I have judged silently because I could not bear that someone would look better than me, or be funnier, or more wanted and accepted and lovable than I thought I was.

I have expected others to come to all of my conclusions and argued our relationship into pieces. I have shut up for fear that if I spoke up with my real voice about my real experience, I’d be abandoned.

I’ve been a part of systems that have hurt people. I’ve lived out of my wounds instead of walking towards healing. So when people try to silence my story or my perspective, when they try to talk over my freedom, when they beg or pressure me to be a certain way, I just hear this overwhelming shout that we all need help.

I hear this crying to be told we are okay —

that we are known in our weakness and still loved, that someone will choose us and be near us and heal us.

I see this in the precious men and women who, in their comments, reveal their desperate fight not to be controlled by their sexuality. I hear them frantic to do anything they can to avoid what they have been told is sin, even to the point of blaming or silencing or covering up or denying their attractions, so that maybe they will be worthy of love.

I see how badly they want acceptance and how they’ve bought the lie that they can earn it if they just not-sinned a little bit harder. I see how bound we are by the shame that whispers that if we really were saved, we wouldn’t be like this.

And I know that shame is deadly.

Shame takes everything from you and tells you it is your fault. It steals your ability to see yourself and everyone else as children of God. It steals your ability to heal, because unlike guilt, shame whispers that you aren’t even worthy of healing.

Weeks after my story was published, my friend Darrell told me that he hated it the first time he read it. He told me that it made him angry and opened up his reasons why. Because he was honest with me, I saw a glimpse into his story. I saw that we both experienced a crushing shame, and that it made our wounds raw.

I saw that we both thought we were the only ones hurt.

I understood how diligently he and guys like him tried to follow God and use their sexuality well. I saw how my story seemed to want to throw every good, straight Christian guy’s hard work in his face, to publicly announce that I didn’t care about my brothers, to intentionally hurt their fight against sexual sin, to be their enemy.

I saw how much that would hurt. I felt how much it would make me want to fight back.

Shame does that.

It makes us into enemies.

It keeps us fighting against each other because maybe we’ll eventually get to the top of the heap and God will love us. It infects our wounds and keeps us from hearing each other.

It keeps us in this cycle that yells “if you want to support my fight against sin you will cover up” and “if you want to support MY fight against sin you will stop telling me to cover up” in endless circles. It shouts “you’re the problem” because it’s too afraid to say “I may be the problem and I don’t know what to do.”

And we end up just being better enemies.

But that’s not the end of the story. We can tell a better story because of Love.

I believe in Love that does not demand perfection before it shows up. I have experienced Love that demolishes shame and systems that perpetuate it. I trust in Love that gives me the confidence to sit and listen and try speaking up in turn.

I believe in Love that gives me the freedom to love back instead of trying to win. It is a Love powerful enough to give us the courage to walk away from harm. This Love captivates me with its ability to heal me.

It compels me with its ability to heal others.

We aren’t saved by right clothing choices or obeying rules or handling our sexuality perfectly or winning at Internet comments or because we’re better than anyone else.

We are saved by a Love that has arrived and is changing everything.

Love is right here, among us, ending shame and bringing us peace instead of fear, friendship instead of enemies, and healing for our wounds.

And that is something I’ll never get tired of talking about.
Speak Up! How have you experienced healing recently? Does acknowledging your own wounds help you have grace with other people? Why do people insist on posting their graphic injury photos on Facebook? Gross, right?

[photo: ashley.santiago, Creative Commons]

  • Stephanie Augustine

    After encountering Brené Brown and her shame research almost a month ago, it’s as if reading you has been an appointment of divine force. My shame triggers run so deep into my self worth that your story terrifies me. My stomach curdles as I remember my own encounters with the very things you speak of. And yet, I’m still new at this so my honest gut reaction sounds similiar to Darrel. So thank you for sharing once again. For processing bits of your journey on such an open platform. Its helping me realize how valid, important, and truly painful but necessary facing my own story is. Thank you for sharing so transparently and helping my name my faceless demons.

    • Josh Mokma

      Tell me more about this shame research. I found a TedX talk by her. Seems dealing with my shame is starting to rear its head.

      • Stephanie Augustine

        Josh I just recently stumbled into an interview with her by Krista Tripett via On Being. Here is the link (I highly recommend a listen!):

      • Emily_Maynard

        Brene Brown’s TED talks about her research and books are fascinating!

        I’d also recommend Facing Shame by Merle Fossum and Compelled to Control by J Keith Miller for a decidedly Christian exploration of shame and healing.

    • Emily_Maynard

      Stephanie, thank you for opening up about this. It is really scary to process this, but I’m confident that there is love that overcomes it. Not fixes every bit of it, but will give you the courage to keep walking. Love to you as you face your story.

      Also, Brene Brown’s work is amazing, no?

      • Stephanie Augustine

        Vulnerability. Check. Pain free vulnerability. Uncheck. I’m facing some raw truths about myself and learning seriously. God is at work in my heart and though I feel pressed I do not feel crushed. Thank you for opening up space to learn! I’m encouraged.

        And Brené is wrecking me. Maybe another act of God? :)

  • Michael Vuke

    I just wanted you to know that, at least to me, your posts have made a difference. In several cases, they spelled out what I knew I disagreed with in the “Modesty Gospel” but never could quite lay a finger on. And they have launched several discussions with friends as I shared the posts, and it is through conversations like those that this concept will be changed. I’ve writing a series on modesty for probably a quarter of a year now, and it still isn’t completed or published; I don’t know why, but modesty is quite possibly the hardest subject I have ever written about. (or talked about with others, for that matter)

    So thank you, Emily, for having the courage to speak up.

    • Emily_Maynard

      Michael, thank you. I agree that modesty, lust, and sexuality are topics fraught with peril. :) The way we’ve talked about them has done so much damage to so many people and it’s really hard to work through that. I appreciate that you’ve recognized this and are taking time and care. It took me a year+ of thinking on this subject and months of writing this piece off and on, getting feedback from various people, praying it out, scrapping parts and choosing different words, etc. It felt really radical and scary to me at the time.

      But in that process, I unraveled so many lies about myself and found this new strength. I’m so proud of this piece and grateful it resonates with other people. I hope you discover the same as you keep working on your posts.
      Take care,


      • Dean P. Simmer

        Your newfound strength is exciting. I am so happy that I can see this growth in you and celebrate it with you!

      • Meg Davis

        It’s good to “hear the rest of the story” in this post. The key line in my mind is the phrase “I may be the problem and I don’t know what to do.” It’s like the quiet whisper of acknowledging wrong after a huge loud discussion. Praying you continue to write and heal.
        Blessings, Meg

  • John Hanan

    I dunno, winning at internet comments is pretty important…. ;)

    I am of the firm belief that if everyone agrees with what you say – especially on the Internet, there’s not enough truth in it. Because people do not like to be confronted with the truth. So to me, you’re clearly on the right track. Thanks for sharing your story with us Emily. I appreciate getting to see things from a new perspective, even if it challenges me.

    • Emily_Maynard

      Thank you, John. I love that you invite challenge into your life and respectfully challenge me back!

  • Aaron

    As an introvert who can feel stressed over too much praise and too much attention, or criticism, I was a little worried for you last week. I think you are right about the tension telling us something though, and I think it shows us how not to respond to all this, just out of nervousness, or fear, or fleeing, but in a way that turns that into knowledge and progress.

    • Emily_Maynard

      Aaron, the introvertedness has a lot to do with exhaustion, I think. I love engaging with people, positive or negative, but I had to take a lot of time to recharge. So excited that you are a part of the progress part of this, friend.

  • Grace at {Gabbing with Grace}

    “I don’t really know what to do with even the tiniest measures of success, other than practicing saying “thank you” and trying not to run away. And I definitely don’t know what to do when someone attacks my story.”
    I know this wasn’t the whole point of this post, but this is what stuck out to me…and exactly what I’m feeling right now, & exactly why I couldn’t sleep last night! Ahhhh, it’s always SO COMFORTING to know someone else has similar knee-jerk, gut responses. Thank you! And on the rest of the post… hang in there. it’s worth it for us to keep hearing your voice.

    • Emily_Maynard

      Grace, thank you for saying this! I’m kind of amazed when I observe my first responses. There’s so much confusion when I choose to invite more relationships into my life. But I’m really glad we’re working on it. :)

  • suzannah | the smitten word

    i like you so much. this follow-up is perfection. xo

    • Emily_Maynard

      Thanks, Suz. I am learning so much I can hardly stand it!

  • from two to one

    Oh, Emily, how we all have bought into these shame-inducing lies that rob us of our full humanity. I’m so thankful that you’ve shared your voice with all of us over the last 6 months and for hopefully many more months and years to come.

    • Emily_Maynard

      Thanks, Danielle!

  • Calah

    I love your writing.

    • Emily_Maynard

      Thank you, Calah. I sort of love writing! Who knew?

  • Ruthie Dean

    Love this! Thanks for writing.

    • Emily_Maynard

      Thank you for reading and sharing, Ruthie!

  • John B

    From that other post: “Through the Holy Spirit, I’ve come to realize the damage it has done to my relationships when I’ve tried to control the stories of others rather than simply telling how God’s love is moving me and listening to others if they choose to share.” Amen and thank you for the wisdom Emily. I’ll be working on folding this into my heart.

    • Emily_Maynard

      Thank you, John. Love that image of “folding this into my heart.”

  • Erin Adams

    I know I don’t know you, Emily, but I love you! Thank you for pressing into this, even though it is so messy and hard. And, if you have no energy to email me back, I get it. :)
    The shame and fear that cloaks the topic of our sexuality has got to be pulled away.
    I have really, really been stretched and blessed by your writings. Bless you!

    • Emily_Maynard

      Erin, thank you so much for saying hi again! I’m still intending to reply to emails. Eventually. :) But thank you for your kindness. I really enjoy interacting with you!

  • Sarah Bessey

    What a gorgeous and refreshing perspective, Emily! I’m so glad you’re “scared off” by this experience: we desperately need voices like yours in the Church and world today. Bless you and your bold voice!

    • Emily_Maynard

      Thanks, SB. You’re so kind!

  • J

    Yay! Jesus is more powerful than both my own and others clothing choices and any kind of shame. I thank God for that.

  • Pingback: In which I link you up (vol 1.5) | Sarah Bessey

  • Brittaney

    This line, “they’ve bought the lie that they can earn it if they just not-sinned a little bit harder.” I’ve been studying grace this year and God just recently challenged me with this, “It’s a good thing to avoid sin, it’s even better to have dominion over it.” It made me realize that part of my Christian walk has been more about not-sinning, avoiding sin instead of walking in victory over sin. I love it when God pushes me outside of the box of traditional thinking.

    • Emily_Maynard

      “I love it when God pushes me outside of the box…” Me too, Brittaney!

  • Annie Barnett

    Last night old friends sat around my living room and we talked about that post, and the comments and the wrestle with shame and how, how can we invite others to freedom without shaming them right back in the process. And now, reading this… I’m just so grateful.

    • Emily_Maynard

      Annie, this is exactly where all my hopes are: in conversations in living rooms, in hearts opening up about our own fears and struggles, in processing together, in celebrating freedom. I am so glad to hear of this quiet revolution. Much love and thank you for sharing here!

  • middle aged mama

    i’ve liked your articles very much. i wish we’d encourage self-respect as a guide because the word “modesty” has been hi-jacked. awhile back i saw a photo of men leering at a woman in full burka, fully covered !!! it was in Egypt, i believe. it proves the point that these things are in the hearts and minds of the beholders. we need to respect ourselves,and one another. on such a tragic day , let us seek grace and peace.

  • M

    I have no words to describe how I feel about this article. You have just described what my heart was saying but I couldn’t put into words. Thank you, Emily! x

  • Becky Castle Miller

    I needed this reminder: “We aren’t saved by right clothing choices or obeying rules or handling our sexuality perfectly or winning at Internet comments or because we’re better than anyone else.” I’ve just been thinking about how I get too concerned with external things like those, and waste time and energy judging and arguing with myself and others about them, instead of remembering the bottom line is Jesus. The rest is just details (and the Holy Spirit is better equipped to deal with those than I am!).

  • Caleb Campbell

    This is great. Thanks for sharing. I def agree that hurt people hurt people. “I believe in the Love that gives me the freedom to love back instead of trying to win.” There is a big difference when our lives are driven by faith hope and love rather than fear dread and selfishness. When you know who you are, there is no need to prove anything. Really enjoy your work. God bless!

    • Emily_Maynard

      Thank you so much, Caleb! I am still walking through this “knowing who you are,” but it’s getting better.