Hey Rick, What Does Your Wife Wear To the Beach?

Hey Rick, What Does Your Wife Wear To the Beach

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As you might imagine, when writing a book on sex, temptation, and modesty and talking to a few friends about the project elicits lively conversation, including what a person wears at the beach or around their pools. And why not? The Bible provides all we need for life and godliness, including beachwear. Though what you wear to the beach is a tertiary matter, our clothing choices should never be divorced from community input. Our physical bodies are part of a greater body of Christ that requires a corporate responsibility of putting the beauty of Christ on display in a fallen culture, making the beach question a relevant one. No Christian should say, “It’s none of your business.” Christians must not be that rude or aloof. We care for each other, which is why I want to share a question put to me about our beach clothes.

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Practical Modesty

Rick, I have enjoyed your book 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? What is your stand regarding 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 this is not enough in my view. I strive for our family to be modest without being irrelevant to our society. The balance between fitting in and 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 matter that releases every believer to be free in Christ to choose what they want to wear to the beach. There are also cultural considerations, making Americans different from Europeans, and so forth. The tension for me is that some people could interpret my way as the way, which is not my heart. When I write, I’m sensitive to my audience, and I’m aware that I’m not speaking to an American-exclusive audience. Also, the more I travel, the more I realize that secondary issues vary so much that we should be careful about making blanket statements where the Bible is not explicit. With topics like these, I attempt to communicate the importance of the articles the and a carefully. There is a way of doing things, and 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 an “article question” is an enormous and necessary distinction we must make. We cannot insist that our expectations and preferences are for every Christian. I have an opinion on beach clothes, and so do you, but nobody should upload my opinion as the final word. My friend’s question about our beach attire is humble, though. Even though there is purposeful freedom across the Christian spectrum to pick and choose what we wear, we should never dismiss the importance of community collaboration on secondary matters. Our humility should always lead the way, motivating us to seek wisdom from other believers.

Purposeful Freedom

You are free to do what you believe is the right thing for you and your family. Of course, I’m not the first person you should ask, which is why I assume you have already discussed this with your spouse—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—assuming they are old enough and mature enough to weigh in on these “gray area” conversations. I imagine 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.

Several years ago, Lucia and I began the complex and challenging decision-making process of attending another church. As we were nearing the end of the process, we let our children know where we were with our decision-making and then asked their thoughts about a church change. Our 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 dynamics and 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 desires to relate to us. He wants to hear from us. He wants interactive, loving, communicative relationships with His children, and that is what I want with our 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 understand, 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).

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What Our Children Wear

As our kids were heading into their teen years, we had already had many discussions about clothing and their choices. We did not wait until they were teenagers before establishing a worldview and expectations. Though our children are far from perfect, we have been intentional in teaching them an across-the-board worldview about loving God and others throughout their lives. It’s important to begin teaching your children a “love God and others” worldview before they can walk and talk. It’s similar to the sex talk. You begin teaching a sex worldview when they are toddlers by how you relate to your spouse. Similarly, if your first discussions about beach clothing are when your children are teenagers, it’s too late. They have cemented worldviews and presuppositions by that time.

In the early years, a parent’s worldview-shaping teaching is more conceptual than practical. The initial parenting goal is to build a theoretical basis for future practical matters. Parents walk their kids through the practical aspects as they grow older. Some of those foundational and conceptual ideas are respect, honor, discretion, and humility. Of course, the parent must be modeling these characteristics in their marriages. How we interact with our spouses will help or hinder who we connect respect, discretion, and other fruit of the Spirit ideas in the minds of our children. These early concepts are important because you want to shape their minds regarding the two best commandments: love God and love others more than loving themselves.

If you lay a foundation of respect, honor, discretion, and humility, they 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 jumping in the ocean and digging in the sand, while the teen years were more about looking good at the beach. The early training regarding these character traits paid off when they were older. While our children wanted to blend with their culture by being relevant, they were not interested in looking sexy. Thus, our daughters wore one-piece swimsuits, and most of the time, they wore shorts to cover their bottoms.

Submission & 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, which has served our girls well, and we hope that humility will carry over into their marriages. Spiritual submission and biblical leadership are essential for any marriage or family to function well.

Physical protection: There are 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 has done this for years. I’m not sexually tempting to anyone, and I 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 damage 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).

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What My Wife Wears

Lucia humbly models an exceptional love for God and others. As we have talked about modesty for this book, our conversations reignited things that are vital to each of us. 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. After they became young adults, we did launch into more detailed discussions. With Lucia, it has been different; I have talked at length with her for multiple decades about sex, sexuality, and temptation. Lucia is my greatest ally and my most effective disciple-maker—as she cares for me, 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. Her awareness not only helps her to care for me, but it also helps us as parents to effectively lead and shape our children to live well in God’s world after they mature into independent adults. Thus, 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. 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.

For us, the beach is about pleasure for our family, function in and out of the water, and 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 does not do that. The modesty sweet spot is not to bring positive or negative attention to ourselves through what we wear but to draw engagement through 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 that plummets the depth of our hearts while extending across the spectrum of all the people within our sphere of influence. How you think about God and others matters most. The foundational ideas of honor, respect, discretion, kindness, love, and humility will determine where you land on the modesty question. You must begin with those character traits 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.)

  1. When you think about your beach clothes, do you begin with your heart or your clothes? Please explain.
  2. Are the characteristics of your heart humility, love, respect, and discretion? I’m not asking if you have perfected these things, but would you say the presence of these traits characterizes you? One of the ways you can answer this question is by submitting your clothing choices to a trusted, courageous, and loving spiritual friend. Will you do that?
  3. After reading this book, is there anything you need to change regarding your heart or your clothes? If so, what is your specific plan for change? Who will you talk to, asking them to hold you accountable to persevere through what changes you need to make?

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