Some thoughts on modesty

Yesterday I heard that I will go to a conference as part of the internship programme I am in. We don’t know where the conference will be held yet, but I will be sharing a room with at least one person. Joy filled my heart at the thought that I might have to travel to this conference. All the interns in the programme will go. Most will present the results of the projects they worked on. I don’t have a research project (thank God!) so I will just observe and support the presenters.

I was worried about the nudity/modesty issue that comes with sharing a room with someone since I sleep in the buff and won’t be changing that. I wonder how comfortable my room mate would be with that idea. The following scenarios or questions have been playing out in my head: Should I tell him what my choice of sleeping wear is? What if the guy is gay? Should I still sleep naked then? What if I have to share with the room with a woman? Do I change in the shower? Will he be fine if I walk to and from the bathroom naked? What if I stand by the window to look at the stars in the middle of the night and he wakes up? Will he think that I’m weird? What if he rapes me? What if it’s a woman and she rapes me? Do I shower in the morning then? But, won’t that remove the evidence? I must shower though because I have to be at the conference. What is more important: the conference or my person? If the person is extremely modest, I can always change in the bathroom or put my underwear on while wrapped in a towel.

One of my colleagues, who was last year’s intern, said that she had to share a hotel room with one person and that their beds were placed right next to each other effectively making it a double bed. Should I still sleep naked then? Most definitely not! That wouldn’t be right.

It may seem as if I’m making a big deal out of this, but I have always thought these thoughts whenever I went camping with my peers from church.

The question of modesty. I like C.S. Lewis’ perspective on this which I witnessed play out too.

We must now consider Christian morality as regards sex, what Christians call the virtue of chastity. The Christian rule of chastity must not be confused with the social rule of “modesty” (in one sense of that  word); i.e. propriety, or decency. The social rule of propriety lays down how much of the human body  should be displayed and what subjects can be referred to, and in what words, according to the customs of a given social circle. Thus, while the rule of chastity is the same for all Christians at all times, the rule of propriety changes.

“A girl in the Pacific islands wearing hardly any clothes and a Victorian lady completely covered in clothes might both be equally “modest,” proper, or decent, according to the standards of their own societies: and both, for all we could tell by their dress, might be equally chaste (or equally unchaste). Some of the language which chaste women used in Shakespeare’s time would have been used in the nineteenth century  only by a woman completely abandoned. When people break the rule of propriety current in their own time and place, if they do so in order to excite lust in themselves or others, then they are offending against chastity. But if they break it through ignorance or carelessness they are guilty only of bad manners.

“When, as often happens, they break it defiantly in order to shock or embarrass others, they are not necessarily being unchaste, but they are being uncharitable: for it is uncharitable to take pleasure in making other people uncomfortable. I do not think that a very strict or fussy standard of propriety is any proof of chastity or any help to it, and I therefore regard the great relaxation and simplifying of the rule which has taken place in my own lifetime as a good thing. At its present stage, however, it has this inconvenience, that people of different ages and different types do not all acknowledge the same standard, and we hardly know where we are.” Mere Christianity

So, I have resolved not to worry about modesty anymore. The Lord will give me wisdom to sense and adapt to whatever level my room mate is comfortable with–just as He did when I went to a conference earlier this year. At his conference I shared a room with about 10 guys put my underwear on while my towel was still wrapped around my waist. I then removed the towel and got dressed. In the morning I put my pajama pants on in my sleeping bag, before I got out of bed. But, if my room mate is a woman, I will observe the strictest modesty code, if and only if I can’t move out. We’ll see what the future holds though.


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