Although we didn’t like it, my mother would not allow any of us to leave the house wearing any tattered or dirty clothes to church. The idea of hand washing our clothes in the river and spreading them to dry on the river bank on a Saturday afternoon wasn’t exciting. Additionally, we were also required to fetch bathing water for Sunday morning. I would have preferred to play “banya” with the neighborhood village girls instead. I had only one Sunday best dress and some of my siblings who were very lucky had two. As instructed by my mother, we acquiesced to her demands to lend each other clothes. Some of us sometimes neglected their obligation to wash their Sunday best dresses. As I got older, I fell in love with Sunday school. The thought of sharing clothes with my siblings or making an effort to look sharp on a Sunday was something I adored. After all, I loved singing, reciting bible verses and even acting in some of the plays that depicted bible stories in the church.
Fast forward to college years, my selection of clothes changed. I was always fascinated by bright colors; jeans, long skirts, short skirts, dresses and shorts were part of my closet. I loved variety, and wanted to explore and experiment with colors. If I happened to be home for the holidays, my mother had to inspect the kind of clothes I wore on a Sunday. Pants (trousers) were especially a no no with my father. I loved putting ribbons on my hair and dressing up for church. My mother was very clear that we needed to honor God by the way we dressed. Our home was comprised of nine girls who even today, love to dress up and look good. Although he rarely expressed it, our only brother had to endure growing up in a predominantly girls world.
Now here I am, in an entirely different family composition- one female surrounded by a predominantly male family, and trying to impose the same principles that she was exposed to growing up. Is it working for me? Can I get the boys to dress up? Well, our boys’ closet consists of jeans, t-shirts, sports shoes, and a few dress shirts and pants for a very important occasion (probably a wedding) that commands that we wear certain kinds of clothes. Most of their jeans have big holes on the knees that could easily be mistaken as a head insert for a t shirt. Sometimes I wonder how their knees survive the friction that rips the jeans off when they play.
I try to set aside clothes that they could wear to church but-as we were checking the boys into the children’s ministry one Sunday, I just happened to look at our son and noticed that he was wearing ripped off jeans and dirty soccer shoes that he had worn to school for five days in a row. Phew! My mother taught us to always wear decent clothes especially when going to church. I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t paying attention and allowed our son to attend service like that. Of course we couldn’t go back home to change but I felt inadequate and thought I should be more observant next time.
But then there was another part of me that was whispering to me saying, “Remember that day when you forgot to wear the right shoes to work, and had to hide your feet underneath the desk the whole shift?” Oh well, as a way of comforting myself, I decided it was not that bad after all. He would have a great time with other kids and learn the word regardless of what he was wearing. Maybe I don’t have to be just like my mother in this way? Jesus loved the children, just for who they were.
“People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth; anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.” (Mark 10: 13-16)
When we got home, I thought I would make it easier for the boys by separating the “church” clothes and the “school and play” clothes. I did but it only lasted a couple of weeks before I noticed them wearing “church” clothes and shoes to school and vise versa. On those days when I am in the mood, I try to organize their closets but if they happen to wear non matching socks to church, I just let it go. They love the teachings, the staff and their friends too much to care about their clothes. The fact that they are going to church, and love learning about God, is truly the most important thing. I need to let the rest go.
I find the way we clothe the boys and ourselves to be greatly influenced by the way we grew up. My mother was very particular with the kinds of clothes we needed to wear to church. She would say that we had to honor God with the way we dressed. I can see her point of view. In fact, when I am full of energy and not rushed, I like to spend extra time dressing the boys for church. When we are all dressed up and looking sharp, it’s a reflection of how exuberant our morning was. It feels good on the inside and outside.
Although the old expression goes, “the clothes makes the man” that is clearly not what the bible says! Clothes are very last things in our boys minds and have noticed sometimes when we get home from church, they change their “church clothes” and wear their sports shorts and comfortable T-shirts right away. When they are communicating with each other and one boy happens to use “bad words”, sometimes I overhear them correcting each other saying “ God wants us to be kind”. Hearing those words coming from any of the boys helps us see the impact church services are having on their character and their emerging faith in Jesus. We may be drawn to clothing and beautiful displays or even what our parents thought was right but in the process, I am reminded that Jesus called the little children to Him for who they are –innocent and with a capacity for great faith.