From stake video message, October 2022.
This topic has been on my mind for quite some time. I’ve mentioned that publicly on a couple of occasions and somebody told me the other day to finally get off my duff and say whatever it is I have to say. So here I am to say a few words about the quality of modesty—which is much more a trait of character than it is a manner of dress or undress.
It seems to me that modesty was a topic we would often hear spoken of in the Church—maybe 10, 20, 30 years ago—but which is seldom addressed today. When it was spoken of, it was almost always (in my memory, at least) spoken of in the sense of wearing sufficient clothing to cover our bodies in the right places—but was seldom spoken of in terms of its broader meaning. I think that discussing modesty so narrowly—without the context of its broader meaning—left people with too little understanding of the ”why” issues behind modest dress.
Dressing modestly is important. It’s very important. And it’s very important for everyone, male and female. The topic of modest dress as it relates to men and boys has been heavily under-addressed in my view. Modest dress absolutely applies to men and boys. It is important for women and girls also.
But let’s put modest dress in the context of the whole word.
Helpfully, the Church’s website defines modesty as “an attitude of propriety and decency in dress, grooming, language, and behavior.” It adds, “If we are modest, we do not draw undue attention to ourselves. Instead, we seek to ‘glorify God in our body and in our spirit.’”
The ideal example of modesty in its broadest sense was, of course, Jesus, who was constantly trying to deflect the praise and credit given to him and redirect it toward his Father in Heaven whom he sought to glorify. He didn’t do this by pounding his chest and pointing to the sky when he did well or by kneeling in prayer on national television. He certainly never celebrated himself through a “missionary farewell.”
Modesty in its total sense is closely related to other God-like attributes such as humility and meekness. One does not imagine a meek, humble person trying to draw attention to themselves, being loud or flashy or visibly self-absorbed. Perhaps the charge we receive in the temple to avoid lightmindedness and loud laughter refers in part to living our lives in ways that reflect attitudes of modesty.
Modesty seems to be born from a proper understanding of ourselves and who we are—including our gifts and potential—and our weaknesses and limitations. A modest person sees in themselves seeds of divinity, of potential, of strength and has respect for who they are—such respect that they do not degrade themselves by untoward dress, language, behaviors, and self-spotlighting.
A modest person also sees that other people are equally important and divine—and that God, himself, stands so far above us in terms of his development and perfections that we are each small in comparison to him and ordinary in comparison to others—which, again, demotivates us from trying to place ourselves above or beyond others.
A modest person neither over-estimates nor under-underestimates his or her significance relative to God or to others.
Immodesty, including in language and behavior (and dress), is distracting and incompatible with the Spirit of God.
The pursuit of immodesty is also self-destructive. Our true value is found in knowing our place and relationship to God. It is found in learning to see ourselves as He sees us. It is found in relying on His strength and on His abilities and His perfections more than on our own. When we seek to establish our value based on how we are heard or seen by others, it only leads to forms of attention that do not provide the healthy sense of value and the healthy perspective on our importance that we could all enjoy.
Immodesty is also related to a negative word we hear in the temple: defile. To defile something is to turn it from holy to profane. It is to take something with divine significance and de-value it.
In the temple, we are told that if we are faithful and do not defile the garment, then wearing it will bless and protect us. (Personally, I don’t think the protection spoken of there is particularly physical. Jesus said to fear not the things that can hurt the body but to fear the things that can hurt the soul—and I think the protection provided by the garment is consistent with that. Perhaps it may help protect us physically also—we certainly hear stories from time to time of such things—but I doubt that’s the primary point.)
We would defile the garment by treating it with indifference or by reducing its value or significance in our own hearts. We would defile the garment by failing to hear and receive the message that God is trying to send to us by giving it to us to wear night and day.
When we are immodest in dress, we may defile the garment by minimizing it, which can occur in many ways.
When we are immodest in words and behavior, we may not defile the garment directly, but we do distract from things of the Spirit and we do defile the things of God. Jesus said to the Nephites, “Hold up your light that it may shine unto the world.” That would sound like an invitation to immodesty and to drawing attention to ourselves if it weren’t for the next sentence, which says, “I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do.”
John the Baptist said, speaking of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
To be modest is to hold up the light of Jesus. Not by holding up the light—or the language, dress, or behavior—that says, “look at me,” but by having the quietly strong and humble attitude of looking to Him and gently trying to help others do the same.
I believe that modesty is an attribute of strength, and that immodesty is an attribute of weakness. The outward signs of modesty or immodesty—whether behavior, language, or dress—are simply outward signs of the quiet strength we either have or we lack.
Each of us, however, can gain that quiet strength by exercising faith in the Savior and faith in our Heavenly Father’s plan for our happiness. We gain strength by understanding that we really are His sons and daughters—and by understanding that we really are (or can be if we’re not already) in a covenant relationship with Him whereby we are bound to Him and He is bound to us. We gain that quiet, internal strength by repenting and by exercising faith that sincere repentance leads to forgiveness. We gain that quiet, resolute strength by recognizing the presence of the Holy Ghost and seeking more of it.
Brothers and Sisters, each of us has true, powerful reasons for acknowledging our value in full humility and strength—and of recognizing also our weakness and our dependence on God. But our God loves us and will lift us if we will turn to Him in humility.
May we each do so. May we be filled with gratitude for God’s kindness to us and for the possibilities he provides us. May we be filled with a sense of our value, born of a proper understanding of who we are—and may we be filled with humility for who we aren’t yet and for our dependence on our Father, our Savior, and the Holy Ghost. May we thrive with a proper and healthy sense of self that is reflected in our words, our dress, and our behavior. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.