Everything in the department store that had been such a part of my life growing up was discounted. Changes. The store was closing. I had time between appointments in Calgary so I dropped by the mall for the close-out sale. I left the North Hill neighbourhood long ago and unexpected memories hit me as soon as I passed the bus stop outside the door. As I picked up a few items (in what my mother would have called the foundation department) I had a flashback to when my friends and I spent our emerging freedom hanging out at the mall.
Fashion is about change. The marketing and design managers probably switched the fitting rooms’ location many times over the intervening decades, but suddenly I heard the laughter of teenage friends as we tried on clothes.
“Does this suit me?” the girl who used to be me asked, checking herself out in the three-way mirror.
“No! You look like a missionary!” Ruth blurted.
She tried on a clinging satin dress with a plunging neckline. “How about this?” she asked, trying to keep a straight face.
“Now you look like a tramp!!” Lois answered, feigning shock. “Your mother would hate it! Yes! Get it!”
They giggled and gave the next girl their judgment as she struck a pose in garments decorated with dangling price tags they ignored. It’s like the girls put on a new identity with every new item of clothing.
We came from a culture where the standards of modesty made it difficult to find fashions that fit everyone’s criterion. Our mothers often sewed our clothes themselves. My grandmother called mini skirts “worldly.” When my mother, who learned English from reading Dickens novels, joined me in the fitting room she would say, “It behooves one to dress in a manner more befitting to a girl with higher standards. This is unbecoming.”
Unbecoming. I did not like the word unbecoming. She used it when my summer shorts were too short, or when I didn’t sit like a lady, or when my voice was too loud, or when my silent sulking fits had all the subtlety of a this-week-only salesman with a megaphone. She was right of course, most of the time, which is why she was so annoying. “This is not the direction I have in mind for you.”
I’ve been meditating on the connection between righteousness and peace this week. I looked up antonyms of the word righteousness because sometimes considering the opposite meaning helps me understand – and I’m trying to see beyond the negative parameters of rule-following that make me want to run in the opposite direction. One of the words listed caught my attention. Unbecoming. I can almost hear it in Mom’s voice. Then I read this passage about being clothed with righteousness.
I will rejoice greatly in the LORD,
My soul will exult in my God;
For He has clothed me with garments of salvation,
He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
And as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up,
So the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise
To spring up before all the nations.
(Isaiah 61: 10, 11 NAS)
Unrighteousness is a destructive attitude. It does not help us to become. It does the opposite; it unravels the beauty God intended for us to walk in. There is a great deal more to righteousness than obeying rules. In fact, clothing ourselves in manufactured rules of conduct that change behaviour but not the heart may not be befitting at all. When we choose to follow the folly of false distractions we fail to choose life. We un-become.
We can choose instead to let wrap Jesus wrap his robe of righteousness around us. Our own home-made efforts embarrass by comparison. They are also unbecoming because they do not represent grace-empowered transformation that enables us to blossom and be all God intended. Righteousness is right thinking, coming into alignment with the Creator’s plans for us (the one who loves us perfectly, understands the future and our potential perfectly and is much better at this than our moms who had their own agendas mixed up in their motives).
A line from an old song comes to mind, “Dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before His throne…”