Modesty as Martyrdom

As women, we should recognize the truth that we are beautiful. Unfortunately in our culture, beauty is often reduced to physical appearance – evident in the plethora of short shorts, mini-skirts, and low-cut tops found in your average clothing store. It can be hard to dress modestly these days! It can be hard to dress in a way that bears witness to our inherent dignity as women, a dignity that is not rooted in our physical appearance, but in the simple truth that we are daughters of The King, Jesus Christ.

Modesty is a modern martyrdom. The word martyr means witness. As Christian women, we are called to be martyrs – to be witnesses – of the truth of our inherent dignity. Through the simple act of dressing modestly, we are reminding both women and men that we do not earn our value by looking attractive; our value is given to us by God when He first created us in His image and likeness. We are precious to Him.

Recently, I read an account of the martyrdom of Perpetua, a young Christian woman who was killed around the year 200 AD. Perpetua was put to death simply for being Christian – an identity that she did not hide, but proudly embraced. Her martyrdom was particularly gruesome, as she was sentenced to fight with beasts as a crowd looked on in entertainment. In describing the fight, the account states:

“First the heifer [beast] tossed Perpetua and she fell on her back. Then sitting up she pulled down the tunic that was ripped along the side so that it covered her thighs, thinking more of her modesty than of her pain. Next she asked for a pin to faster her untidy hair: for it was not right that a martyr should die with her hair in disorder, lest she might seem to be mourning in her hour of triumph” (from The Acts of the Christian Martyrs, compiled by Herbert Musurillo).

Just think about Perpetua’s fortitude, her courage, her modesty! While she is literally being killed by a wild animal, Perpetua still has the strength of character to present herself as a dignified Christian woman. She rejoices in her identity as a Christian, and this rejoicing gives her the strength to bear witness to Jesus Christ even in moments of terrible suffering – even to the point of death.

As women living in the West today, we will probably not be condemned to fight beasts for being Christian. However, in our small way – in our classrooms, workplaces, and even walking on city streets – we too can be martyrs of the dignity that is ours in Christ. May Perpetua serve as a model for all of us.