Once upon a time, nearly every young woman was trained in the art of gracious living. She knew how to exemplify perfect etiquette in every situation. She knew how to dress and carry herself with dignity. She knew how to speak eloquently in conversation. She knew how to excel in hospitality, gift-giving and community service. She knew how to sit up straight and listen intently when someone spoke to her. She knew how to smile and say hello to strangers. She knew how to stay focused on a task without becoming distracted by a thousand other things.
Before we were married, Eric found a very old book on young women’s etiquette. He thought I might find it interesting, so he got it for me. As I read through it, I was intrigued. I had always thought of the old-fashioned etiquette rules that were pushed upon the women of the past as being restrictive, uptight and snooty, but this book made etiquette actually sound beautiful and refreshing. It was all about how a young woman could let her light shine in this world — how she could use her feminine gifts to bless and serve those around her. The etiquette guidelines were certainly far more extensive than anything expected in our modern times, and yet I found myself almost wishing I could return to a more old-fashioned way of living; a time when people actually treated each other with dignity and respect; a time when young women were refined and gracious in all aspects of their lives.
Today we are so far removed from gracious living that the word etiquette is basically nonexistent from our vocabulary and our lifestyles. Somewhere along the way, as the culture became more cavalier toward sin and selfishness, the idea of being dignified, refined, ladylike, gracious and socially selfless faded into the background. Now young women seem to get far more respect if they are loud, boisterous, rebellious, obnoxious and sexually aggressive than if they are sweet, polite, graceful, refined, modest and thoughtful. A popular bumper sticker in the college town where we live says: “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” The message being propagated is that in order for a woman to really make any impact upon this world, she must shake off all those restrictive ideas about being polite or considerate and become a pushy, in-your-face promoter of her own agenda.
First Peter 3:4 exhorts women to cultivate “the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.”
God’s pattern is the very opposite of the “bad girl” image so applauded in our modern times. I’ve heard many Christian women try to downplay the “gentle and quiet spirit” verse, saying that it doesn’t really mean we have to be meek and gentle in our personality. One popular book claims that “getting comfortable in your own skin” and “accepting yourself” is what God really meant by having a quiet spirit.
I disagree. I believe this verse means just what it says — that women who adorn themselves with a gentle, gracious, selfless attitude are women who shine with the incorruptible beauty of Jesus Christ.
I believe it is possible to have a friendly, outgoing personality and still honor God with a gentle, quiet, selfless spirit. But I’ve seen many Christ-professing young women who go beyond merely being friendly and bubbly to becoming center stage in every social situation. They are skilled at making sure all eyes are upon them. They are masters at getting guys to pay attention to them. And they overpower anyone who has a more quiet personality, often causing others to be overlooked or ignored. They assume, “This is just the way I am; it’s the way God made me. I can’t help my personality.” But their flesh (that selfish, put-me-first side in all of us) has taken control. It’s not just their personality; it’s their personality being controlled by sin.
Just as it is easy for an outgoing young woman to be controlled by sin and selfishness, a shy, reserved person can fall prey to the very same pattern — it just manifests differently. I’ve known many naturally quiet girls who draw loads of attention to themselves without saying a word by being sullen, depressed and inward focused. Because they are so morose, they make everyone around them uncomfortable. They are upset that no one ever seems to reach out to them, but they aren’t willing to take the first step and choose to reach out to anyone else. Once again — it’s not merely their personality; it’s sin overtaking their personality.
When God’s Spirit is given His rightful place in a young woman’s life, He transforms her personality to reflect His beauty, His grace, His selflessness. He can overtake any kind of personality, whether you are outgoing or more reserved. And either way the end result when He is in control is that you decrease so that He might increase. You don’t lose your own personality. Rather, your personality becomes what it was intended to be, a tool to draw eyes to Jesus Christ and not yourself.
Very few of us understand how to behave socially in a way that truly brings glory to Jesus Christ and showcases the stunning beauty of our King. I believe it’s time that we as young women abandon our self-focused attitudes and return to the good old days when refinement and etiquette were commonplace. Rather than climbing the popularity ladder or playing manipulative social games, let’s focus on being gracious, sensitive and Christlike to those around us. Let’s bring true etiquette, true gracious living, back to life. We may not be able to go to finishing school or crochet a doily — but those things are trivial anyway. What matters to Christ is a selfless lifestyle. And when it comes to being socially selfless, there are many practical things we can do, right now, starting today.
Cultivating True Etiquette
It’s totally normal today for a young woman to be sloppy and careless in her appearance and attitude; to slouch in her seat, chew with her mouth open, never send a thank-you note and absentmindedly text with her friends while listening to someone talk. I’ve even met lots of “Christian” girls who seem to take pride in acting like obnoxious guys — belching, cussing, telling crude jokes, etc. It’s almost as if the less feminine they can become, the more hip they think they will be.
Every so often I meet a young woman with poise and grace; a girl who is respectful and refined in every social situation. Whenever I see a young woman with real dignity, I always take notice because such women today are so rare. This summer at one of our retreats, I encountered a young woman who was truly graceful. She dressed with elegance and feminine style. She listened intently when anyone spoke to her. Her words were articulate and thoughtful. She carried herself with poise — she always sat up straight, practiced perfect table manners and even walked like a lady. She even sent a beautiful thank-you note and gift to me for hosting the retreat. And yet, for all of her polish and refinement, she was not prissy or uptight. She was fun loving, passionate and hard-working, living a life of sacrificial devotion to the least. She painted a wonderful picture of feminine grace and stood out from among other young women as a shining example of Christ’s beauty.
Ask God to fill you with vision and excitement for becoming the graceful woman He created you to be. It’s a prayer He loves to answer. Determine in your heart that this is something you are doing to honor and glorify Him and not for the approval or disapproval of other people. And no matter how others respond to the changes in your life, keep your focus on the only opinion that really counts — His.
Taken from The Lost Art of True Beauty Copyright 2010 by Leslie Ludy. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR. Used by permission.