Monday, May 19, 2008

Who me, dignified?

What does the word "dignified" make you think of?

I think of someone who is too formal, perhaps trying to hide the fact that they are offended, or drunk, to humorous effect. Someone who is taking him/herself too seriously.

Or I think of the Proverbs 31 woman -- you know, "she is clothed with strength and dignity."

I've heard from a number of women that the Proverbs 31 woman makes them want to throw up. Not very dignified a response, I guess, but perhaps that's the point.

I'm probably not alone in not making an effort to be dignified. It just doesn't occur to me. I like it when people are real, authentic, honest, open about their flaws. I try to do the same. Dignity seems like formal dress -- people used to wear it regularly, but it just makes us uncomfortable in these casual days.

But the Bible has reminded me lately that dignity is good.

Paul says that overseers are to employ "all dignity" in the home; deacons and their wives "must be dignified" (1 Tim 3). Older men are to be "dignified," and Paul encourages Titus "to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned" (Titus 2:2, 7).

Of course, these are church leaders. What about the rest of us?

Paul also says to pray "for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Tim. 2:2). I take the "we" to include all Christians.

The dictionary helped me see the applicability of dignity to the average Christian: "The state of being worthy or honorable; elevation of mind or character; true worth; excellence" (Webster's Unabridged). We are worthy not because of our own inherent value -- we know our flaws too well to think that -- but because God has deemed us worthy, made us worthy to be his children through the death of Jesus.

If I don't act dignified, then am I giving honor to God who has elevated me from my natural state? I'm not talking about being pompous or superior, of course. I'm not sure, to be honest, what it means, in practice, to be dignified. I suspect, though, that it would require me not to deprecate myself. Or others, for that matter.

Because -- if we don't realize that we are worthy of dignity, then will we treat others with dignity? Our spouses -- worthy of honor. Our children -- worthy of honor.

Especially, will we show our leaders the respect they deserve because of their office? Our culture has become so casual, so egalitarian. That's not necessarily bad -- but it makes it more difficult, more unnatural-feeling, for us to give respect to those in authority.

Paul tells us that leaders should be dignified, and we should pray for them so that our lives can be dignified. I wish I had more insight into living a dignified life, but this is a start.

Do you have any thoughts about being dignified? If so, please comment. Thanks.


Kelsey said...

I think as a culture we've lost the authenticity of the biblical meaning of dignity. It's become how you put it earlier in your post, a type of shallow mask to protect what's really going on. Maybe this is a weird example, but when I was taking yoga classes pretty regularly one of my instructors was a former ballerina and she used to instruct us during particularly difficult poses to get through it with grace... relax our face muscles, approach it with an attitude of grace, not of "just trying to get through it." Maybe that's what the Biblical definition of dignity looks like as well. Because our trust is in God, even in difficult situations (at all times) we can act with dignity and treat others with dignity...
It's not a mask, but an authentic attitude of the heart.

Ruth said...

I would add that dignity, the kind God desires, may be the opposite of "taking [as in bearing or carrying] the Lord's name in vain." It is, as you've already alluded to, being mindful of who we are, and conducting ourselves as those who bear and reflect the image of God.

When we think about what that dignity may look like, along with doing things "decently and in order," we should remember how often in the gospels Jesus is shown eating and drinking, feasting, etc. Also, David's behavior when he danced before the Lord was thought to be very undignified in Michael's eyes, but there's no hint that God agreed with her. I guess I'm trying to convey that "dignified" is not the same as "prim and proper"!

Kristi said...

Thanks, Kelsey and Ruth, for commenting, and I love what y'all said! I definitely have this idea that dignified means prim and proper, and y'all are helping me to see more how it reflects the truth of who we are in Christ.