The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


January 18, 2009

What Not to Wear to Church


I'm not much of a fashionista about what my kids wear to church on Sundays.

Jeans? Fine with me. T-shirts? Sure - and bonus if they're in solid colors without slogans or cartoons. Flip flops or Crocs? Reluctant approval from mom.

Ben before churchBut sweatpants? Um, no. That's where I draw my arbitrary line.

When Ben planned to go to church this morning in the sweats he usually sleeps in, I sent him back to the dresser. He had paired his comfy bottoms with a Super Mario Galaxy t-shirt and his old black Keens -- without socks, of course, to emphasize that he doesn't give a flip about what he's wearing. From the hallway outside his room, my rumpled boy raised his eyebrows and said one word: "Why?"

It was a legitimate thing for him to ask - but I dodged the question. "Just please go change," I sighed and told him.

Ben has a few button-down oxfords - clothes that he shuns as "church shirts" - hanging in his closet. For the most part, he appears in them only on Christmas Eve and Easter, and only if I give him several days of advance notice to let him gear up for the indignity. Dress-up days are never fun for Ben, who ultimately spends those mornings in church groaning loudly through the liturgy.

At my church, it's not uncommon for disheveled homeless folks to join us for worship. Ties and dresses aren't the standard, and kids in shorts and high-tops aren't hard to find. In my family, Ben's dad almost always wears jeans and a casual shirt on Sunday mornings, a major step down from his workday suits. In Ben's mind, if Daddy dresses casually on Sundays, why shouldn't he also transition from his school-week jeans into his favorite fleece?

I feel as if I'm passing on a contradiction to my kids when I get into my pre-church episodes of "What Not to Wear." Shouldn't I be teaching them that it's all about what's on the inside rather than the outside - especially when God's in the mix? Do my son's clothes ultimately matter?

The upshot of today: Ben went to church in jeans and his ratty sandals (sans socks, but it wasn't worth the fight and it's a beautifully warm morning in Texas, anyway). He layered a light blue t-shirt over his Super Mario one, and all through church, his cowlick stood as straight as a steeple.

I bet God was happy to see him.

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