Hope Chest: Laying Up Virtues of Christian Womanhood

“Don’t I look beautiful, Mommy?” My three-year-old daughter’s smiling brown eyes meet mine in the mirror.

“You always look beautiful to me, my Leah,” I reply, as I slip a final bobby pin into the wispy blonde curls that I’ve piled on top of her head and step back to critique my work.

“But I really look beautiful in my flower-girl dress, don’t I?” she giggles and shimmies approvingly up to her reflection. I pull her away from the mirror and lift her from the bathroom counter to set her back onto the floor.

“How long until Auntie Bethany’s wedding?” she asks, her little fingers tracing the pink rosettes that dot her dress.

“The wedding’s a few weeks away,” I respond as I unzip her dress and help her slip back into her t-shirt and shorts, “but now we know that your dress fits, and Mommy knows how she’s going fix your hair that day. Now go play outside until lunch.” I watch her skip merrily away, tossing her head and humming to herself.

It starts young, doesn’t it—that girlish fascination with weddings and all things pretty and romantic? As I stood in a check-out line recently I noted all of the bridal magazines displayed among the other periodicals, and I remembered myself as a little girl snipping brides and bridesmaids from Grandma’s JC Penney catalog to create a collage of flowers and lace. Later, in junior high, I created “Perfect Wedding,” a homemade board game that occupied hours of my younger sisters’ and my time. I remember the time that my mom unfolded her wedding dress from among layers of blue tissue paper in her cedar chest in order to show it to my sisters and me, and I can still picture the anniversary open house at which my aunt wore the long-sleeved satin gown that had so long been buried in my grandma’s hope chest.

Is there a cedar chest tucked away in a corner of your home? Does your grandma have a hope chest? We tend to think of hope chests as fragrant resting places for family heirlooms, wedding and baptismal gowns, or keepsake trinkets and treasures. Some time ago I asked my grandma what she had put into her hope prior to marrying my grandpa. Things she would need once she was wed, she responded, articles to help her keep a home—things like linens, towels, bedding and quilts; perhaps family mementos, recipes, or photographs as well. Many of the items young women would put in their hope chests they sewed or embroidered themselves—maybe you remember reading about Laura Ingalls stitching her quilt samplers in the Little House on the Prairie books. In essence, a hope chest was a sign that a young woman was readying herself to start a life of her own, and her evident hope was that she would find a suitable man to marry and give this gift that she had been keeping for so long.

Shortly after we were engaged, my husband gave me a hope chest, a beautiful, walnut chest that sits in our living room today. I note now with a hint of irony what I put into that chest: white slippers to wear with my bridal gown, a sparkly headband for my hair, pearl earrings, a garter with a blue ribbon, a white daisy pen to set by the guestbook, pillar candles to set on the tables at the reception…I used my hope chest to set aside things for our wedding day, instead of lay up things for our marriage or for keeping our home. As I look back, my own actions reveal something to me about the day in which we live. Extravagantly-dressed brides, wedding cakes, and honeymoon suites are very much in style today, but most who live around us want little to do with submissive, godly wives.

Like many girls, from the time that I was a little, I hoped that I would get married someday. As I reflect on my teenage years, I am struck by the fact that at that crucial time in my life I focused—and was encouraged to focus—almost solely on obtaining good grades, acquiring college scholarships, and selecting a major. Though I was already dating my future husband, deliberately preparing myself for marriage rarely crossed my mind. Later, I graduated from college with a two-year degree instead of the four-year degree that I had originally sought in order that I might support my soon-to-be husband while he finished his education. I remember driving away from that college campus for the final time feeling more like I was failing the Lord than fulfilling his high calling for my life. I had accepted far more feminist premises than I realized, for during the months following our wedding, I struggled to shake the voices of my professors who had insisted that I was squandering talents that God had given me. It took even longer for me to fully acknowledge that placing my intellect and talents at the service of my husband and later my children was a far greater challenge than studying or working as career woman ever could be. I know from speaking with women in our churches that there are others who struggle with those same impressions. We, too, often spend many months, or sometimes even a year or more planning our weddings, but specifically preparing oneself to care for her future husband is easily overlooked. And so I contend that that we must do a better job of preparing our daughters and young women to be wives, encouraging them above all to lay up virtues of Christian womanhood in their own spiritual “hope chest.”

So how does one prepare herself to be a wife? At the time that I was working on organizing my thoughts on this subject, our pastor spoke at a combined ladies’ meeting on “Understanding and Loving Our Husbands.” He addressed the women present that evening regarding understanding and loving our husbands physically, psychologically or emotionally, and spiritually. He began his speech by reading from Genesis 2, the account in which God created Adam to be king of the creation and then made Eve to be Adam’s perfectly suited helper.

God created Eve to care for her husband physically. I think that most of the women who attended the ladies’ meeting expected Rev. Overway to at least mention caring for one’s husband by preparing meals or keeping house. These certainly are chores that consume much of a wife’s time in the home, and her husband benefits when his wife does these chores cheerfully and with interest in what she is doing, to the glory of God and to promote her husband’s well-being. However, Rev. Overway focused on the most basic way in which a wife cares for her husband physically—by meeting his sexual needs. God made Adam to need to express himself physically, and he created Eve to respond to that desire of her husband. How beautiful must have been the beginning of that first marriage without sin to mar the sexual relationship! Today, how troubled even godly marriages can become when the world’s sexual perversions and pornographic obsessions creep into the bedroom!

A young woman prepares herself to meet her future husband’s sexual needs by living chastely and modestly. One practical way in which young women guard their sexuality is by clothing themselves in a way that is fitting for a daughter of the King. Throughout the Bible, there are many instances in which clothes—or their absence—serve to represent the spiritual condition of human beings before God and his glory. For example, in Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast and in the book of Revelation the full realization of the salvation of the elect is pictured in the wearing of wedding garments or pure, white robes. When Adam and Eve sinned, they suddenly discovered that they “were naked” and hastened to clothe themselves. In contrast to Adam and Eve’s rush to clothe themselves, the fashion industry continually seeks to uncover more of the body in order to appeal to sensuality. When Reader’s Digest asked Mary Quant, mother of the mini-skirt and a famous clothing designer from the 1960s, “What is the point of fashion, and where is it leading?” she replied, “Sex,” and on her homepage, Quant declares, “Women wear clothes to feel good and to feel sexy. Women turn themselves on. Men like to look at women to be turned on—‑to feel sexy is to know you’re alive.”

How mistaken is Ms. Quant’s understanding of what it means to “know you’re alive”—like many others around us, sex and the body are her idols, the gods that gives meaning to her life! As clothing becomes skimpier and tighter, society’s obsession with physical appearance increases, bringing along with it everything from booming cosmetic and plastic surgery industries to eating disorders. In contrast to the world around us, we know that to be alive means that one has Christ’s Spirit in his or her heart, and, as noted above, Scripture teaches that the condition of the heart is reflected in the outward appearance. The Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul instructs us inwardly to “put off…the old man” (Eph. 4:22) to “put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13:14), and outwardly he demands that we adorn ourselves “in modest apparel” (I Tim. 2:9). Similarly, Bible commentator Matthew Henry exhorts, “Those who profess godliness should dress as becomes their profession.”

Godly women must also clothe themselves modestly so that they do not offend fellow believers. Brazen Mary Quant is correct in assuming that men are easily visually stimulated—God made them this way, but a man’s eyes were created to gaze upon the body of his own wife, in the privacy of their bedroom. In Matthew 5:28 Jesus declares that “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” So also are we guilty of committing fornication when we dress or behave in way that entices men to look at us! Now that I am a married woman, I am more aware of the power of a woman to entice a man to sin. I clearly remember standing in an airport bookstore, fuming while a flirty, scantily-clad store clerk rang up a sales transaction with my husband of only two days. I suspect that many married ladies among us feel the same way other women dress or act in a way that could cause their husbands to stumble.

Immodesty is a threat especially to young Christian women. If this were not the case, each year’s convention would not have to address immodest swimwear, tight-fitting clothing, and showing lingerie. Not that long ago I was in high school, and I admit that I often did not dress as modestly as I could have. It was easy for me to convince myself that the stores simply didn’t sell anything else or that the way in which I was dressed was fine because my clothing was not as immodest as that of some of my classmates. Women (and girls as young as three, like my daughter!) desire to look “pretty,” but we must not believe the lie that one must dress immodestly or even unfashionably in order to look nice. My husband currently teaches at a high school in which a very strict dress code is enforced. Attending several of that school’s functions and the weddings of two of his students has persuaded me that there is room for improvement in our churches with regard to the way in which we dress. The clear, simple absolute in Scripture is that we clothe ourselves modestly, focusing not primarily on our outward appearance, but on doing good works. I’m not promoting a strict set of rules regarding clothing, for I realize that personal applications of this principle will be different. It is not our duty to try to convince other women to follow our own guidelines for dressing modestly, but we can and must encourage one another as sisters in the Lord to live in obedience to him. Our intent when we clothe ourselves must be to reveal our desire to honor our Lord and nothing more.

Godly parents must assist their young daughters in determining proper dress, and it is essential that we be open with our children (girls and boys alike!) regarding human sexuality. We provoke our children to sin when we fail them in this regard, for if we do not teach our children about sexual matters, they will acquire a warped view of that which God created to be good from television, the Internet, other worldly media, or even from peers who snicker on the playground or behind closed doors.

A young woman must be ready to submit to her parents by heeding their wisdom regarding the way in which she clothes herself. It is noteworthy that in I Timothy 2 Paul addresses the apparel of Christian women in the context of a submissive attitude. He, along with the apostle Peter in I Peter 3, recognized that outward adorning is determined by the inner attitude of the heart. A submissive, humble attitude is reflected in modest and sober, yet becoming, apparel, while an insubordinate, proud attitude is manifested in an immodest, seductive appearance. Sisters in Lord, what does your clothing reveal about you?

A submissive wife cares for her husband psychologically and emotionally by esteeming him and by showing that respect for him in her words and actions. A wife who respects her husband guards her tongue, that little member that is capable of kindling a great fire (James 3). She does not talk negatively of her husband in front of others. She does not nag, but rather encourages him. Young women can prepare themselves to be submissive and respectful of their future husbands by submitting to their parents and by guarding the use of their tongues. Prayer is essential in cultivating the gentle and quiet spirit that our Lord values in the Christian woman (I Peter 3:4). We must pray that God keep the door of our lips (Psalm 141:3) in order that we do not become the contentious woman of whom the Proverbs warn (Proverbs 19:13 and 27:15). Drip, drip, drip…

Contrary to the mantra of the feminist movement and modern media, the Bible teaches us that God created men and women to be very different from one another. As Rev. Overway reminded us at the ladies’ meeting, God created Adam to be king and Eve to be his helper, the king’s helper. Though I had heard that truth many times before, how hearing it once again struck me and put into perspective my calling toward my husband! I am not “queen” in our home, I am “the king’s helper.” Our society seeks to erase the distinction between the masculine and feminine roles, encouraging women to pursue their own interests and their own careers. God intended that a woman serve her husband, walking with him his path, with zest and commitment. Many around us—as well as our own human natures—contend that teaching this truth demeans women, but our marriages are called to reflect that perfect relationship of Jesus Christ and his bride, the church. In that marriage we see the ideal of masculinity and femininity. He as king nurtures and protects. She, his bride, reverences and adores. He lovingly stoops to care for her. She is raised to a position of honor by her acknowledgement of his leadership. Is there anything more beautiful, more ennobling, more romantic?

God is glorified in the church by women who express their feminine gifts according to his standard of womanliness. Therefore, Christian women do not seek the offices in the church that God has reserved for men. Instead, we are called to serve our Lord by showing care and concern for the members of our congregations, just like those faithful women who provided for the needs of our Lord himself. Young women, too, can and must be active members in the churches. As Rev. Haak so eloquently put it in his recent radio address, “The Daughters of Sarah,” God designed the woman to be helper not only of the man, but of his church! Some reading this, according to God’s will, may never marry. Yet the same virtues that are blessing to a husband are a blessing to the church. All of us, unmarried and married alike, are called to serve Jesus Christ, our bridegroom.

A woman who so loves the Lord that she faithfully cares for her husband physically and emotionally also cares for him spiritually. She respects him as the spiritual leader in their home, and her very attitude toward him is an encouragement to him to walk closer to the Lord. A young woman who desires to be married must be intent on building up her spiritual life through careful study of his word and prayer. After all, there’s none better than the one who created womanhood to show us how to live as a godly woman. A husband benefits greatly from a wife who is knowledgeable of the Scriptures and is committed to growing in her knowledge of her Lord.

And so do the children that God may give. That was part of a young woman’s hope in setting aside things in her hope chest: that someday she would have not only a husband but also a children, a daughter that would inherit that chest and begin already in childhood to lay up treasures for keeping her own home. We, too, have that hope, don’t we? Whether God gives us physical children of our own or not, we pray that by his grace our example will benefit the sons and daughters of the Church, that they, too, may grow to be virtuous servants of the King.

Last spring I attended a Mother-Daughter Banquet at which the “entertainment” for the evening was a show of bridal gowns that ladies from our church had worn. Young ladies donned the cedar-scented dresses that their mothers, grandmothers or family friends had worn to their weddings, and all the mothers and daughters there that evening watched that parade of yellowed gowns with rapt attention. Young sisters in the Lord, we are members of the bride of our heavenly fiancé, Jesus Christ. Let us adorn ourselves with virtues that will prepare us for the marriage that will last for eternity, heavenly treasures in the hope chest of the heart.