When my husband and I had children, I never gave much thought to how we dressed for Sunday worship. We had both grown up in church communities where dressing for the Lord’s Day meant wearing “Sunday best,” a Christian cultural term for business casual. Though dressing our four young children in fancier clothes than their everyday playwear often added to the morning’s stress, I kept doing it anyway.
As much as I always hoped for a peaceful, meditative start to the Lord’s Day, more often than not I was cleaning cereal off the counter, vetoing kids’ outfits, losing my patience with the dog, and eventually dropping into the the car frazzled, my heart wholly unready for worship. Despite the chaos of Sunday mornings, I was confident this was still what God wanted of me—to show up and give my best.
It took grief to change my mind.
After my husband unexpectedly died, I struggled to manage our life and four children on my own. When it came to Sunday morning preparations, I knew I needed a new path—one that acknowledged the limitations of my energy and offered space for me to prepare for worship after a grueling week of solo parenting. And so, with apprehension, I started my Sunday morning renovation with a very basic step: I surrendered the wardrobe wars.
I simply asked my children to “dress their best” without offering much direction. No more vetoing torn jeans or a T-shirt with writing on the front. No more requests for a skirt or a collared shirt. Just dress your best—whatever that means to you.
What I discovered surprised me. I’d sought to eliminate stress from my life, but my choice unexpectedly began a renovation in my heart. When I surrendered the Sunday wardrobe wars, God opened my heart to the worship war that I’d quietly been waging all along.
Squeaky Clean and Neat
If you asked me if I was righteous back then, I’d tell you emphatically, “There is no one righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). But oftentimes, my attempt to put my fanciest outfit forward on Sunday mornings conveyed much about how I trusted my ability to come before God.
I’d sought to eliminate stress from my life, but my choice unexpectedly began a renovation in my heart.
Now, when my child showed up with Bible in hand ready for worship, I began to see that his juice-stained shirt was a lot like my heart—a filthy rag that only God could clean. If I was honest, that’s how I needed to arrive at worship, too—acknowledging my unclean state, participating wholeheartedly, trusting that God could wash me in the ways my heart needed most.
Looks Matter Most
I’ll admit that I struggled when my son came down the stairs in his Seattle Seahawks jersey, ready for church in our conservative New England congregation. But it wasn’t a football rivalry I worried about. Instead, I wondered what others might think. I worried that they’d judge me for my low standards or poor parenting. I caught myself asking, “Could you please change?”
“Mom, this is my favorite shirt,” he told me. And then I knew. Man may look at the outside, but God could see my child’s heart. God could see that when I’d said to “dress your best,” my child had taken me literally. In sporting his jersey, he was showing up for worship with what he felt was the best he had to offer. Who was I to judge his gift?
He was showing up for worship with what he felt was the best he had to offer. Who was I to judge his gift?
I thought of the times I’d silently judged others, and I saw this new Sunday morning process reveal my heart’s tendency to prioritize outward markers like status, education, or wealth instead of “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit,” the offering that God really sought (1 Pet. 3:4). Like my son, I could dress for Jesus by being willing to offer him my very best—a contrite heart, a willingness to forgive, even the ones most dear to me as I chose to love him first and best.
New Clothes for Everybody
For three months after my husband died, I chose to wear black. When I went out, I wore no makeup. I needed a way to express my sorrow. Without my directing, my kids followed a similar pattern on Sunday mornings, but for different reasons. They often wore the black T-shirts, dresses, and shoes they’d worn to the funeral. To them, these were simply new clothes. And new clothes are fun to wear, regardless of the occasion. Eventually, though, the newness wore off, and the black clothes migrated to the backs of dresser drawers, replaced by new shirts received as birthday gifts and at back-to-school sales.
As time passed, I became ready to wear something new, too. I put away the black and returned to my familiar Sunday wear. As I watched my children choose their church outfits, I saw God’s healing hand move over my family. In Christ, God had dressed us in new righteousness. But he offered our family so much more. Each Sunday as my children tumbled down the stairs and into the car, I could see God giving us clothes of joy instead of mourning, offering us new life one thread at a time. All of this was just a glimpse of what awaited us when God would reclothe us all one day in glory.
Two years ago, I waved the white flag of surrender in the Sunday wardrobe wars. And while it’s made our Lord’s Day mornings smoother and less frantic, my surrender has done more to shape my heart than I expected. It crushed idols I hadn’t realized I was worshiping. In allowing my children to choose their own outfits, I’m reminded of my need for cleansing and for commitment. I’m refocused toward my hope of glorious consummation. As I look down the pew at my brood on Sunday mornings, my heart can sing Nicolas von Zinzendorf’s old hymn more sweetly: “Jesus, thy blood and righteousness / my beauty are, my glorious dress.”