It’s time to worry about my “school clothes” again.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m blessed to work at a school and I know it. Nobody needs to tell me that it “must be nice” to have a couple of months off in the summer, a week at Thanksgiving, two for Christmas and a spring break to boot.
All the same, since I never really left “school,” each year when August rolls around I start to worry about school clothes.
I didn’t give much thought to what I was wearing all summer long, but with school just around the corner I’m wondering whether anything I own still fits, which shoes might go with what pants and how many lightweight “business casual” shirts are in the closet, since my wardrobe was mostly chosen to accommodate Colorado’s cooler weather.
As I puzzle over these vanities, a tune by “Zen Cowboy” Chuck Pyle helps me laugh at myself.
Pyle performed pretty frequently in my mountain valley before he passed away in 2015 at the age of 70. An amazing guitar picker with songs ranging from the profound to the simple, Pyle never failed to amuse and inspire his audiences.
I’m going for “amused” right now so today I’m humming “Picking out my Outfit.” In concert, Pyle would always begin by talking about how men aren’t supposed to worry about fashion, but when his wife once asked him what he was doing after he’d tried on a third shirt as he prepared for a show, he admitted he was “picking out his outfit.”
Turns out guys worry about these things too, but Pyle said they have the added pressure of trying to look like they didn’t try to look good.
He decided to write a song about it.
Here in rural Colorado, women are similarly challenged. Sure, fashion is important, and it’s okay, especially on the first few days of school, to sport some new threads. But we can’t overdo it. We can’t have it looking like we tried too hard to look good.
I’ve discovered an added dimension to this problem as I age.
When I was young I noticed that older people seemed to overdress for work, church or concerts, and now it’s my turn to show up for an event and discover my earrings are too shiny, my jacket too dressy, my blouse too puffy.
Am I compensating for the added wrinkles, perhaps? Maybe nobody will notice my face if they’re wondering why on earth I wore my Easter dress to the parade! Well, at least I haven’t made that mistake yet.
When I take a breath I recall a saying I read as a teenager that still helps me in these moments: We must stop worrying about what others think of us and realize how seldom they do.
And that thought leads me back to Jesus, who told his friends not to worry so much about what they wear.
“Learn from the way the wild flowers grow,” Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount. “They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.”
Solomon “in all his splendor.”
We know that Solomon’s father David was “ruddy and handsome” and that his mother Bathsheba was gorgeous enough to make David lose his head, so it’s a good bet that Solomon turned more than a few heads himself when decked out in his kingly threads.
“Oooh, Solomon,” I can hear the ladies whisper, nudging each other when he strutted about in his gold and purple robes.
But what turns God’s head? The unpretentious simplicity with which he clothes the grass.
Christ called his followers’ attention to the flowers to help us understand why we needn’t worry so much about what to wear.
Colorado’s dry mountain meadows, warmed by sunshine and watered by afternoon cloudbursts, are bursting with beauty this time of year, so my back to school clothing worries make August the perfect time to remember this truth.
Perhaps Peter recalled the day Christ pointed to the flowers when he advised readers (1 Peter 3:3-4) not to mistake the “adornment” of braided hair, jewelry and “costly apparel” for the real thing: “The lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit,” a thing “very precious in God’s sight.”
Paul (Colossians 3:12) used a similar analogy when he urges us to put on compassion, kindness, meekness, lowliness and gentleness, and even (Romans 13:14) to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Memoirist Lauren Winner calls it “wearing God.”
Her insight in Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire and Other Ways of Meeting God offers me a more comprehensive way of looking at clothing: “God clothes. God is our clothing. And finally, God draws us into the act of clothing by instructing us to clothe others.”
There it is: my anxiety dissipates as I seek the unpretentious trust the wild flowers have, rooted humbly in the hillside grass.
It’s the trust that thanks God for the clothing he’s already provided in my closet and for the fun of birthday cash to pick out something new.
It’s also asking for love enough to find more ways to help others who don’t have as many articles of clothing as I already own.
And then to offer thanks for the Zen Cowboy and a song that comes to mind every August to poke holes in my anxiety about picking out my outfit.
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Lauren Winner’s 2002 Girl Meets God: On the Path to a Spiritual Life, is a charming memoir about her Jewish roots and gradual conversion to Christianity. Winner is not only a profound spiritual thinker, she’s a historian and an Episcopal priest. Wearing God (2009) is a moving spiritual read, laden with quotes from writers throughout the Christian tradition.
Thoughts on King Solomon, Chuck Pyle, back to school outfit anxiety or anything else? I’d love to hear from you!