I have walked through cities and villages, restaurants and rainforests in the United States, Europe, and Australia, and I have always been stared at. That’s because I wear a head covering and a long skirt – and, more often than not, I am holding a man’s hand.

My husband and I have been married for almost eighteen years, and we love to walk hand in hand. When I hold Chris’s hand, we joyfully proclaim that we belong to each other. By the way we dress, I hope we also make it obvious we belong to Jesus – or at least obvious that we don’t subscribe to fashion trends.

I’ve lost track of how many times my clothing and head covering have given me opportunities to tell others about the reason for the hope I have, to witness to just how much I love Jesus. That’s one of the blessings of dressing differently.

Wearing a head covering is not an omen of oppression, but a flag of freedom.

Of course, many people who wear “normal” clothes are far bolder than I am in reaching out to others and sharing the good news of Jesus. This is not to say that I’m a better person for covering my head or wearing homemade dresses, or that doing so gives me a golden ticket to heaven.

So what motivates me? Head covering and modesty have been longstanding concerns of Jesus’ disciples from the very beginning. The apostle Paul, who continued Jesus’ example of honoring women, writes to Timothy, “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God” (1 Tim. 2:9–10), and to the Corinthian church, “that every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head” (1 Cor. 11:5).

I know Christian women the world over bristle about these words. I realize, too, that the account of one person’s experience isn’t going to change that. So let me be clear that, while those Bible passages certainly inspire me, my desire to cover my head comes not merely from reading the scriptures or early church history but from my own conviction, and the answer to what motivates me is actually pretty simple.

Wearing a head covering and dressing modestly make me feel liberated. For me, it’s not an omen of oppression, but a flag of freedom.

It offers freedom, first of all, in the sense of being rightly related to my Creator and enables me to maintain an attitude of permanent worship. I like to think that the twenty minutes I spend prayer-walking my way to work each morning – when I luxuriate in the holiness of God’s own house with its great blue sky domed above me and the zebra finches bickering incessantly on the fencerows – are minutes I’ve stolen from the mirror. I don’t wear makeup, and I don’t have wardrobe or hairstyle decisions to bog down the start of my day.

Second, it offers freedom from comparison, that ever-lurking “thief of joy,” because I am not beholden to any fashion standard, nor am I setting an example that makes another woman feel unworthy.

And, most blessedly, it offers me the freedom to allow the right relationships of other men toward me and, ultimately, freedom from the enslavement of objectification. In other words, by endeavoring to dress and behave in the manner I feel most honors my womanhood, I hope I am inspiring men to behave like true men.

By covering my body, I’m saying my confidence doesn’t come from fashion or fitness, but from a deep sense of knowing I am worthy for who I am, not what I look like.

Like a temple adorned from the outside with decorations that denote worthiness, my clothing consecrates, communicates, sets aside, and sets apart. By wearing a head covering, I am making a clear statement to the visible and invisible world that my allegiance is to God.

But having said that, my head covering has not separated me from anyone, or prevented me from forming deep and strong friendships with many amazing women and men the world over. They know that for me it is not about piety or perfectionism, but a reminder of the grace that covers me every day. They respect me because they know that dressing simply gives me a great sense of peace and belonging: belonging to God, and, as a married woman, belonging to one excellent man.

By covering my hair, I’m saying my hairstyle doesn’t matter, but my mind, heart, and character do. By covering my body, I’m saying my confidence doesn’t come from fashion or fitness, but from a deep sense of knowing I am worthy just for who I am, not what I look like. Wearing a head covering says that I not only accept but love the woman God has created me to be. And it aligns with my belief that dressing with modesty, dressing with the deepest respect for myself, will in turn awaken respect in others.

Of course, I still get stares, and sometimes “You look so beautiful!” or, “Your clothing is just so peaceful.” But always, always, I get great questions, and I love the opportunity to tell people why I dress the way I do.

The question I’m most often asked is, “Do you have to?” What I hear is, “Is this really your choice?” I fully understand the question, especially as I’m part of a community in which all women wear the same modest style.

The answer is no, I don’t have to. I wear what I wear because I choose to, for the reasons mentioned above, and for another reason too: so that my three sons see that the love of Jesus, and the deep love and respect of my husband, are all I need to feel whole.

Photos courtesy of the author.