Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Vanity (11/15/18)
- TITLE: Strength and Dignity
By Allison Egley
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She walked to the compound’s school, ready for another day of lessons. Esther wasn’t sure “lessons” was the right word, even. Lesson indicated learning. Interaction. Discussion. No, “lectures” was the better word, because there was no room for discussion. The only acceptable answers in school were all just a few words long. “Yes, sir.” “I understand.” “It is God’s will.” And answers longer than that were written on the board, so there was no room for deviation. She settled in to her desk. Feet on the floor. Pencil in hand. Sit up straight. Eyes on the elders.
“What,” Elder Nahum began, “does ‘vanity’ mean? Let’s all read it together.”
On cue, Esther and the other girls in her class started to read, in a unified, monotone voice. “Vanity is excessive pride in one’s appearance.”
“That’s right,” Elder Nahum continued. “And vanity is not something that should be in our lives, as members of The Holy Anointed. That is why we always dress modestly and make sure we are presenting ourselves properly to God. Because....”
“How we dress and how we act are reflections on how we view God,” the girls recited.
“Correct. That’s why we don’t go dressing like those in the outside world, and we don’t go gallivanting around, doing whatever we may please.”
Esther shifted in her seat, uneasy. She had a thought – a bit of a revelation, if you will, which was unusual. After so many years of being told what to do, what to say, how to act, and reciting the rules of The Holy Anointed, it was almost rare for her to have in independent thought. But... she had to know. Hesitantly, she raised her hand.
Elder Nahum raised his eyebrows. “Miss Esther? Do you have something to say that will benefit us? Has God given you a word?”
The other girls chuckled nervously. They all knew that God only gave words to the elders, and, on occasion, to the boys who were finishing their schooling, to see if they were fit to be the next elders. But girls? Girls never received a word from God.
“I... I have a question?” Before she lost her nerve, Esther pushed on. “Isn’t it vanity to think that the way we dress is the only way to dress? Isn’t that claiming we are better than others, and having pride in our appearance?” Esther braced for the hand across her face she knew was likely coming, but what happened next was worse.
An uncomfortable silence filled the air. Esther didn’t dare to look up at Elder Nahum. Please, she silently prayed. Just get it over with. She knew she had crossed the line, and when the punishment wasn’t immediate, she knew this wasn’t a simple matter. If your dress wasn’t properly pressed, it was a rap on the hand. If you stepped out of the single file line when walking into class, a rap across the knees. Nodding off in class was a large Bible dropped on the desk to startle you awake. Speaking when not spoken to was a slap across the face. But the silence? Well, that was the worst.
She kept her head down.
“Look up at me, Esther. Now.”
Her head snapped to attention.
“Stand up and walk to the headmaster’s office. I will meet you both there in a few minutes.”
Esther stood up and gathered her things.
“You will leave your Bible and your other supplies here. We don’t want you gaining anymore... insights, now, do we?”
“No, Elder Nahum,” she squeaked.
Esther felt the eyes of all the girls on her while she walked, head down, out of the room. As she passed the back row, she dared one more act of defiance. With one hand, she untied the bow in the back of her dress and allowed the ties to hang down. Somehow, she knew God was with her now, maybe more so than ever in the past. Despite the apprehension she was feeling, she couldn’t help but wonder. Was this the beginning of something new? Could this, perhaps, mean.... freedom? She could only hope. And for the first time in her life, it didn’t feel futile.
Proverbs 31:25, 31
She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
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