Although I have only been covering my head for four months or so, one thing I have found among women is that the "when" is something women struggle with a lot. In my four short months of examining this topic for myself, it seems the turmoil surrounds 1 Thessalonians 5:17, which encourages us to "pray without ceasing." When it comes to headcovering, many women wonder if this passage should be used when deciding whether or not to cover full time. In 1 Corinthians 11, we are told that a woman should cover when she prays, but in 1 Thessalonians, we are told to pray without ceasing. Most of us (myself included) have entertained the obvious logical conclusion: if I am to pray without ceasing, then perhaps I am also to cover without ceasing. There is nothing inherently wrong with this logic. In fact, I think this is logic is correct. However, I'm not so sure we're approaching the meaning of "without ceasing" correctly.
In my experience, most people immediately interpret the phrase "without ceasing" to automatically be applied to the action of prayer, rather than the practice of prayer. There is a distinct difference between action and practice. For example, how would you interpret this statement:
"Jennifer exercised for 30 minutes without stopping."
In this statement, I am implying that the action of exercising did not stop for 30 minutes. I exercised and continued exercising for 30 minutes, and then afterwards, I ceased to exercise. Now, how would you interpret this statement:
"Jennifer exercised for 30 days without stopping."
In this statement, I am implying that the practice of exercise did not stop for 30 days. Perhaps I exercised in the morning, or after work, or some other time during my normal day and I continued in this daily routine for 30 days without missing a day. I am not suggesting that I literally exercised for 30 days, not taking time to eat, rest, use the bathroom, go to work, or write for my blog, and I doubt anyone would mistake my words to mean I literally exercised for 30 days! Because this is a physically impossible task, we have no other choice than to automatically apply my statement to the practice or routine of exercise, rather than the literal action of exercise.
Many of us choose to interpret "without ceasing" in 1 Thessalonians 5 as referring to the action of prayer, whereas it is merely talking about the practice of prayer. I can pray without ceasing for 30 minutes. But eventually I am going to have to stop so I can go about the rest of my day. However, I plan on returning to my time of prayer tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and I plan to do this "without ceasing." See the difference? I may not cover full time, but I have been covering for four months without ceasing -- in church and at home, and I don't care what anybody says -- I don't plan on stopping.
I also believe if we interpret the benediction to "pray without ceasing" as another way of describing the degree to which the first of the Ten Commandments should be carried out, then in a sense we will be communicating with Him constantly, "without ceasing." This further demonstrates how the action of praying without ceasing simply cannot be carried out to this degree, because there is none righteous. We will always fail in this area, and think about something or desire something other than God from time to time. The Ten Commandments are more like a mirror to show us how much we fall short of righteousness. When I know I am not even capable of carrying out this commandment perfectly, it becomes a matter of legalism for me to wear the cover 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, when I know I'm not worshipping God 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I am told in 1 Corinthians 11 to cover when I pray or prophesy. But if I cannot perform these actions 24/7, then I do not need to be covered 24/7.
While it is possible for me to cover all the time, if I am not praying or prophesying all the time, the emphasis then is placed on the external, rather than the internal. Jesus called the Pharisees and others like this "whitewashed tombs." What the Lord has always cared about first and foremost is the heart. What good will it do for me to have a covered head, for example, when someone cuts me off in traffic? In moments like this, the last thing I am thinking about is praying or prophesying. (Far from it!)
That's just my personal conviction of how to handle the "when" of covering. I would not criticize anyone who covered any more or less frequently than I do, because there is good reason for a woman to cover "full time." That reason is -- she loves doing it! Let's look at Mark 2 for a moment:
23One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?" 25He answered, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions." 27Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."
I use this passage to guide my decisions about when to cover. Headcovering was made for women, not women for headcovering. The cover is more for us than it is for God. The cover is there for our encouragement. If you want to cover full time because it makes you happy, then I say, go for it! I honestly believe God gave us the covering as a way to be comforted. If you cover because you want to, then praise God! But if you cover because you feel you have to do it, or if you feel condemned for only doing it part of the time, this is not of God! The last thing He would want is for us to view it as a source of anxiety. The Lord reminds us in Romans 8:1 that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. In addition, we are told that fear is not from God (1 Timothy 1:7).
I will also share that my uncovered times give me a greater sense of appreciation for my covered times. There are times I'll be with a group of folks just fellowshipping when someone suddenly says, "Hey, why don't we take a moment and pray for Mary, for safe travels?" I will feel naked praying without the cover, but I know God doesn't honor my prayer any less. If it bothers me that much, I will carry a small scarf in my purse for such occasions, but unless I know I will be engaging in a time of planned prayer or worship, I do not worry about covering.
When I utter a quick, spontaneous prayer, such as "Father, I took a wrong turn and I am lost, please help me find my way back," I am not so worried about being uncovered as I am being on a strange, desolate road in the middle of the night all alone and my fuel is getting low. But when I plan to have a time of private prayer and worship at home, and I drape that veil over my head, it does something to me. God is unchanging, but when I choose to cover, something happens to me inside: suddenly I am more aware of His presence and His protection over me. My focus is steadfast, my concentration only on Him. It changes my posture and my attitude, much like anything else I wear. If I go out of the house wearing torn jeans and sneakers, I am going to feel very different than if I go out of the house in a ballgown and high heels. And as beautiful as I feel being dressed that way, I know it is not appropriate to dress like that all the time. The covering does something similar for me -- it keeps me grounded in prayer and worship. So in this manner again, I say, the covering is more for me than it is for God. It is His gift to me, much like the Sabbath.
I will share with you one last story about how my covering habits relate to the idea of "without ceasing." When I first started covering, most of the people in my life told me that perhaps this was just a "phase" I was going through. Some assumed that if I should get married, I'd abandon the practice because my husband would become my covering. Some suggested that God was only testing my obedience and may one day release me from this practice. All I can say is, I may not cover full time, but I have been covering for four months without ceasing -- in church and at home, and I don't care what anybody says -- I don't plan on stopping. Why? The Bible encourages me to keep right on covering.
Anyway, I hope this also offers more insight and understanding to people regarding the practice of headcovering. I honestly did not expect to be writing so much on the subject, but since there appears to be a need to address it, I am going to continue to post my thoughts on this issue as God leads. Whether you decide to cover full time, once a week, or once in a while, my suggestion to you is that whatever God lays on your heart, obey the Spirit and continue in that practice without ceasing.
May God bless you!