It’s no secret now that I’m kind of walking through a valley right now. God has, in His goodness, ordained to allow me–as well as several of my family– to walk through several trials at the same time. My response to this has not often been godly. There are several legitimately “big” issues that I’m facing right now, and it often feels overwhelming. Daily struggles that I wrote about last week are large. My mother’s parents, particularly right now my Granddaddy, are having serious and scary health issues. Clay’s salary cut begins in two weeks and things will become interesting. Our church remains in transition as we search for a pastor, and any church staff position becomes uncertain when a new pastor comes in–it’s just a fact of the ministry. It’s very easy to just sink under the pressures of these burdens. It often feels like I can’t even consider the whole picture but instead find myself flipping through the situations in my mind like snapshots in an album, focusing on one at a time because the large collage is just too much to take in. I don’t know how many times my patient husband has had to gently and lovingly rebuke me for saying, “It’s just too much.”
Last night was one of those times. The conversation went to how far behind I seem to be in housework, and somehow from there it hopped around until we had touched on most of the above issues and more, and I was in tears again. And again, my shepherd-husband reminded me that God is good, that He is working, that He has a purpose, and that He has promised to never give me too much. When I said, “I promise I am trying to fight,” he pulled out a Bible and read to me Ephesians 6:10-18 about fighting with the whole armor of God. I meditated on these verses this morning as I was walking, and the living and active Word pierced my soul yet again.
The first piece of armor that came to mind this morning was the Belt of Truth. So in my situation right now, walking through a valley of trials, what is the truth? Well, I immediately started preaching to myself some of the truths that I know: again, that God is good, that He is working, that He has a purpose, and that He has promised to never give me too much. Other truth came to mind: that He has promised to provide, that He will never let me down, that He has always been and will always be faithful, that even if I don’t get what I want in all these situations His ways are higher than my ways, that He is using all of this to refine me and make me more like Christ. All of these are true, and all of these need to be encircling my mind like a barbed wire fence, holding prisoner all of the self-pitying and despairing thoughts that want to rule. I thought about what purpose a belt serves, and why the Truth would be assigned to the belt. The first thing that popped into my mind, spiritual that it is, is that a belt keeps your pants on. At first I thought that had nothing to do with anything, but then I remembered the phrase, “Keep your pants on!” When do we say that? Well, we say that when someone is freaking out over something, or over nothing. And what do we do when we forget the truth? We freak out over something. Or over nothing. We need our belt to keep our pants on literally, and we need the Truth to “keep our pants on” figuratively. (Ok, probably no intelligent preacher would ever make that connection, but it made sense in my mind. 🙂 ) The sword of the Spirit–the word of God–seems to go hand in hand with the belt, because the truth I’m preaching to myself is usually almost word-for-word Scripture. Each time I quote God’s promises and truth, I am thrusting my sword into the cloud of darkness that threatens me. And with each thrust, the Light shines through the cloud a tiny bit more.
I also thought about the helmet of salvation and the breastplate of righteousness. The helmet and breastplate are the armor that protects the soldier’s most vulnerable parts, protecting him from a mortal wound. As a Christian, I am secure in God’s arms. No trial can mortally wound me, nothing can snatch me from His hand. My helmet of salvation is secure, so there is much comfort in that. As I thought about the breastplate of righteousness, I faltered for a few minutes. I know my reactions to these trials have been far from righteous. For that matter, my thoughts and actions and attitudes during times of comfort or celebration are far from righteous. It seems like my breastplate would have more holes than armor. But then, I remembered Christ. I am covered with His righteousness. My breastplate is solid and unyielding because His righteousness is perfect and complete and mine. I am fully protected in Christ.
So if I’m preaching truth to myself–and Clay is preaching truth to me when I am too weak–and my helmet and breastplate are intact, then I need to focus on my shield and shoes. Seems like I’ve been dropping my shield of faith, allowing the enemy to get in some shots in my weakest moments. I question God’s wisdom in giving me so much to deal with at the same time–oops, dropped the shield. I say to God what my daughter says to us, “It seems like You’re being too hard on me!”–oops, dropped the shield. I despair of ever seeing easier, brighter days–oops, dropped the shield. My faith needs only be the size of the mustard seed, and my mountains still refuse to move. Lord, help Your child of little faith. And seems like I need to dust off my shoes. Theologians can feel free to correct my most likely incorrect interpretation here, but here’s what I thought about this one. The Scripture says that the shoes are the “readiness given by the gospel of peace.” Readiness–readiness for what? In the battle context, I would assume this means readiness for action. In my situation, I think of action as being simply doing the next thing, to borrow from my hero Elisabeth Elliot. My fear and despair gets me so crippled that I compound my stress by failing to tackle the many tasks of the day. Many of these situations, I can do nothing to control. But in some, especially the stress of daily life in the home, there is much I can do to attack the problems. My problem is that I just haven’t been doing the next thing. I look around, feel overwhelmed at all there is to be done, and so I do nothing. If I put on the shoes of readiness, I will march into the battle of the day ready for action, not hiding in my iPod or in a book while the chaos swirls around me. So where does the readiness come from? It comes from the gospel of peace. The truth of the gospel should result in peace amidst chaos. A quiet trust that even though I can’t see it now, it will all be right in the end. Even though I don’t understand what’s going on or know what’s going to happen or know if I’ll get the result I want, because of the peace that comes from the truth of the gospel, I can be ready for action in spite of my feelings and in spite of the darts the enemy is throwing my way. I don’t know if or when my kids will be saved. I speak truth to them anyway in the midst of their sinful ways. I don’t know if we’ll get to stay at Salem among the people I’ve grown to love. I invest in these relationships and this church and this community anyway. I’m pretty sure my house will never reach the standard I long to see. I accomplish what I can anyway. I don’t know if we’ll ever get our credit cards paid off. I pay the bills and cut my coupons anyway. I don’t know what God has in store for my grandparents’ health. I pray daily for their healing and cherish each visit with them anyway. My shoes have not been seeing the action that they need to see lately, so I’m polishing them up and putting them back on and stepping back into battle.
Helmet? Check. Breastplate? Check. Belt? Check. Sword? Check. Shield? Check. Shoes? Check. How foolish it is to let a battle rage around me without the proper armor. May God grant me the grace to be more than a conqueror through the battles in my life right now.