Personally, I carry pepper spray around with me when I’m walking alone. I always wear a cross necklace, which might not stop any bullets, but which feels protective. I stick to lit paths. I pray for safety. I still mostly wear a mask when I’m indoors, text my fam and friends when I get home, and look both ways before crossing the street. I make sure my house is locked up before bed, and don’t post my address or phone number anywhere.
I also do less reasonable things, like hiding my feelings and downplaying the mistakes I’ve made. When I feel bad about something I’ve done, I instinctively try to find a way to shift blame. I go months without reaching out to friends because I’m worried I won’t know how to just relax around them, that I don’t have anything to really contribute to their lives, or that I’ll hurt them. I play up my accomplishments and level of understanding to coworkers and family members, because I’ve still got those old neuroses around being judged incompetent/worthless kicking around. I’ve zoned out for hours on social media, or slept days away to protect myself from my own feelings, thoughts, and responsibilities.
Obviously, the latter behaviors actually *cause* harm rather than preventing or alleviating it. The psychological and physical pull to them is strong when you’ve been mired in them, though. The idea of guaranteed failure through inaction (rather than potential failure after effort) has long been intensely powerful to me, even if it doesn’t make rational sense. I am, however, tired of my life just… sucking ass. Moreso, I’m ashamed of the way my negligence has affected other people, whether it’s my co-workers picking up my slack, close friends who’ve overextended themselves to help me when I refused to help myself, or the shitty attitudes I’ve encouraged in other people by not putting the energy into strengthening my morality. Which is where (amongst other tools) today’s topic comes in:
The Armor of God
Listed in Ephesians 6:14-18, the Armor of God describes a Christian’s defenses against the “Spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (In my experience, they’re also useful defenses against my own bullshit.) There are 6 pieces to the armor listed in that verse: a belt (or loincloth, if you wanna make a 3rd grader laugh), a breastplate, a pair of boots, a helmet, a shield, and a sword. Each correlates to a specific value or positive force: truth, righteousness, peace, salvation, faith, and Spirit. The 7th aspect of the armor is the interior security provided by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Here’s what I’ve come to understand as the symbolic breakdown:
- Belt of Truth: Protect your core with honesty. Let the center of you be anchored in and girded by the truth. Our gut has nothing to defend it, it can feel vulnerable to be honest, but it’s actually the best way to defend yourself. By representing what you know authentically, you protect yourself from illusion, giving yourself the ability to take useful action.
- Breastplate of Righteousness: Protect your heart with right attitude; one of service, love, and justice. Self-righteousness won’t save you. However, humility and honorable intent will transform not only your own life, but–by improving your capacity for loving relationships of all kinds–many others will be deeply benefitted too!
- Boots of Peace (or good news): Protect your path with peace. Walk in peace, travel through this world with peaceful intent. Even though armor is about defense in war, the best way to protect yourself from aggression is to ground yourself in a peaceful disposition. It is very, very hard to yell at someone who is gently whispering, or attack someone who is looking at you with kind understanding. A fight requires opposition. Peace and realistic optimism are stabilizing and liberating forces that transform strife into understanding, which paves the way for healing the source of aggression.
- Helmet of Salvation: Protect your mind with an awareness and focus on what is important. This refers to eternity in Heaven, but also more generally to connection with God and the spreading of truth that turns people towards morality. Set your sights on things of true value. Have ears to listen to that which reminds you of those meaningful things. Make sure you speak about things of consequence and depth when appropriate. Don’t shy away from these big concepts of what is eternally valuable, and of what truly saves people. This is a defense against materiality, selfishness, impulsivity, and clinging to all the things that come and go in our lives without delivering us into any real freedom.
- Shield of Faith: Protect your entire being with trust in that which is greater than you. For Christians specifically this is Christ’s loving sacrifice and God’s promises. Faith here is not only is it your reaching out to Divinity, but it’s the Source of All Love actively, constantly reaching out to you! What can hurt you when you lean into that presence? Can any doubt, any hatred, any malice, any fear touch you when you exist within the awareness of that bond? No homie, no it cannot. Ephesians 6:16 specifically mentions this shield’s capacity to “extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (Emphasis mine.) All the tumultuous bouncing between self-doubt and self-justification, all the anxiety, all the insecurity is extinguished by faith. Remember that God wants you, that Divinity specifically crafted you. You’re already loved because you’re made of love. All you have to do to be protected is to remember and trust that you already are.
- Sword of the Spirit: We don’t just have to hunker down and defend ourselves, we’ve been given a sword to cut through the bullshit illusions of this world, and to set ourselves and others free. The Spirit is an activating force of insight, discernment, purpose, and clarity. This Spirit is scripture, which provides perspective, guidelines, encouragement, and teaching. It is a “weapon” only against which is false to begin with, and thus cannot be used to harm anyone. If you’ve been harmed, outright abused, or denigrated by scripture, it was not interpreted correctly. The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If the text of the Bible was used against you to express someone’s hatred, dissatisfaction, fear, impulsivity, and selfishness, I’m genuinely sorry and I empathize with that pain deeply.
- Benevolent possession by the Holy Spirit: The Spirit also serves as an internal teacher and guide. It’s our healing and supportive force. It’s the (re)generative source of all the other aspects of the armor, where we draw our truth, right attitude, gentleness, focus, trust, and insight from. It provides the confirmation we need to discern the right way forward; it’s our comforter, corrector, and confidant.
This armor is light and effective. Where it’s penetrated shows us where we need to grow in our own lives. Experiencing misfortune and pain because you lied and manipulated someone? Cool, get real with yourself and others. Feeling insecure in the tumult of life? Practice letting go and reconnecting to God, building your trust with Divinity. Not sure how to move forward in this situation? Consider the route that creates the most peace in the lives of those around you and yourself. Now you have the armor piece you were missing, weren’t using correctly, or weren’t maintaining. Do what you can to fix things, and the Spirit will heal your wounds as you open up to the lessons of your pain.
The cool thing about this armor is that it’s designed to keep us open. What do you think of when you consider most defensive systems in militaries throughout history? Heavy, dense materials that weigh down and close off the body, tall fortresses with moats to keep people out? Offensive tools that suppress and destroy any potential attackers? A closing-off, shutting down, separating. Instead of this, the armor of God equips us for opening, enlivening, and connecting 🙂
Kevlar and an AR 15 won’t protect you from your own selfishness, rage, instability, and pain, as Americans know too well at this point. The only way to protect and regenerate your *real* self is the integrity and love described in the Armor of God. Whether or not you’re a Christian or think all spirituality is woo-woo nonsense, these values: honesty, justice, peacefulness, broader perspective, trust, and discernment are the only things that will bring you true security in this world.
Whaddabout external harm??
I talk a lot about the internal ways we hurt ourselves and the ways we might harm others because I think that’s a really important starting point for change. But we all know that no matter how kind you are, others can and will approach you with malice. This hurts… till it doesn’t. By opening up to your own pain and addressing your own problems, you learn where others’ aggression and bad behavior are coming from. That understanding helps you take things less and less personally, until you get to the point of immediate compassion for another person, knowing that their hurtful intent comes from pain and confusion. (Not saying I’m there yet by a long shot, but if you wanna read about at least one human that got there, check out Peace Pilgrim’s story.)
If God made each of us in His/Her/Their/Its image, and God is love, then we are individuals made in the image of love. We get distorted, but the essential nature remains no matter what. The best way to defeat the enemy is to remind them that they’re actually your friend, that we’re all actually on the same side, no matter how confused and twisted up we are. And if we’re all made of the same stuff, the best way to remind people of their essential nature is to embody it yourself. Being a less-distorted, less mucked-up mirror means that we can reflect more of God’s light, which speaks to the goodness in others. You know those times when you’ve been trash talking someone, and the person you’re speaking to doesn’t go along with it? There’s that immediate moment of realization within you of “oh wait, I shouldn’t be doing this.” You might follow that up with “nah I’m justified and they’re just uptight,” but even then that feeling of wrongness lingers. By staying in their integrity, that other person just showed you your bad attitude. That’s what this armor equips us to do for ourselves and others.
Exercises to Strengthen Your Armor
- Journal Reflection 1: At the end of the day, write down 1 way in which you have used each piece of armor appropriately, and 1 way you didn’t. If possible, come up with a way to fix the mistake, and to lean further into the growth of what you’re already doing well. Example:
- Belt of Truth: 👍 Was honest with a coworker about falling behind even though I was tempted to lie. Improvement: none, I think I’m doing well. 👎 Told my girlfriend I didn’t see her message, when I really just ignored it. Fix: Tell her that I did actually see her text earlier, apologize, and focus on responding to her messages in the future. (Or, tell her that I don’t really like texting, and talk to her about my stress/avoidance around that, try to figure out a communication style that works for us.)
- Boots of Peace: 👍 Didn’t participate in office gossip today. Improvement: Next time, I can actively change the subject to something uplifting. 👎 Snapped at my son this morning instead of asking him to be quieter. Fix: Apologize to him for being short with him earlier.
- Mentally visualize, draw, or collage your own version of the Armor pieces. Using visual symbolism that emphasizes the aspects of each piece to you personally, put together an idea of what your armor looks like. Imagine how it physically feels on your body. I’ve imagined mine as different brightly-colored clothing articles with stones sewn on them, as a kind of glowing weightless metal, and as a series of ghostly lines crisscrossing over me. There is no official way the armor looks and feels–make it yours. Once you know what it feels and looks like, imagine putting it on at the beginning of your day, or whenever you’re feeling stressed and afraid.
- If you already wear things that feel protective to you (like a cross necklace, stone jewelry, lucky charm, etc.) associate these things with the principles of the armor of God.
- Think about which piece of armor you struggle with the most, and focus for at least a week on strengthening that aspect. If you have trouble with humility, self confidence, and judgment, focus on putting others before you for a week. If you tend to be irritable, focus on letting go of that irritability and just allowing yourself to be kind no matter the circumstance for a week. Don’t just rely on your strengths, really focus on shoring up your weak points.