Updated: Jan 10
Have you ever had one of those dreams where you're doing something completely normal and then you look down and realize you're naked? You find yourself scrambling to find cover, feeling embarrassed, exposed, and vulnerable. I have to say, those are not my favorite kind of dreams! One time, in a dream like that, I decided to act as if it was normal. I kept walking around in my dream with my chin held high, pretending that my nakedness was acceptable, while on the inside I was dying from shame.
As much as I dislike dreams like that, they illustrate perfectly a repeating struggle of mine. (No, I didn't forget to put on pants today!)
Life gets busy, I think we can all agree on that! As a new author, I still need my day job to pay the bills. I have four kids and I'm married. I know I'm not the only one struggling to balance marriage, family, work, faith, friendships, and household responsibilities. Just when one thing seems to be going right, something else tips off balance. Then, like an out-of-practice circus performer, I'm cringing while my spinning plates smash in shards all around my feet.
When I feel like I'm not keeping up, things begin to fall apart for me both emotionally and spiritually. I get burnt out. In the face of what is now considered a typical modern-day life-style (busy 24/7) I find myself irritable, stressed, and anxious, which in turn affects my relationships with friends and family.
Two months ago, I temporarily gave up a volunteer position with the church that I truly enjoy because I felt so overwhelmed with responsibilities. I began to feel like everything was hard. I felt like everybody wanted something from me and I had nothing left to give. I began to doubt my calling to be a writer as I struggled to find just a few hours a week to sit down and create. My Bible time became just another to-do, something that weighed on me rather than lifting me up.
In frustration, I asked God, “Why is this so hard!”
I was shocked when this thought jumped immediately into my mind: “Because you're running around naked.”
At first I was confused, but then I glanced at my Bible, the book that had lately felt like a chore to pick up. I remembered the spiritual armor listed in Ephesians 6:10-18 and realized I had failed to put it on for weeks. I was facing every challenge in my life wearing nothing but my birthday suit. (Figuratively, of course!)
Have you ever felt like the spiritual armor of God was just for the "big" things? I don't know how, but time and time again, I forget how important all the everyday moments are to God. Parenting, marriage, careers, you name it, these things are battlegrounds for our time and energy, and for our hearts. I had tricked myself into believing I could face my daily grind all alone. That I just needed more get-up and go. More organizing. More self-care. If only there was two of me, I could do it all!
Self-sufficiency is an easy trap for me to fall into because I am a doer. I take pride in gettin' 'er done. I like to be strong and independent. I have a good support system in my husband and extended family. However, nothing compares to the strength we find in God. God doesn't mind it one bit when we are dependant on him. He prefers it!
Doing things God's way is not an easy-out from responsibilities. Even with the armor of God, I still have to get up and face the world. Paul didn't use the analogy of a fortress to hide in, but a suit to wear into battle. Anchoring myself in God's word does, however, give me peace, and as a burnt-out mom, boy do I crave peace!
When I am living the armor of God, I know beyond a doubt that I am not alone. Someone else cares about what I care about. He sees my worries. He loves my kids even more than I do. When I am clothed in God's ways, I readjust my priorities. I learn to love what God loves.
Living in God's ways is an active decision. It's not just a happy feeling. I did have to actually do something to get myself back on track.
It took an intentional pause for me to sort out my volunteer situation. I had to pray, really pray. Then I had to sit still and really listen. When I finally stopped lobbing prayers at God and dashing away to "get something done", I heard a voice inside tell me, “I didn't intend for you to work alone. I sent my disciples out in pairs.” Whether you believe that thought came from God or from my own subconscious, it checks out when measured against scripture!
The relief I felt knowing that God heard me, that He cared about my struggle, and that He had a plan to help me, is indescribable! I sat and cried from the flood of peace. When I requested additional help from my church, we ended up with a whole team of volunteers working together and sharing the load! God is good!
Prayer is a huge part of easing mental exhaustion, but there is more we need. A big part of the armor of God is the word of God, the Bible. If you're anything like me and you wait for the right mood to read your Bible, it might not get done.
During the Christmas break, when the whole family was recovering from a busy December, I spent time reflecting on my schedule. I discovered a lot of frantic multi-tasking and then, in other moments, big chunks of time-wasting in the name of rest (that wasn't actually restful). I took a realistic look at the hours given to me and wrote out a simple routine. I followed some advice I saw online and scheduled the most important things to happen early in the day. I planned for prayer and study to became foundational instead of the add-ons to my life. This is about being intentional with faith experiences rather than waiting for spirituality to find us.
I created a binder that encompasses my household chores, meal planning, grocery lists, work-outs, writing time, and most importantly, Bible study. Now, I know what I should be doing and when. There is intentional time set aside for rest and recharging. On Sundays, I scheduled only two things: church, and spending time with people.
This new routine has me feeling excited and optimistic about the upcoming year! The truth is though, that no matter how organized I may be, there is a very good chance that something is going to plow right through my well-laid plans. The point of living the attributes of the full armor of God is so that they become part of who I am. When I study the Bible, memorize scriptures or biblically-based hymns, they can carry me over until I can catch my breath and get back to routine again.
As Paul said while he was in prison for his faith, "I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am . . . I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:11-13)
I haven't reached "Paul level" contentment yet, but I believe that it's true that what we focus on, expands. When we put God first, He has a tendency to re-calibrate our list of what is truly important. The verses about the armor of God are not about adding a layer to our lives, it is making the attributes a part of who we are. We can't get there by simply wishing for it. It takes both prayer and spending time in God's word so that it lives in us. It means inviting God to be a part of every aspect of our lives.
If reading and prayer time sound like just another to-do in your already overburdened life, I hear you. I was there all too recently. God asks us to pray and study His word for our own good. Like a kid moaning over eating their vegetables, sometimes we resist what we need most. I invite you to take a good look at your daily schedule and mark out time for God. Sandwiching it in between your existing routine will help you remember, and stick to it!
Remember that Jesus told us to learn from him, and to take his yoke for it is easy and his burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30) The way Jesus lived was not a walk in the park, but it gave his disciples purpose, passion, and peace. Isn't that what we want? When we live our life God's way, we can finally shrug off those outside expectations that only bog us down.
It's important that when I rise in the morning to get ready for the day, I don't leave the room only to discover that I am naked and vulnerable. I need to dress for success! Every day, I need to wear the full armor of God so that when the world comes up against me, and I've done everything, I can still stand. I need to wear the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and to keep my feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. I must use the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. I need to pray in the Spirit in all occasions. (Ephesians 6:13-18)
After all, the last thing I want to realize is that I'm facing down a dragon (aka, a stubborn five-year-old, a looming deadline, or a neverending mountain of laundry) wearing nothing but my underwear!