Therefore, take up the full armour of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
– Ephesians 6:13-17
“Get out!” She screamed. There were definitely better greetings to come home to after a long day of work. Work. That’s where I was, or at least that’s what everyone thought. My life used to be easy, living the monotony of working toward the American Dream. There was more money in the bank than I could count and the numbers continued climbing, matching my pace up the ladder of success
The climb was hard, long and tiring, but I wasn’t afraid of heights. Each rung was even harder to hold onto as they became wet with moisture from the clouds. The puffs of white in the clear sky looked so beautiful from the ground, but there is nothing beautiful about them when you travel day and night, vision obscured, not knowing up from down, clothes drenched in sweat and moisture, barely clutching the wooden beam which keeps you from falling.
How foolish I had been, how foolish indeed. I always dreamt of Heaven above the clouds: a place of peace and relaxation. What does the head of a mighty corporation do all day but rake in the cash and sit in their chair eating candy? I didn’t know… and never would. It was like God looked down at my ladder, laughing at my pitiful attempts to reach him, before plucking my fingers from the rungs and releasing me. I watched my Tower of Babel fall, and with it my dreams.
“Take up the whole armour of God,” I heard my mother say while I lay there, crippled on the ground. She had taught me well, but I never listened. I wanted to be a warrior, conquering the world in one mighty sweep of success, but I couldn’t hold it together. I charged into battle and my armour fell off leaving me exposed: the very thing I hated. If only I had remembered the whole armour. “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness.” I was not standing, though. I could not stand, legs broken from the fall.
The shield of faith was the first to go. I remembered the day so clearly. Dressed for work with all my armour, I arrived at the office early per usual. Why did I come so early? Was I such a hard worker, striving to succeed where all else failed? I could fool them as they watched me climb the ladder, but from below all they saw were the clouds. Only I knew what happened behind that shroud of puffy magic… well… Claire and I.
She had more power over her dad than I ever thought possible. I had heard of only children being reduced to spoilage, especially by fathers who had more money than time, but never saw it in action. Stuck at the bottom of the ladder, struggling to climb that first rung, to be noticed from within the crowd, I noticed her. She walked into the office, commanding the room with a gaze she clearly inherited from dad, who needed no words or actions to dictate his control. What he wanted was law, and no one could tell him what to do or think… except for his daughter.
Dropping that shield of faith I had held so long, I watched as she disappeared into the boss’s office. I remembered to carry that shield around, but what more did it do for me than weigh down my ascent (or lack thereof) up the ladder. If I ever hoped to reach that first rung, it might serve me better as a paperweight.
As a plan formulated in my head, I felt my belt of truth begin to slip from my waist to my knees. Quickly scanning the room, I hoped no one had noticed. Life had been so hard for the wife and I. She deserved more than this: an absent husband stuck in a dead end job. Kids, a car, a house, the white-picket fence; that was our dream and we were no closer to accomplishing it than we had been 10 years ago, so full of youth, ready to take on the world. I looked up at the first rung on the ladder from my place atop the shield, watching Claire leave the office that day. What harm would it be? Just a few lies and no one would known. They could fall behind me as I climb the ladder. I just needed a jump-start to get going, then my skill would carry me the rest of the way.
It started out slow, after all, what did I know about wooing a young lady? I hadn’t been on a “first date” in 10 years. Come to think of it, she wasn’t really that much younger than me. As I get older, age seems less of a factor. At 18, 5 years was too many to count, nevermind it being illegal. I didn’t want to go to jail for going out with a minor… but at 35? Thirty didn’t seem that young at all, and Claire didn’t think that 35 was too old… and neither did her dad.
More work was never a bad thing if it meant a promotion, a raise, one more rung up that ladder, the white-picket fence closer. I began to stay later at the office to work on the special projects my boss had me doing, not noticing how dishevelled my armour looked. At the office I ignored it, but it was my glaring fault when sitting down to a late dinner with my wife. I came in exhausted and dropped my bags, breastplate swinging uncontrollably having no belt of truth to keep it in place. Sitting at the table, she asked me how work was while kissing me, a kiss I didn’t deserve. The lies began to trickle out of my mouth like a leaky faucet, but it wasn’t long before the pipes exploded and my world was flooded with an uncontrollable torrent.
I was doing this for her, wasn’t I? I was doing this for us… at least that’s what helped me sleep at night. We had moved out of our downtown apartment and finally purchased a house. I was so happy when we unpacked our first boxes together and went out to eat at the fanciest restaurant in town that night to celebrate my promotion. Third promotion. Third rung, climbing into the clouds. Then in happened. Why now, in the middle of a nice meal with my wife? In such a big city, what were the odds that Claire would be working here. I had never thought to ask her about her personal life too much, and if I had I wasn’t really listening.
The shield of faith I had stood on for 10 years had gotten me nowhere. Still in that downtown apartment, still no kids, no house, still miserable. Putting it down was the best thing that ever happened to my family… but not to my armour. Trusting in God got us nowhere, but trusting in my own wit and deceitful schemes… that’s when I started climbing the ladder. The belt of truth quickly followed as I lied to my wife, hating every minute of it. Could she see that I had misplaced my shield and my breastplate was rattling freely as I shook in my skin like a child seeing a ghost? The breastplate was next, the belt of truth no longer holding it in place. I left righteousness behind in my pursuit of success, meeting with Claire more frequently as I climbed the ladder faster and faster.
I had felt the sting in my flesh before, the sting of burning arrows, but never this strong. When I dropped my shield for the first time the Devil saw his opportunity and shot me once, then twice, but I didn’t flinch. No pain, no gain, right? Now with no faith, truth, or righteousness, I was exposed, naked before my attacker. Exposed, the very thing I hate.
Claire came to our table, being our server that night… or at least she was supposed to be. When she spotted me with another woman, the only thing she served was a healthy dish of fiery arrows from the anger rising inside her. I was at an all-you-can-eat buffet, but I didn’t want any of the food. The plates at this restaurant looked like Heaven, but they had the bitter taste of Hell. The salad bar favourite was “Revenge: a dish best served cold.” As I continued to the main course I saw my plate of choice: adultery marinated in lies. It fed my body well, but the bitter taste left me empty inside, keeping me coming back, my hunger for success never satisfied. Now came the dessert. I knew it was coming, though I never wished it this way. After eating so much entree, how could I have room for dessert, but Claire didn’t care. She heaped anger and jealousy on my plate in giant mounds and like a slave-driver forced me to eat. I didn’t know how much she usually made from tips, but if there was a way to give negative tips, tonight would be the night. Why should I pay for this meal I don’t want, being forced to eat by a waitress who now despises me.
I had heard of second-breakfasts, but never second desserts. When taught about spelling I was always told that the difference between desert and dessert was the extra “S” because you always want more dessert. How wrong that theory was. My second dessert was one of sadness, hurt, pain. Tonight’s second dessert was served by my wife once we got home. I didn’t know what to say, and neither did she. I don’t think she even cared if I ate my dessert, she just kept heaping it onto my plate, making me stare at all the pain I had caused her. I thought the plate would break beneath the weight of all the dessert, but it never did. The only thing that broke was her heart… and mine.
The next morning I tried to put on my armour and get ready for work, but could not. My shield had been gone for some time and my belt was at work, probably in the garbage can by my desk. The breastplate or righteousness? It had been falling off in pieces ever since the affair started, but the last piece fell on the floor of the restaurant last night and I didn’t have to energy or care to pick it up. What did I have left? The helmet of salvation and shoes of readiness, the gospel of peace. On second though, I just had the helmet. Those sandals of peace had been lost last night as I struggled beneath the gaze of my wife, hurt and disappointed. I just wanted to make everything okay, but what could I do? Throwing on my helmet, not caring how lopsided it was, I headed to work.
The hot summer sun of the morning heated the asphalt of the parking lot up like a solar oven. I had never noticed before with my shoes on, but having lost those sandals of peace my feet were raw by the time I reached the door to the office building. Stepping into the elevator I stared at the buttons until my vision blurred. Up or down? I had been going up for a long time, climbing higher and higher on the ladder of success, but where would I be going now? I pushed “up” in hopeless expectation and was rewarded with the gift I deserved. Without armour I was stripped of everything, pierced by the arrows of the devil, barely able to keep that helmet on my head. I was greeted at my desk by a note from the boss to see him in his office. I had been receiving similar notes over the past could of years, while I climbed the ladder, but somehow this time I didn’t think it would lead to a promotion or special project.
The boss shot more arrows at me, and I couldn’t ward them off. Fired: I was finished, defeated, launched from the ladder I had climbed, using his daughter to reach such heights, leaving my armour at the bottom, untouched. I had climbed so high and now I fell, recalling the past couple years of my life, reliving the past as I fell one rung at a time. I remembered the loss of my sandals, breastplate, belt… where was my sword? It must have fallen off when I took off my belt that first time. Not only could I not defend myself, but I couldn’t fight back… and it hadn’t even occurred to me. Creating the illusion of work, I drove around town until quitting time before returning home.
“Get out!” She screamed. There were definitely better greetings to come home to after a long day of work. Work. That’s where I was, or at least that’s what everyone thought. Not really. Who was I fooling? Not myself. I lost all my armour, my job, and now my wife. There was no better place for me than at the bottom of that ladder I had once climbed. “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” Once I took that first piece of armour off, there was no turning back. What is a warrior without his shield? What is a breastplate without the belt of truth to keep it fastened in place, and what is a sword without a belt to keep it on? What use are sandals when the rest of you is exposed, and a helmet… I took it off in despair and looked at it. Did I even deserve this helmet? Saved by grace and killed by stupidity.
I heard a voice from the Heavens call down to me. “My son, put your armour back on… and don’t take it off this time.” I struggled to my feet and redressed, not knowing what else to do. As I reached down to grab the final piece, the shield of faith, an arrow came whizzing through the air and instinctively I lifted the shield to receive it. The arrow struck hard and true, leaving me unscathed. The climb would be harder, being weighed down by all this armour, but at least I would survive this time. I took my first step, no longer hopeless and defeated, but clothed in salvation, righteousness, peace and faith, wielding the sword of the spirit to challenge all that may come against me.