Regular Grow Christians author Ryan Casey Waller is out with a new book: Broken. It’s a beautiful collection of essays reflecting on the reality that none of us has our act fully together. The good news is that God in Christ loves anyway, and sends us out to love in his name. Waller’s writing, as always, is clear and compelling. Today’s post is an excerpt from that new book. – Ed.
I have never carried a shield or been in a situation where I needed one. This is probably something you and I have in common. But maybe you are a soldier or a police officer or someone who knows what it’s like to need a shield. Maybe you know what it’s like to be attacked, to come face to face with an enemy.
I recently heard a photojournalist on public radio describe how it felt to receive an email requesting the exact number of inches between her navel and her breasts. She was heading to Iraq, and a company needed the dimensions to make her body armor. Can you imagine receiving such an email? Can you imagine replying?
To need armor to protect you from a bullet or a violent mob is a heightened kind of reality, one I will probably (hopefully) never understand.
But I know how it feels to be protected—most of us do. The click of a lock at night, the warmth of a heavy coat in winter, the embrace of a parent. What a blessing it is to be protected, right?
We know insecurity too. The savings account runs dry, but the bills keep coming. The tumor is back, and it’s bigger. The one phone call we really need—the one that could save our marriage—doesn’t come.
Protection: We all need it. We all seek it. But we don’t all find it.
When I was thirteen, I had night terrors. I would wake up in the dead of the night and run around the house—half-awake, half-naked, wholly terrified and fully believing that the dreams were real.
The first time it happened, I jolted my parents awake to tell them I had stolen a million dollars and was in big trouble. The premise of the night terror was always ridiculous. But the fear wasn’t. The fear was all too real—the kind that crawls into the marrow of your bones and infects you. The kind of fear you feel when you’re completely exposed, all your defenses are gone, and there’s nothing left standing between you and the darkness.
What do you do when you need a shield to face the terrors of your night? To whom—or what—do you turn for protection?
Saint Paul says the true darkness we face in this world is not the forces of flesh and blood but rather the flaming arrows of the evil one. He says this darkness is so expansive and these arrows so sharp that we cannot possibly face them alone. If we are to stand against evil, he says, we must clothe ourselves in the full armor of God.
Years ago, a large and influential group of Christians boycotted Disney. They felt Disney’s values no longer squared with theirs. I found this deeply troubling, mostly because I was in love with Ariel from The Little Mermaid. I share the story of this boycott because the image of faith as shield is a tricky one. If we conceive of faith primarily as a protective barrier keeping us from what we don’t like or aren’t comfortable with, then we miss the point. Paul doesn’t say faith is a cocoon to wrap ourselves in but rather a shield to ward off attack.
Of course, you only need a shield if you’re heading somewhere dangerous. And that is exactly where Christians are called to go. We run into the mess, not away from it. That’s what Jesus does.
Our Lord never runs from pain or sadness or illness or trouble. He walks straight into it, his arms wide open. When the religious leaders encircle a woman caught in adultery and want to stone her (which they have every legal right to do), Jesus dares those with no sin to throw the first stone. When a woman who has been bleeding for years (which Jewish society deemed unclean) touches Jesus, he allows his power to flow out of him and into her so she is healed on the spot. Jesus Christ willingly enters into controversial situations because he is far more concerned with the needs of others than he is with his own reputation.
My brothers and sisters, our faith calls us into the fray and toward the trouble. Not all of us are called to battle on the front lines, in dangerous mission fields near or far. We don’t have to go to Calcutta, India, like Mother Teresa. After all, we need only heed her advice: “Calucttas are everywhere if only we have eyes to see. Find your Calcutta.”
[Want to read more? Order your copy here. – Ed.]
Where is your Calcutta? How is God calling you towards it?