I have this problem when it comes to reading scripture. Well, I have several problems when it comes to reading scripture but I will just focus on one for now. After reading a passage or verse on my own, I often get this feeling of “Now what?” I’ll sit in bed, with my journal out, devotional in my lap, waiting to be struck with some kind of divine inspiration, and I will read a verse and think, “What’s that got to do with me?” Growing up attending Sunday School, VBS, church camp, and plenty of youth conferences I understand the importance of studying the scripture and “arming myself with God’s word.” It’s supposed to guide me through trying times, comfort me in sadness, and divulge the greatness of God’s love for me. In terms of a book review, that is setting some pretty high expectations.
And I love to read. I consume stories with a ravenous hunger for passion, adventure, and intrigue. I was one of those people who would stay up all night finishing the latest Harry Potter book as soon as it came out. I’m currently in the middle of reading three books, one of which I have read before but wanted to go back and read again. This is outside of the reading I do in preparation for my job. As an English teacher, I can appreciate the beauty of passages from Psalms and understand the poetic structure of Proverbs. I have a passion for language and understand the impact it can have.
I say all that so you can understand that I’m not just a product of a generation so immersed in technology that I can’t sit still for 5 minutes and focus on a text in front of me. I can and I enjoy doing so. I also really enjoy learning and love when a pastor or author takes a verse and breaks down the meaning of individual phrases. This is why Beckie and I work so well together. I benefit so much from her diligent study and research of the scripture. But more often than not, reading on my own is unfulfilling.
Now, I said this was going to be about Proverbs 31 so let me bring this full circle. Last summer, I participated in a bible study about Ruth developed by Kelly Minter. In this study, Minter theorizes that Proverbs 31 could actually be about Ruth. Currently, I’m in the middle of reading Beth Moore’s So Long Insecurity for the second time. In this book, Moore breaks down one specific part of Proverbs 31. I believe it’s only because I have read this chapter twice and participated in the study on Ruth that this verse finally struck a chord with me.
“She is clothed with strength and dignity.” Proverbs 31:25
This has become my new mantra. When I start to feel anxious, I repeat the terms “strength and dignity” over and over again. When I think about tweeting a passive aggressive message meant to jab at a follower, I repeat “strength and dignity”. When I find myself in a frustrating conversation, on the verge of a biting remark, I repeat “strength and dignity”. When I begin to feel my anxiety overwhelming me, I repeat “strength and dignity”. Now this doesn’t always mean I make the right choice, but it helps remind me of an important part of my identity in Christ.
I am covered in strength and dignity. I have power to make the best choices because God has empowered me to do so. I don’t have to be nervous when I meet new people. I don’t have to give in to my sinful spiteful nature.Think about Ruth, if this section of Proverbs is truly about her, let’s consider what that means for defining strength and dignity. Ruth vehemently disobeys and disregards her mother-in-laws’ plead for Ruth to leave and return to her home village. She actively chooses to take on a life of hardship and pain. In accepting this, she doesn’t curl up in a ball of self-pity, wasting away thinking about all the opportunities she’s missed. She goes out and scavenges leftover grain, accepting the state-sanctioned welfare of the day. She then, on the advice of her mother-in-law (I mean, this she listens to) brazenly exposes herself in the most vulnerable way to a man that she can only hope will accept her and help her.
I don’t know about you, but if I find myself hiding at the foot of a man’s bed, waiting for him to stagger home after a party, hoping he will accept to be my husband…I’m not feeling very strong or dignified. Her position was the LEAST dignified a person could take, lowering herself to the behavior of a prostitute. And yet, through all of those impossible decisions we can go back and see the strength behind her actions. The strength she has in God. Her belief that He would be faithful, that He would provide, gave her the strength and dignity to behave in such a scandalous way. I want that. I want to constantly remind myself that God has created me to exude strength and dignity. In times when I start to believe the lie that I am not enough, that I don’t have what it takes to be successful, that I won’t be accepted with all my faults and weaknesses, that not even God could love me in my lowest moment, I cleave to strength and dignity.
It is difficult for me to personally connect with scripture. For anyone having this same problem, I encourage you to seek multiple mediums of this verse. I’m not speaking solely of reading multiple translations (although that could also be helpful), but find sermons online that preach on the verse, look for blogs where others share their views, ask a trusted counselor or friend to give you their connection, or even conduct a whole study on the verse. It took a span of three years for me to connect to one verse. But I’m really glad I stuck it out. Like so many things in this life, understanding God’s word is not easy, but it is worth it.
*Previously posted on Debunking Debacles on 4/20/2014