I was blessed this week to share at Ladies of Hope, a local monthly Bible study, about a practice that helps prepare me for my day: praying the armor of God. Plenty of people pray the rosary of the Lord’s Prayer. When we pray, it is often helpful to have a guide or template. Such forms give our prayers structure and can help us relate our concerns to God when we don’t know what to say.

One passage that helps me pray is Ephesians 6:10-17, which urges believers to put on God’s armor: The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes to spread the Gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, God’s word.

If you happen to drive down the country road where I like to walk and pray in the morning, you might find me buckling an imaginary belt around my waist as I ask God to keep me in his truth. Or you might spot me raising an imaginary helmet to my head as I thank God for his salvation. Wacky? You bet! But the gestures remind me of my need for God’s protection.

Armor is mostly defensive. A soldier’s most vulnerable areas are the head and the heart. But one piece of armor that has often puzzled me is the breastplate of righteousness. Maybe it is the childhood memory of sitting on my living room couch while a church friend’s parents informed my mother that their daughter was no longer allowed to play with me, but the word ‘righteousness’ leaves a bitter, metallic taste in my mouth. Their self-righteousness told me I wasn’t good enough to play with their daughter.

Self-righteousness is a poor counterfeit for true righteousness, which doesn’t come from the self at all. “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are,” Paul says in Romans 3:22 (NLT). Sadly, the only kind of righteousness many people encounter isn’t from God. Instead, it is ugly, cruel and false. Wikipedia nails it, “Self-righteousness is a feeling or display (usually smug) of moral superiority derived from a sense that one’s beliefs, actions or affiliations are of greater value than those of the average person.”

Pretty shoddy breastplate. Worse, those who wear it often use self-righteousness as a weapon to wound others rather than as protective covering for the heart. In Hebrew, the word ‘righteousness’ implies honesty, justice, fairness and doing what is right. As God gives me the ability to do what is right, this is the plate that guards my heart. It isn’t about superiority, but about faith in Christ.

So if you see me walking along some morning, hands on my heart, know that I am thanking God for his protection and asking for the strength to be honest, just and fair. And if you’re interested in Ladies of Hope or our upcoming women’s retreat in Farmingdale on Sept. 8, click on my website and shoot me an email: meadow@meadowrue.com

Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. Her Lantern Hill Farm picture-book series releases this fall with The Christmas Cradle