How can we have strength and dignity?
“Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.” (Proverbs 31: 25)
A couple of weeks ago, I took the funeral of a beloved friend and parishioner here at St. Mark’s Church. She had a firm Christian faith, and she chose, as one of her Bible readings, a reading from the Book of Proverbs, Chapter 31, dubbed ‘The Virtuous Wife’. To be honest, reading the text now, some 3000 years later, it sounds a little dated and patriarchal, but we approach the text, not by critically analysing it, but by appreciating to whom and by whom it was written. We approach it in the same way that we might approach a rose, not by picking off and scattering the petals, but by allowing its scent to be savoured and enjoyed.
The overall aroma of the woman described in Proverbs 31 is that of someone whose inner-beauty, creativity, and wisdom shines and blesses those around her. Here are some of the adjectives or descriptions used in the passage: capable and hard-working, precious and gracious, kind and generous, creative and gifted, courageous and brave, perceptive and wise, strong and dignified, charming and beautiful.
I am always amazed at the positive impact we humans can have on each other, and this impact seems to be disproportionate to the time we invest. We all gain much more than we give. Firstly, we can give each other gifts. This can be through providing essential needs for living such as food, water, shelter, or clothing, or it can be non-essential gifts that show affection — gifts given in kind. Secondly, we can spend quality time with each other, for example, we can offer a listening ear and be present with people as a comfort or support. Thirdly, we can offer acts of service for one another and find out what someone needs just by asking, “How can I help you today?” Fourthly, we can use our words to give others encouragement, a blessing, or affirmation. And finally, we can use physical touch to bless each other — a shake of the hand, a pat on the shoulder, or an appropriate and sensitively-timed hug!
Virtues are those things we possess that underpin our expressions of love for one another. At her funeral, when I thought of my dear friend, two of the virtues mentioned in the Bible passage stood out to me: strength and dignity.
Scripture is filled with references to God’s strength. King David praised God’s strength in his song of thanksgiving, “Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always,” and in Psalm 73, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
The prophet Isaiah proclaimed God’s strength for those in need, “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength,” and the prophet Habakkuk proclaimed God’s strength and ability to lift him above his circumstances, “God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread over high places.”
In the New Testament we are encouraged to seek God’s strength through prayer. Jesus exhorts the disciples to pray for strength to combat the temptations of the world, “But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
The Apostle Paul reminds us to pray for strength that comes through faith and trust in Christ, “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”
And my favourite Bible verse about strength is from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Inner-strength is something for which I personally long and I recently wrote a poem with these words:
When life’s long trail breeds barren wastes
Braced body ‘gainst the gale
When succour comfort’s far away
And legs begin to fail
When rocks fall strewn across the path
Yawning canyons either side
When life is weighed o’er every step
And risk in every stride
When darkness drapes in barren wastes
Mind stifled by the cold
Heed breathless echo from the rocks
Of hopes the ground ‘twould hold
These aching bones still stagger on
Walled fissures closing in
As choking chasms squeezed between
Raw stone opposing skin
Yet not in strength of blood or will
Does present life depend
Against the thund’rous weary toil
Prevailing hush ascends
The Spirit whispers “Courage friend,
He’s left you not alone.
The Light of God whose steps you trace
Will guide and lead you home.”
Our strength comes from the Lord and we gain this strength through prayer and allowing the gentle but mighty Holy Spirit to fill us with his power. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit we become strong to the core; our battery never fails because we are constantly being recharged by and through our Lord, who is also our King, our Saviour, and our Best Friend.
The second virtue that stood out to me was dignity. I am not sure I have ever been described as dignified, however dignity or lack thereof is not about being clumsy or uncoordinated but is about a much deeper gift of character. When we have dignity we command respect, not in the sense that it needs to be demanded, but we have a wonderful presence that makes people want to honour and respect us. Dignity is not something we can manufacture but is something bestowed upon us by God. To have dignity is to have both majesty and humility. When we are filled with the very presence of God — the same Holy Spirit that gives us our inner-strength — the majesty and humility of God can shine through us, and this is recognised, by others, as dignity.
The good news is that both strength and dignity are available to us all through Jesus Christ. Today, if they are virtues that you seek, then pray for the Holy Spirit to fill you. All you have to do is ask.