I’ve noticed that it’s common for Christian women to either love the Proverbs 31 woman or love to hate her. And then there are some of us who, upon hearing any reference to the passage, suddenly become like a Charlie Brown character and only hear, “Whah whah whah whah whah whah whah.”
(I’m not the only one, right?)
However, I’m glad to announce that in recent years, I’ve come back around to a new appreciation of the scripture passage, of the woman, and of her role in my life.
You see, to begin, a lot of what I’ve heard (and continue to hear) about this Proverb involves the following phrases and ideas:
“God’s standard for Christian women.”
“The high calling of women that we hope to achieve.”
“Who we strive to become through discipline and effort.”
“Whah whah whah whah whah.”
As soon as we begin down this trail of thought, I believe we diverge from the truth of the Proverb. We have to take the whole counsel of Scripture into consideration to really get at the heart of this passage.
I’ve probably got a whole book’s worth of thoughts on this, and since you’ve only signed on to read a blog and not a book, I’m not going to get sidetracked by the obvious arguments that could be made against the feasibility of anyone achieving all of the Proverbs 31 traits at any given time of life (like both getting up early and staying up late yet still having wise and kind things to say the next day. Right.) I’ll also not mention the obvious unfairness in expecting us to complete the tasks of a woman who had servants at her disposal. (I mean, if I had a few servants…) Instead I’m going to just cut to the chase and recount a moment that gave me greater insight into this topic.
It was a lazy Saturday morning. You know the kind. When you are sitting around in your pajamas at 10:00 with a cup of coffee, some books, a journal and pen while your children watch cartoons and eat cereal out of the box? Well, there I sat, just sitting, thinking, staring out the window, when every few minutes a nagging feeling would rise up and start to tell me to get up and get going, stop wasting time, etc. But then I would put that feeling back in its place by reminding myself that it was a Saturday morning with no plans. A time to rest. Without guilt.
Then I thought, what would it be like if there were actually nothing to be done? Because there is a great difference in just ignoring what needs to be done around me because it’s Saturday morning, and the absence of the work altogether. But what if everything I might possibly need to do that day was already done. That would be an amazing feeling. That would be an amazing day of rest!
Just think about it for yourself for a minute. Any work that you could possibly need to do that day, anything that could make it on a to do list, even the things that would be nice to get done, but you know they probably never will- it’s all done already. Can you imagine how you would feel?
Now, what would you do with that? After getting some much needed rest, what will you then do? I’m going to guess that you’re probably not going to throw your clean laundry in the mud, plant weeds in your lawn, or dump your business files all over the floor. I’m thinking you’d be too grateful for all the work someone else had done for you to go back to that.
I’m also going to guess that you wouldn’t sit around on your duff eating truffles and watching TV forever either (although maybe for just a day or two). I’m thinking you’d be too grateful for all the work someone else had done for you to waste your life like that.
You know what you’re probably going to do? You’re probably going to go love others, you’re going to rest when you need it without any guilt and you’re going to enjoy life a lot more.
Well, spiritually, as followers of Christ, that is where we all are, right? There is no to-do list. No requirements. No high standards waiting to be met. It’s all done. All items are checked off. We’re approved, accepted, complete.
And we did none of it for ourselves.
And the peace and the gratitude that should reign in our hearts because of that, should lead us to a life very unlike the one lived under the endless to-do list. A life that wells up with love and service to others, amazing rest, and carefree enjoyment of God’s blessings.
And here’s where we return to the lovely lady of Proverbs 31. I think this is what she represents. A woman who knows her value, her status in Christ. Who knows she has no impossibly high standards to meet, and out of the joy and freedom of that knowledge, lives a life of love and joy and freedom.
I believe this passage of scripture is about embracing the unearned value that the Lord has placed on you and out of the overflowing abundance of that love, living a life of love for others. And you will never experience that if you approach this Proverb as a list of standards that you must strive to fulfill to be deemed valuable.
Proverbs 31 is not “God’s standard to strive for,” nor is it a checklist or how-to guide for a proper Christian life. It is a beautiful tribute to woman. It is a declaration of the value of a woman, made to a culture that considered us lesser thans. It is an exclamation of the worth and strength that God has allotted to women in spite of the cultural opinions that lay contrary to such notions.
If the reading of this passage leaves you feeling guilt-ridden and overwhelmed, rather than cherished and empowered, then you are reading it wrongly. If it motivates you to make new to-do lists rather than seek the face of your Savior, then you are missing the point. If it becomes useful to you as a reference point of what women should or shouldn’t do, instead of a testimony of what the Lord has done, then you are abusing the text.
Stop searching the scripture for either justification or condemnation of the choices of yourself or of others.
Stop reading the words in search of the secret of attaining godliness and value.
But rather, observe how the Proverbs 31 woman affects the lives of those around her, and know that can only be done by the indwelling love of Christ that is allowed the freedom to flow. It will look different for each of us, because we are all different people with varying strengths, loving different people with varying needs. But we are all loving.
It’s who we are in Christ.
We do not become by doing, but we do because we are.
And know that if you make this about accomplishing godliness or attaining status, about following rules and completing checklists, you may find yourself a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Cor 13:1-3). In other words, the result won’t be pretty or of value. The actions that spring from your feeble love will more align you with your Lord and bond you to your brethren than those actions that you carefully conjure up in hopes of achieving and displaying a desired state of being.
By all means, though, if you want to improve your expertise at household management, cooking, sewing, business growth, real estate investment, vineyard planting, etc., then have at it. Grow in your strengths, learn to develop your skills and better serve your family and community. That’s great. But don’t do it because you think it’ll make you more acceptable to God or inherently more valuable as a person.
For now, love as best as you know, though imperfect it may be. And as you grow in His love, I expect that you’ll increase your ability to love others as well.
Is your motivation to become holy, or is it to love? The first you cannot become by your actions, because you already are by the work of your Lord. The other you will not be able to help doing because He has put Himself in you and He Himself is love.
“God’s pleasure is not based on what you do for Him. It’s based on whether you are His child. If you are in Christ, you are a child of God, and He accepts you because you are in Christ. Because the Father is pleased with His son, He is also pleased with you. You are, as Paul put it in Ephesians, ‘accepted in the Beloved.’ The Christian, therefore, does not work toward the pleasure and acceptance of God. The Christian lives from the pleasure and acceptance of God.” (Sweet and Viola, Jesus: A Theography, 117)
You are the Proverbs 31 woman.
Acknowledge it. Wear it. Own it.
Know that He did it.
Your life may never be the same.