Aug 19, 2015

journal of a miss to mrs // the proverbs 31 woman

"You is smart.
You is kind.
You is important".
(The Help by Katherine Stockett)

The Proverbs 31 woman is hailed by many as the ideal godly woman. There are many reasons to rightfully think so: She is an excellent wife (v.10-12, 28-29), mother (v. 21, 28), and member of her community (v. 20). She is also a manufacturer (v. 13), importer (v.14) , manager (v.15), realtor (v.16),  farmer (v. 16),  seamstress (v. 19, 21), upholsterer (v.22), merchant (v. 24), and a wise teacher (v. 26).  She is not idle (v 27), but industrious and resourceful, showing integrity in how she manages her household and her business. If she was living in today's generation, there's a chance her garden would be showcased in Home & Gardens magazine or her wise advice (v. 26) on a blog or in a book. But there's also a chance that she would be ridiculed as being an over-achiever or legalistic because of all she does.

I have studied "her", this Proverbs 31 woman, in the past and now this weekend studied her again alongside my fiancé who just finished a year-long in-depth study of Proverbs. We decide to look at Proverbs 31:10-31 together and it was such a blessing to hear his thoughts on the passage as well as his prayers for me while studying. In the past, I have read blog posts and magazine articles where this woman is praised and revered as someone to aspire to be, a superwoman. But I have also read of those who once saw her this way but soon grew bitter of her because they realized there are not enough hours in the day to do all she does. Sarcastic comments about how this woman is unrealistic and how it is unfair to expect the modern woman of today to reflect her.

I think there needs to be a balance of both of these extremes. Yes, she is an amazing woman who is worthy of praise (v. 28). Yes, there are so many things to look at and aspire to be: a wife who cares for her husband, a mother who provides and loves her children so much they "stand and bless her" (v. 28), a good employer (v. 15), a compassionate and generous neighbor who serves the needy (v. 20), a responsible manager of finances along with the needs of the home (v. 18). Just like the rest of the book of Proverbs, there is a plethora of practical advice and instruction on how to be wise and make good decisions. And this is all good.

However, she is not to be seen as a blueprint of what a godly woman (whether single, married with children or without, or a widow) should mirror perfectly, because yes, you'll realize you just cannot measure up. But, don't throw out this woman as an unrealistic ideal. Don't grow sarcastic or bitter and assume the author of this proverb is against any form of rest or recreation for women. I would fall over in exhaustion if I tried to mimic every one of these twenty-one verses. And, hey, I enjoy relaxing with a good book and a cup of tea or going on vacations.   But the good news is this, ladies: We are not expected to!

I doubt very much that the heart of this passage lies in just the work that this woman does. Yes, this is what is mainly mentioned in the verses, but do not miss the heart of this woman. Don't miss the why behind that works she does, or else she will look more like a robot than a woman who loves her God, her husband, her children, and her community. 

I believe that this woman would not be able to do half the things listed here where it not for a heart deeply rooted in love. I don't know about you, but if there was not love behind my actions, I would get pretty annoyed with cooking, cleaning, or doing anything helpful for my family. I'd also be constantly annoyed with many of the patients I treat as a pediatric nurse practitioner, because really, hearing screaming toddlers and rude teens distracted on their phones in my exam room rather than answering my questions, is not my favorite way to spend nine hours of my day. I would find short-cuts and quietly murmur (or, likely loudly exclaim, if we're being honest) my complaints at both home, work, and anything I help with at church or the community. But this woman was ready to serve others and I believe this is mainly because of where she finds her strength -- Her wisdom and grace are found in her reverence for God (v. 30). This is the bedrock behind her actions, abilities, knowledge, productiveness, and compassion. It's not really about the Proverbs 31 woman after all, but about her God who supplies all she needs to do what He has called her to.

I cannot imagine this woman trudging along her hallway steps, complaining about waking up before sunset (uhhh, I am guilty) or thinking her life is unfair because she has a to-do list the size of Texas. Rather, I trust her deeds are done in joy. And, this, my sweet ladies, is what is an inspiration to me. Not the long list of accomplishments, but the heart behind it. Because we all have different responsibilities and different passions. We all have different roles in our families and community. So, don't aspire to imitate this Proverbs 31 woman, but look at her as an inspiration to live a life that points to the One who strengthens your every step. Live a life that aspires to be selfless and ready to serve, not out of obligation, but out of love and joy. Live a life that echoes in a small but powerful way, the life of Jesus on this earth two thousand years ago. Live a life of love. This transforms your everyday chores into opportunities to work as if you are working for the Lord (Colossians 3:23, Ephesians 6:7). No, it doesn't mean you'll love scrubbing and soaking and folding, but you're attitude about this seemingly insignificant things will change.

Brother Lawrance writes in The Practice of the Presence of God, “We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” He worked in the kitchen of a monastery and lived a life determined to see even things like scrubbing dirty dishes and washing floors as a way to serve and praise God. Anything you do, when done out of a heart that loves God and desires to obey and praise Him, can be seen as worship and praise to Him. And that is what this Proverbs 31 woman is doing. Her hard work is not so that she will be praised, though her family do (v. 28-29), but as an expression of her love for God, which then spills over to the way she loves her family and her community. She lives her live on mission, serving those who are destitute and hurting (v. 20). 

Do not miss the point of Proverbs 31. Look past the works she does (though they truly are admirable!) and look at this woman's heart. Her noble character, loyalty to her family, compassion to those who are needy and poor. She is a woman in love with her God and ready to live each day reflecting that love through her actions for others. 

As I inch closer and closer to my wedding date in two months, I want to pause and process Proverbs 31. I want to prayerfully examine her but not be bogged down with expectations to be a "perfect" wife (whatever that means anyway). And since I tend to teeter towards making Productivity an idol that makes me feel accomplished and worthy, I want to be careful to examine my heart and the motives behind the ways that I help Greg. I texted him this morning as we discussed a lot of the thoughts that have been written thus far: "I don't want to be so productive that I lose my focus to love God, love you, and love people." I am excited to come alongside him and encourage him, pray for him, cheer him on, lovingly correct him when needed, and also have a whole lot of fun adventures too. But I want to see everyday things, like folding laundry or putting ingredients in a crock-pot (we love our crock-pot recipes, y'all) as a way to love Greg too. When done out of love, these are not domestic duties to be scorned, but a way to that Love puts on working gloves. And they're not merely boxes to be checked off on my Evernote to-do list, but an expression of my love for him. 

This Proverbs 31 woman is a treasure more precious than jewels (v.10). She has a husband that trusts her (v. 11), children that love her (v. 28), and a community that is blessed by her compassion (v. 20). Rather than being mentioned for her outward beauty (she isn't at all, actually), she is more concerned with the unfading beauty of a gentle spirit, that is precious to God (1 Peter 3:3-4), living purely and in wisdom (Titus 2:3-5) both in the home and in her business,  is ready to help those in need (Romans 12:13), and gives generously through her purse as well as her hands (Ephesians 4:28). 

Whatever life stage you're in currently, I hope you can see this Proverbs 31 woman a little bit differently today. May she not be the exact ideal to mimic, nor a satirical woman to be brushed off as archaic or a slave to her family. She is strong because of her strength in God and that allows her to be the excellent woman that is worthy of praise. And that, yes, that is a good thing to be inspired by even today in our culture and society. He is able to mold and make us into women who are not concerned with ourselves all the time, but who love Him and love others through our words and actions. 

"Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears (has reverence for) the Lord is to be praised. Give her the fruit of her hands and let the works praise her in the gates"
(Proverbs 31:30-31)

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Elle Alice