Can I tell you a secret? Promise not to hate me? I LOVE PROVERBS 31.
I’m not sure all womankind is with me on this one. If you look around during a Mother’s Day sermon when the pastor quotes the inevitable “Her children will rise up and call her blessed!”, I bet you will see more than one eye roll.
Why? Because the Proverbs 31 woman is just kind of obnoxious. Right? Like Barbie, she sets an impossible standard for women. When’s the last time you got up early to cook, made your own clothes, wore them, sold them, negotiated the purchase of a vineyard, made food for your household, stayed up late working, and were ever-cheerful through the day? Like some sort of domestic goddess, she does it all, and with a smile on her face, no less. As thoroughly modern women, we hate the example she sets.
Me too, sometimes. I don’t deny it. But I have to admit, I also sort of love her, too. Why?
My mom taught me something years ago that kept me from hating That Woman. Proverbs 31 is describing a lifetime, not a day. That Woman looks after her household with competence and care. Yes, she does all those things I listed above, but not all at the same time. In the same way, not every chapter in our lives includes the sort of enterprising activity described in these verses. Proverbs 31 should inspire us, not smother us with guilt.
Each bullet point on that impressive resume is representative of a trait that we would do well to emulate. That Woman is trustworthy. She plans ahead. She provides for the needs of those within her household, and those without. She improves her husband’s reputation, and doesn’t hurt it. She is hard-working and shrewd. She is a wise counselor. She is self-less and kind. She is a tender lover. All of these traits apply just as well today as they did a few thousand years ago.
They are broad categories, too. The Bible does not limit women to cooking and cleaning. Nor does it treat us as tender flowers, too fragile or helpless to accomplish anything for God. That Woman, like this woman, was created to be a helpmate. Woman’s work is a vital part of the work of God’s Kingdom, and He has entrusted us with an enormous task—that of providing a rich soil for the growth of His children. As keepers of the home, we determine in large part the culture of our home. God provides us with archetypes for a good reason—so that we know what the goal is. When we read in Proverbs 31 that the worth of an excellent wife is far above jewels, we know what to strive for.
That’s a good reason not to hate the passage. But why love it?
Here’s why I love the passage: Proverbs 31 dignifies the work of my hands. Most of my waking hours as a mother are spent cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and looking well to the ways of my household. It is women’s work. My work is not valued by our culture because we are a nation of money-lovers, and it’s impossible to assign a dollar amount to the work of a stay-at-home mom. It’s easy for me to think that my work isn’t valued by God, either. After all, God is in the business of saving souls, not pinching pennies.
Much of my work consists of obtaining and maintaining all the things: food, clothes, fields, vineyards, belts… it’s like my job falls in this little no-man’s-land that is too materialistic for God, and not materialistic enough for America.
But we forget—God is in the business of saving bodies, too. He provides for our material needs, just as he provides for our spiritual needs. We ask him for our daily bread. He provides it. And as women and mothers, we are the conduit He most often uses to supply those material needs to our families, and many others as well.
Proverbs 31 recognizes the type of work I do. And not only does it recognize my work, it commends it. God isn’t rolling His eyes when:
-I go on a quest to find decent snow gloves and boots for my kids. “She is not afraid of the snow for her household.”
-I spend 20 minutes trying to get a grass stain out of my son’s pants. “All her household are clothed with scarlet.”
-I search craigslist for a larger dining room table. “She considers a field and buys it”
-I set aside time to care for my body and exercise. “She girds herself with strength and makes her arms strong.”
-I take care of my appearance. “She makes coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple.”
-I turn a profit or operate a business: “She makes linen garments and sells them.”
Proverbs 31 is a comfort to me. It tells me that I am not wasting my life in this line of work. As a wife and mother, my work is valuable in God’s economy. And when my work is done diligently with strength and dignity, and my mouth speaks with words of wisdom and kindness, that is both rare and priceless.