Enter the Proverbs 31 woman. Enter thousands of women trying to be her. Enter a good deal of failure.
The Virtuous Woman of Proverbs 31
Here she is, ladies, in King James English:
Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar.
She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.
She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.
She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.
She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.
She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.
Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.
She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.
She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.
Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.
Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.
Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.
I rather like her. She’s kind of inspiring but mainly I like her because she’s in the Bible and I tend to take God’s word for things. 😉
The Proverbs 31 Woman is a wonderful woman with an amazing character, amazing abilities, and a long list of accomplishments.
But here’s the thing: she wasn’t an actual person. She was a generalized ideal. Mom was telling her son what a woman worthy of his interest is like (read the whole chapter).
I think she’s in the Bible for a reason ~ and it’s not entertainment. I think this ideal, this illustration of what matters, is realistic and is exactly what wise men should value, which means it’s also something we, as Christian woman, should strive to be like.
Why Is It So Hard to Be This Woman?
Here are a couple of things to consider.
#1: She was like you.
She was a real woman, in the sense that the ideal presented in Proverbs 31 was a description of real, genuine womanhood. It’s an illustration, a recommendation of sorts, not a fairy tale.
#2: She wasn’t like you.
The woman in mama’s description didn’t necessarily face what you face.
Take a look at her.
The Proverbs 31 woman wasn’t sick. She wasn’t tired all the time. She didn’t suffer from depression or anxiety, or some other mental illness. She didn’t have PSTD or panic attacks.
She wasn’t disabled, or physically weak for some unknown reason. She didn’t spend most of her time and money trying to get well or dealing with a chronic condition.
She didn’t have an underactive thyroid or a migraine every other week. She didn’t have IBS or Rheumatoid arthritis, or any other condition you might want to throw in there.
She didn’t have special needs children. Nobody was sick or dying, or needing an unusual amount of attention. She didn’t have a child with autism, or life and death food allergies . She wasn’t taking people to the doctor every other day or spending hours researching solutions.
She wasn’t abused or neglected as a child. She didn’t have incompetent parents who almost did more harm than good. She wasn’t haunted by memories or loss, or encumbered by what she was or wasn’t taught.
She didn’t have a shameful, painful, or chaotic history. She wasn’t a recovering addict. She wasn’t new at this thing called a relationship with God. She didn’t have bad attitudes and habits from the past to overcome.
She didn’t reach adulthood unskilled, unable to cook, unable to keep house or manage a home.
She didn’t have to stop being foolish or lazy, or selfish or careless, or ignorant or disorganized, or critical, because she never was those things.
She wasn’t a widow. Her husband wasn’t fighting in a foreign country. Or traveling two-thirds of the year.
She didn’t move every two years, or lose her home to a fire or storm.
She didn’t have a critical, uncaring, selfish husband. She wasn’t abandoned or abused.
She wasn’t lacking the tools she needed to do her work or the money to buy food.
She didn’t come into this thing broken, bleeding, unskilled, incompetent, ignorant, harassed, poor, or sick.
And you’re measuring yourself against her?
Pattern your life after hers . . . and that’s all.
What to Do Instead
I don’t think the account of the Proverbs 31 woman is a joke or a mistake. But we can’t necessarily be what she was without a long struggle upward. And we can’t necessarily do what she did ~ maybe ever.
The Proverbs 31 woman is a description of a good woman living under good circumstances.
Of course she had problems. This is earth, not heaven. Everyone has problems and challenges, even when life is good.
But she wasn’t drowning in them or broken by them. She had a solid foundation, a loving family, a functional world, good health, and a reasonable degree of safety and prosperity. That is, the description of the ideal woman is written in the context of wholeness. You may not be there ~ yet. Your world may not be there ~ ever.
Her list of activities and achievements is pretty inspiring (and it should be) and telling (God as pretty high expectations for wives and mothers!). Or discouraging, as the case may be.
But it isn’t really the point. Even her character and the things she cared about aren’t the main point.
The most important thing about the Proverbs 31 Woman is that she was a woman who feared the Lord.
That is both why and how she was who she was (her character), she did what she did (her activities), and she achieved what she achieved (including the commendation of her children, her husband, a concerned mother, . . . and God).
Everything she was is important. Everything she did is important. It’s all there for a reason, but it’s not a to do list.
We can be like the Proverbs 31 Woman but we have to start at the beginning (and Proverbs 31: 10-31 is not a how-to manual). The essence of who she was, is a woman who fears the Lord.
Be a woman who fears the Lord whether you’re buying a field or crying your heart out because you miss your husband.
Be a woman who fears the Lord whether you’re stretching out your hand to the poor and needy, or you’re comforting a melted-down child for the fortieth time today.
Be a woman who fears the Lord whether you’re efficiently keeping your house, or you’re so tired and depressed you can hardly drag yourself out of bed in the morning . . . just to go to the bathroom.
Be a woman who fears the Lord whether you’re a loving and competent wife, mother, and homemaker, or you’re pretty much an ignorant horror story.
And you, my dear, will be a Proverbs 31 woman.
Don’t Close the Book On the Virtuous Woman Yet
Fearing the Lord isn’t something empty and theoretical. The fear of the Lord changes things.
The fear of the Lord (and the faith, trust, love, and obedience it involves) leads to beautiful character. Character leads to striving to do and be your best in whatever circumstances you find yourself in.
In the end, you might just end up being a Proverbs 31 woman in every sense. And if your circumstances never allow you to be a textbook example of an ideal woman in ideal circumstances, so be it. You’re not writing a textbook, you’re living a hard life.
Be the Proverbs 31 kind of woman in an un-virtuous, careless world.
Here’s to the Proverbs 31 woman, a 3,000 year old illustration of Godly womanhood, and most of all, to the wise and loving God who inspired her.