The Mythical Creature in Proverbs 31
I have a confession to make. I read a Proverb a day during my daily quiet time, but I secretly look forward to the months that have less than 31 days because I can avoid that infamous “Proverbs 31 woman” passage. That way, I don’t have to face the fact that I simply don’t measure up and never could. It’s depressing and discouraging to me to even read it.
We've Gotten it All Wrong
As I sat down to write this article, I knew the Lord was convicting me to quit avoiding this Scripture and face the music. ALL Scripture, including and especially the ones that are difficult for us is inspired by God and profitable for our teaching, training, reproof, and correction (2 Timothy 3:16). I desperately needed to be corrected about this one.
Most Christian women I know are trying to “do it all” and “have it all.” They want a successful, lucrative career AND a perfect family. The most financial gain is the goal in life because we must have the resources to keep up with the perception that we “have it all together.” And we have used Scripture to defend our actions.
Specifically, I hear Proverbs 31 most often cited as our defense. We've made the Proverbs 31 woman into some sort of mythical creature or legend told through the millennia that is lofty and ideal, but woefully unattainable.
We’ve gotten it horribly wrong. Myself included.
Post-Partum Depression Shattered All My Ideals
As I’m writing this, baby pictures of my youngest son are flashing by on my screensaver. He is five weeks old in these pictures. I don’t remember much about his first year of life. I suffered from pretty intense post-partum depression for a year before I finally admitted it and asked for help from my doctor.
I remember calling friends while he was crying in the background asking if they wanted him because I couldn’t do anything with him. I never wanted to harm him or myself, but I didn’t really like him much, either (I’m just being brutally honest with you).
He was unhappy because I was unhappy. He knew it. Even at such a young age. He didn’t sleep much, so neither did I. My focus was not my home. My focus was my own selfish wants.
I wanted my life back. I wanted to not cry over everything. I wanted to SLEEP. I wanted a baby I enjoyed. I had none of that, and frankly, I blamed God. HE gave me this child who was so difficult. I was obedient when I agreed to try to have another one. Why was I being punished?
I prayed for the first three years of his life for God to change him. I knew He could. As I cried out to my God, filling my couch with tears as the psalmist said (Psalm 6:6), the Lord began to remind me that He is sovereign and will do whatever it takes to bring us into more Christlikeness (Romans 8:29). He helped me see that this very difficult circumstance was intended to transform me rather than to conform me (Romans 12:2).
God showed me that my son was not the one who needed the changing. It was me who needed to change. He reminded me that His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9). That He is in control (Isaiah 45:6-7). That I did not get short-changed in the perfect baby department. He showed me that this kid that I had the audacity to complain about was a blessing from Him. And that I was the one who seriously needed to change.
Proverbs 31 and God's Ideal Life
My focus changed that day. I started to enjoy this child God had graciously given me. I remembered that motherhood is an incredible gift and that my marriage was a beautiful picture of Christ and the church to the world.
I stopped focusing on what was lacking in the ideal life I had created in my mind. My thoughts were not God's thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). He has something higher and greater in mind for me - for all of us. God’s ideal for the woman in every home is found in Proverbs 31:10-31. She is honored, respected, and dignified by the position God has given her in her home.
The secret to her joyful activity in her home and community is surrender to her Lord. Her focus is the Lord and honoring Him. She has a reputation of one who fears God (v. 30). Therefore, the “product of her hands” (v. 31) is the respect, honor, and dignity bestowed on her as a result of her relationship with the Lord. Her “works praise her in the gates” because of her commitment to the Lord. Kingdom work is her focus. All the other actions outlined in this passage are a byproduct of serving her Lord.
Mothering and being an excellent wife are important and worthy roles of womanhood. But they are only roles. They do not determine our relationship with Christ. Rather, our relationship with the Lord of our lives determines how well we handle these roles.
In those first years of my son’s life, my focus was not on my Lord and increasing my relationship with Him. My focus was on my very difficult struggle to understand the big “why” of my life. I prayed. I studied. But I didn't surrender to the Lord who could change me. My circumstances never changed. But when I finally abdicated His throne in my life, my perspective did change. And, once again, my family was a joy to me and I was privileged to serve them.
I will admit, it didn’t happen overnight. But little by little, day by day, as I continued to daily surrender myself to Christ and die to myself (Galatians 2:20), He daily gave me the grace to serve in my roles with excellence. I’m not perfect. Neither is the woman described in Proverbs 31. I know she’s not because, like you and me, she’s only human. God has called us as Christian women to holiness and excellence. But only through His power can we accomplish that goal.
I have learned that the woman in Proverbs 31 is not a blueprint or checklist that we must match exactly, but rather, a model to instruct us. And the key to learning from her is found in verse 30. She feared her Lord. If we get that right, the rest will come. Perhaps, like my experience, it won’t come easily. But it will come.