I wrote this post for the Far East Broadcasting Company Gospel Blog, where it appeared on March 19, 2015. These words are for all women this Mother’s Day, whether you take the “mom” title through biology, a blended family, adoption or by being a comforting, strong presence in the life of a child.
Proverbs 31 haunts me. The gal in that chapter…she’s like an ever-smiling Superwoman. She makes all the crafts on Pinterest and she makes them well. All her food is locally sourced, organic, made from scratch. She exercises daily. She wields her smartphone calendar with precision, making sure her kids get to all their events on time (meaning fifteen minutes before they need to be there). She makes good business decisions. She has all the blanks of her Bible study workbook filled in. She’s always nice, always ready to listen, always ready to open her home.
Her hair is always perfect and she probably never gets a zit.
She is overwhelming.
She is irritating.
How can I possibly be her? How can I possibly live up to this impossible standard?
Honestly? I kind of want to hit her.
I know that this chapter of Scripture is supposed to be encouraging. It’s supposed to teach me something. God is never about hitting us across the face, making us feel like we can never get anything right. He didn’t give us His Word to make us feel like failures. He draws us to Him, wipes the tears from our eyes and speaks life to our souls.
So why does Proverbs 31 have to exist?
There are several different interpretations of this passage. Some commentators take the words at face-value, seeing them as genuine praise for a real, flesh-and-blood woman. Others see this as an idealized allegory, referring to the Shekinah glory of God that dwelt in the holiest place of the Temple, the Sabbath day, the teaching of the Torah, wisdom, or the soul of each person. I am not smart enough to plumb the depths of each of these views, though all certainly have value. Personally, I tend to side with those who see the passage as being a blend of Proverbs’ praise of wisdom and continual warnings to men against immoral women. Essentially, these words stand as a capstone; pursue God’s wisdom and, if you’re a man reading this, pursue a woman who’s pursuing God.
This point is where I begin to unravel the Superwoman image. This is where I begin to understand.
Across the spectrum, each commentator hones in on the fact that Proverbs 31:10-31 stands as an acrostic poem, each verse beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
It starts with a question.
Who can find an eshet chayil?
Who can find a woman of valor?
Sisters, let that settle on you.
Proverbs 31 isn’t about throwing the perfect party with the perfect food with the perfect decorations with the perfectly clean house with the perfectly managed money with the perfect skin and the perfect hair and the perfect outfit.
This is about bravery. Capability. Triumph. Courage. Strength.
This is about a woman who lives life, wherever it takes her, fully reliant upon the Lord. She “laughs without fear of the future” (vs. 25) because she knows Who goes before her. She knows Who holds time itself in His hands. She vacuums the floor her little ones crawl on because she knows Who has placed her in that time, that place, that season. She works diligently in that cubicle because she knows Who has called her to that job, Who has called her to live out the Great Commission in that context. She strokes the brow of a loved one, deep in the throes of illness, with grace in her hands. She covers the night watches in prayer, her anxiety moving her to fall before the throne of Holy God.
She is the woman stricken with cancer who praises the Lord. She is the barren woman who stretches out her arms to embrace all the children who cross her path. She is the woman battling depression with the Word of truth. She is the woman who gave herself away to many men, redeemed in virtue, brought to wholeness by Christ. She is the woman caught in desperation who cries out, “Save me, God!”
She is the woman who faces each frightening, amazing, lopsided, overwhelming, joyful, deep, boring, unforeseen moment on her knees, groaning in prayer. Sword of the Spirit drawn. Eyes alight with holy fire. Determined to see this thing through.
Sisters, Proverbs 31 is not some unattainable vision of perfection.
Proverbs 31 is about battle. Is is about choosing to completely trust God, to do whatever the work of the moment is, knowing that He blesses both the small things and the large things. The tiny steps and the big steps. The leaps across puddles and the leaps across oceans.
She is a fierce woman because she is lost in a fierce God.
She is you, every time you trust. Every time you ask for wisdom, for faith, for love. Every time you obey.
Woman of valor.