To be honest, I never really liked the Proverbs 31 woman.
I mean, have you read about her lately? What an overacheiver. What a goody-goody. And even worse...what a GIRL.
The kind of girl I've never been, and I think that's why I never liked her.
I spent much of my childhood wishing I had been born a boy. Life just seemed better for boys. Their handwriting wasn't expected to be pretty and bubbly, and no one laughed if they cut crooked with scissors or if their hair looked a little messy.
I think that's why I've been so happy to produce boys. Have you seen the kind of boys that we produce? Aquaman regularly runs into walls, and trips over his own feet. His head is so large that he frequently loses his balance when he bends over too far. He has no idea what the term "indoor voice" means, and I once caught him absent-mindedly opening the refrigerator when what he really needed was to go to the bathroom.
The Dude isn't a whole lot better. In the cleanest room he can manage to cover himself in dirt. He never ever walks. He runs. And when life is not cooperating with him, he quite often slams his head into the closest wall or floor available.
These are all well and fine, if you're a boy. And if you are said-boy's mother, you can shake your head with a wistful smile and say in that sweet way: "boys will be boys!" and everyone will smile too (even while they're taking cover) and agree.
Not so, for girls.
Granted, I've always been pretty quiet. And I can generally control my impulses for longer than three minutes. But I've never been terribly coordinated or graceful. I've never really looked at myself for longer than thirty seconds in the mirror before running off to the next thing (which means I can leave the house with my shirt inside out or some unknown crusty substance on my face and not discover it for hours), and I've definitely never ever been good at the things that girls are supposed to be good at. Which gave me a pretty good complex for a long time.
Exit college: life can finally begin. The emotional rollercoaster of social dramas and figuring out what I'm supposed to do with my life seems to be over, and I can start new. Figure out what a woman who wants to be like Jesus is supposed to look like. And what do you know, I meet up with that Proverbs 31 woman again.
"Beautiful in God's Eyes", that's the book I discovered. A book that breaks down the virtues of a woman whom God will find beautiful. And what girl doesn't want that? Especially a girl who seems hopelessly destined to be overlooked. I chided myself for having ignored this perfect role model for so long. "If you just TRY", I told myself, you can be like her too.
It is a great book, and in the end I think it helped open up my eyes to the real Truth in the Bible about this woman, and God's ideal for women. But for a while all it did was feed those old insecurities. Case in point:
She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with
sashes." Proverbs 31:24
My friend S told me a long time ago that when she imagined me as an old lady someday in a knitting circle, she saw me spending the whole time rooting around my purse looking for my knitting needles. I think this is a pretty accurate statement. And a sign of how far I've come, because now I can look at that picture of myself fondly, with acceptance and peace and even a little amusement.
But not straight out of college. Straight out of college I was trying to impress my friends and find me a husband, and then BAM I found out that not even God likes a woman who can't make pretty things.
I'll have you know I tried to cross-stitch some bibs for neices and nephews when I was a tween. And my twin sister's...well hers were gorgeous. Mine were just a wad of thread. I can't even CROSS-STITCH for goodness sake, and God wants me to try to sell home-made sashes?
After a while, I put that book away. But I kept Proverbs out.
I started working as an RN, and I realized I was "opening my arms to the poor, and extending my hands to the needy" (vs 20), and that I was pretty good at it. That I "set about my work vigorously, and my arms were strong for my tasks" (v 17). I slowly began to learn that God loved me just as He made me, and that maybe my "distaff" and my "spindle" were a syringe or a computer. That I could work with eager hands on a special needs child instead of with wool. That even though I'm clumsy and occasionally awkward, my strength and dignity can clothe me from the inside out. With laughter at the days to come. Not fear, or uncertainty, or insecurity. With......laughter.
The one thing I always did like about that crazy Proverbs 31 woman were the last verses. "Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." v 30
I always liked it because I never felt charming, and I never felt really [conventionally] beautiful. I don't even know if I ever cared if I was thought of as beautiful, on the outside anyway. But a woman who fears the Lord...well I could be that. ANY woman could be that.
And that was the final word of Truth to my heart.
There is no such thing as superwoman. These days our culture seems even more intent on producing superWOMEN than supermen.
As a working mother, one very blessed to work only part-time at least during these days, I've had my days of never feeling like enough. I'm not enough at home, because I'm gone. I have to leave my children with someone else (though I am beyond fortunate to have two sets of grandparents in town), even though they are ultimately MY responsibility to raise properly. This also means the house gets crazy out of order during my work-week. And that there is definitely no time (even if there was money) to fill it up with artistic decorations or cutesy home-made furniture.
But believe it or not, as an ambitious woman who likes to do my best wherever I am, I am never enough at work either. I'm sleep deprived. I'm distracted. My schedule has to be pretty particular. And no, I can't take that full-time job making lots of money and doing something I would probably be very good at, because I would miss my kids too much, and because they need me too much right now. (Not to mention their grandparents would probably fall out from exhaustion, or else we'd have to send them to daycare).
I'm not superwoman. Because there's no such thing.
It's not just working moms. It doesn't take much imagination to see how staying home full-time with your kids, changing endless poopy diapers and giving endless time-outs and trying to make the perfect meal for your husband every night while also managing some volunteer work and being hospitable might leave someone feeling less than adequate. Without the concrete rward of a paycheck, or at least the glow of a positive yearly evaluation.
And the danger of reading Proverbs 31 too much when you have the kind of overzealous, enabling personality that I do is that you can start assigning yourself value only in as much as you accomplish in each day.
Some days there's not much measurable accomplishment.
And even if there is, the danger of pride in "seeing that your trading is profitable" and "your lamp not going out at night" (v 18) is very present reality.
My firstborn son has the typical characteristic perfectionism of his birth order, combined with a very strong desire to work and accomplish, and to be praised for it. I'm sure this comes, at least in part, from being the so frequently praised for his help around the house and with his baby brother. I'm happy for him in watching him stand up and take responsibility, and not be afraid to work up a sweat or get a little uncomfortable. But I am also thoughtful for him as I watch him grow and put his value on these fleeting accomplishments.
All the work of that Proverbs 31 woman: all the efforts and open arms and sucesses are nothing without being tempered by the Fear of the Lord.
Recognizing the gifts and abilities that The Great Provider has blessed us with in order that we might bless our families and the world around us with them. Not for our own benefit, but for His.
I have also been very fortunate this past year or so to do some contracting RN work on the side doing monthly assessments on elderly patients in assisted living facilities.
Each month I look forward, even if cautiously, to entering these surreal surroundings and seeing to what point each of us is headed (and that's if we're lucky enough to live that long). There's the lady who pushes herself along rapidly with her feet in her wheelchair, staring at some infinite point in the distance and mumbling "mm mm mm mm" as she goes by.
The man who shakes my hand, and holds it just a little too long as I walk by.
The one who refuses to get out of bed.
In the end, I highly doubt it's going to be our accomplishments that guide us through those last days. It's going to be the knowledge that we feared the Lord, and followed Him. That we got up while it was still dark, that we did not eat the bread of idleness- not because we wanted to BE much. But because we loved much.
Because we are Loved much.