When you read the glowing account of the Proverbs 31 woman, are you overwhelmed or excited? Motivated or irritated? Do you feel inferior or inspired? Maybe it depends on the day you are reading it. Let’s take a fresh look at exactly what was praise-worthy about this wife from Proverbs 31.
Now I personally have found the list to be overwhelming! “How, Lord, can I possibly get up early, stay up late, always be running to get and prepare food, be industrious and entrepreneurial buying land, planting a vineyard, etc, etc, and still have a husband who has confidence in me and children that rise up and call me blessed?!?!?! It seems utterly impossible!” That’s my initial reaction. How about you? Sometimes I read the list and think, “Lord, what does that even look like today? Flax and wool? Bringing food from afar? How can that be the standard for me?”
I spent quite a bit of time in prayer recently before teaching a conference workshop on Proverbs 31, and the Lord graciously talked me through it. A very helpful way to discover the applications of this excellent woman is to take each task that she does and to look at the motivation, virtue, or purpose of her actions. Just a few examples:
|13 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
|She is hardworking, creative|
|16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
|She is entrepreneurial|
|20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
|She is humble, compassionate, and merciful|
|25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
|She is prepared for future possibilities, visionary|
|27 She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
|She is a faithful manager of what God has entrusted to her.|
Can you relate to hard-working or creative? Entrepreneurial or visionary? Compassionate or merciful? Put into those terms, the tasks listed become more relevant to my life. If you go verse by verse, can you find some that you relate to? (printable worksheet) She was a decorator and dressed fashionably. (“She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.”) Perhaps you enjoy making your home beautiful and a place to welcome and bless others with hospitality. Because so many of the verses between 10 and 31 are DOING verses, it is easy to focus solely on them. Even if we do figure out how to relate to them, this list of “doing” verses can still feel like a set of expectations for us as wives, and highly unattainable expectations at that, and she is not actually praised for that list at all.
Look at the very first verse in the section. Depending on your translation, it may say, “Who can find a virtuous and capable wife?” or “A wife of noble character who can find?” She is actually praised for being of noble character, for being virtuous and capable.
10 A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
What IS character, anyway? I once heard it explained that character is who you are, even when no one is looking. It is closely tied to having integrity, which when stripped down, means being of one purpose. If you had to take the action verses, what purpose would they point towards? This woman was centrally focused on taking care of her family. She appears to be that woman early in the morning or late at night, near or far, spinning or weaving, winter or spring. She has partnered with her husband, who seems to trust her implicitly because she has proven herself to be for him and for their family.
In summation she is also praised for being a woman who fears the Lord.
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Could it be that all those things she DOES are an actually the overflow of who she IS? That her actions are just the expression of her character and faith? How does she have the strength and fortitude to keeping going morning, noon, and night with the fervor and vigor she does? What is the source of her strength and dignity that allows her to work this hard, yet laugh at the days to come.
Do we have any clues to the Source of her character and virtue?
15 She gets up while it is still dark; ~ perhaps to sit at the feet of her Savior?
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; ~strength and dignity do not come naturally. They are imparted from our heavenly Father
26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. ~Wisdom comes from the Lord who gives it generously to those who ask (James 1:5) and is found in His Word… and unlike many women faithful instruction is on her tongue… instead of the all too common idle gossip…
27 She carefully watches everything that goes on in her household and does not have to bear the consequences of laziness… she has boundaries that protect her home from things that would hurt or destroy it and she stays focused on the tasks at hand rather than being distracted or deceived by things that are not pertinent in this season to her calling.
Do you and I have the same “Source” that she has? Are we up early in the morning sitting before the Lord, receiving the wisdom that He “generously” offers in His Word? Have we put up boundaries to protect us and our families from things that would work against us? Are we rooting out vices that result from idleness by diligently working at all He has entrusted us with? THIS is the true challenge of Proverbs 31 for me— though it surely is easy to mistake the “list” as the challenge.
I read a devotional by Lisa Whelchel in Speaking Mom-ese that transformed the way I read Proverbs 31. She suggests reading it as a Father talking about (bragging about) his daughter. From His perspective, she is and does all these things. It’s His perspective. Yet, as He recounts them, we realize they may not have all been performed on the same day or even year! How could your Heavenly Father talk about you? “She creatively provides food for her family, hunting down the best coupons and bargains to provide the most for her family and be a good steward of all I have given her.” “She finds unique ways to connect with her children and works hard to protect them from the culture that desires to steal them away.” Spend some time meditating on how Your Heavenly Father sees you. Ask Him what His purposes are for you and your family. Then seek to live for that perspective. Realize that we won’t be everything God is growing us into all on the same day, but embrace the truth from 2 Peter 1:8 that “if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We won’t “arrive” until we are on the doorstep of heaven, but we can grow steadily along the way as He intends.