I've had seasons in my life that it motivated me to seek and create domestic bliss, and other seasons in my life that it motivated me to crawl in bed, pull the covers over my head, and mutter, "I give up."
You see, though my home is sanitary and mostly neat, I'm not the world's best housekeeper. About twice a month I feel motivated to do housework, and actually derive pleasure doing it. The thing is, housework needs to be done more than twice a month! The rest of the time I'm forcing myself to get it done. The only exception to this is the floors - I love to sweep, mop and vacuum. Laundry, however, feels like a thorn in my flesh I can't ever seem to remove. Let me clarify that ... I like sorting it and putting it into the washer. I don't even mind transferring it to the dryer. However, at that point I want to be done with the task and would rather do 100 sit-ups than fold and put it away.
Also, though my family eats 3 square meals a day and I'm quite conscious of good nutrition, I'm not the world's best cook. I enjoy cooking about once a week. I'd love to spend all afternoon in the kitchen once a week cooking up something grand. Problem is cooking is a daily task, not a weekly task and my schedule rarely allots me all afternoon to make one meal. Another problem is I always seem to be cutting myself or burning myself in the kitchen. Just a few weeks ago I burned myself making toast in a pop-up toaster. Who does that?! And for some reason, when I follow recipes, I manage to skip an ingredient half the time.
At age 23 I tried to take up sewing. I made some curtains, a throw pillow, and a duvet cover that were pretty good for a beginner. I later made the curtains that hang in my daughter's room today. They turned out even better. But none of these projects would win honorable mention, much less first prize, at the fair. Still this was a huge step up from my mother who would throw my Dad's shirts away when they lost a button. I can sew a button on. But first it will probably have to sit for a month in the "needs to be mended" pile before I force myself to do it.
So what kind of Proverbs 31 woman am I if I don't enjoy cleaning bathrooms, I don't sew well, some days my kids wear Crocs because they can't find clean socks, and I'd rather order take-out than cook? It would seem I don't measure up to the Proverbs 31 Woman.
For a long time I looked at this passage as if I were peering at the page of an ideal woman's Daytimer ... as if I were viewing her daily schedule and to-do list. And when my day didn't look like hers, I would assume I was not measuring up. However, there are many differences between her world and mine. She didn't have Chinese take-out ... she did have maids to help her with the household duties ... and bless her heart, she didn't have Target to buy clothes at.
The next important realization for me was that she is not an actual, physical woman. She is a teaching device. As a university instructor, I know the value of having a story or using an example to illustrate what you are trying to convey. People remember examples better than they remember points. The verses we read are the words of a mother teaching her son what qualities to look for in a wife. Verse one of Proverbs 31 spells this out - go and read it for yourself. It will tell you that these are the words King Lemuel learned from his mother.
Bible scholars also say the verses in this passage follow the letters of the Hebrew alphabet - another teaching device. It would be similar to when someone uses an acrostic to teach and remember something like "F.E.A.R. = False Evidence Appearing Real". The teaching device helps you remember it, but also limits you a bit in describing it. King Lemuel's mother would have taught it to him when he was young, so following the alphabet would surely have helped him remember it.
So I came to realize my days will not look exactly like the days of a woman living several thousand years ago - and that the Proverbs 31 Woman is a composite picture of a godly woman in action. I finally understood it was less about the specific actions of getting up before dawn and sewing clothes, and more about the character qualities of not being lazy and providing for the needs of your family.
Proverbs 31 Ministries has taken this passage of scripture and distilled it into 7 principals or priorities that this woman illustrates.
- Pursues an ongoing, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
- Loves, honors, and greatly enriches the life of her husband, encouraging and supporting his leadership within his family and his church.
- Nurtures the next generation, shaping and molding the children who will one day define who we are as a community and as a nation.
- Creates a warm and loving environment for family and friends.
- Is a faithful steward of the time and money God has entrusted to her.
- Speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction as she encourages others and develops godly friendships.
- Shares the love of Christ by extending her hands to help the poor and opening her arms to the needy.
Those are the principals that guide my life. That is my definition of a Proverbs 31 Woman. Most of them would apply to single women as well.
I now know I don't have to bake bread from scratch to qualify as a P31 woman. And I can create a "warm and loving environment" in my home even if there are clothes in the dryer waiting to be folded. I believe my kids are more likely to remember the nights I snuggle up to read the Narnia Chronicles with them than the occasional mornings they have to hunt for clean socks. And my husband assures me he will praise me if I serve him Chinese take-out tonight and then put into action what I spent last week reading about from the Shulammite woman. :)
I know that some of you feel that your kids are grown now or your husband is gone now and that its too late for you to become a P31 woman. No so. Its never too late to start putting into practice what God shows You in His Word. And its always too soon to give up. So I hope that those who felt bad about yourself when reading the Proverbs 31 passage will say aloud that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, and will ask Him to help you see this passage anew, and empower you to move forward in faith.
So let's hear your thoughts on the Proverbs 31 Woman!
PS - Forgot to update you on my weekend. The retreat went well. It was at a beautiful location in the woods and the retreat committee put together a terrific theme and program. They set the stage to look like a small town beauty shop. And before each of my sessions they did a skit about godly beauty using the main characters from the movie Steal Magnolias. I think my favorite part of the weekend was the lovely prayer room they set up - I wanted to live in there! I enjoyed the women and they seemed to enjoy my four sessions, so to God be any glory and thank you for your prayers. Oh and I was nearly chased home by a tornado - so really appreciated those prayers for my travel!