Learning From the Proverbs 31 Woman
The Proverbs 31 woman is hailed by many as the ideal Christian woman. There are numerous reasons to rightfully think so: She is an excellent wife (v.10-12, 28-29), caring mother (v. 21, 28), and compassionate member of her community (v. 20). She is also a manufacturer (v. 13), importer (v.14), manager (v. 15), realtor (v.16), farmer (v. 16), seamstress (v. 19, 21), upholsterer (v. 22), merchant (v. 24), and a wise teacher (v. 26). She is not idle (v. 27), but industrious and resourceful, showing integrity in how she manages her household and her business. If she was living in today's generation, there's a chance her front lawn would be showcased in Home & Gardens magazine or her wise advice (v. 26) published in a best-selling book.
But, there's also a chance that she would be ridiculed as being an over-achiever or legalistic because of all she does.
I have studied "her", this Proverbs 31 woman, in the past, and recently studied her again with my husband. We decided to take a fresh look at Proverbs 31:10-31 together, and it was such a gift to hear his thoughts on the passage, as well as his prayers for me while studying this scripture. In the past, I have read blog posts and magazine articles in which this woman is praised and revered as someone to aspire to be--a superwoman of sorts. But I have also read of those who initially saw her this way but soon grew bitter of her because they realized there are not enough hours in the day to do all she does. This led to sarcastic comments about how this woman is unrealistic and how it is unfair to expect the modern woman of today to reflect her.
I think there needs to be a balance of both of these extremes. Yes, she is an amazing woman who is worthy of praise (v. 28). Yes, there are so many things to look at and aspire to be: a wife who cares for her husband, a mother who provides and loves her children so much they "stand and bless her" (v. 28), a good employer (v. 15), a compassionate and generous neighbor who serves the needy (v. 20), a responsible manager of finances along with the needs of the home (v. 18). Just like the rest of the book of Proverbs, there is a plethora of practical advice and instruction on how to be wise and make good decisions. And this is all good.
However, I do not think she was meant to be viewed as a blueprint of what a godly woman (whether single, newlywed, mother, or widow) should mirror perfectly, because yes, you'll realize you just cannot measure up. But the good news is this, ladies: We are not expected to! Don't throw out this woman as an unrealistic ideal. Don't grow bitter and assume the author of this proverb is against any form of rest or recreation for women. There is so much more in these verses than a list of chores.
I doubt very much that the heart of this passage lies in just the work that this woman does. Though this is what is mainly mentioned in the verses, do not miss the heart of this woman. Don't miss the why behind that works she does, or else she will look more like a robot than a woman who loves her God, her husband, her children, and her community.
I believe this woman would not be able to do half the things listed here were it not for a heart deeply rooted in love. I don't know about you, but if there was not love behind my actions, I would get pretty annoyed with cooking, cleaning, or doing anything helpful for my family. I'd also be constantly annoyed with many of the patients I treat as a pediatric nurse practitioner (because really, hearing screaming toddlers and rude teens distracted on their iPhones in my exam room rather than answering my physical exam questions is not my favorite way to spend nine hours of my day). If there isn’t love behind the work I do, I eventually find shortcuts in my tasks and quietly murmur (or likely loudly exclaim, if we're being honest) my complaints.
But this woman was ready to serve others, and I believe this is mainly because of where she finds her strength. Her wisdom and grace are found in her reverence for God (v. 30). This is the bedrock behind her actions, abilities, knowledge, productiveness, and compassion. It's not really about the Proverbs 31 woman after all, but about her God who supplies all she needs to do what He has called her to.
I cannot imagine this woman trudging along her hallway steps, complaining about waking up before sunset or thinking her life is unfair because she has a to-do list the size of Texas. Rather, I trust her deeds are done in joy. And this is what is an inspiration to me. Not the long list of accomplishments, but the heart behind it. Because we all have different responsibilities and different passions. We all have different roles in our families and communities.
So, don't aspire to perfectly imitate this Proverbs 31 woman, but look at her as an inspiration to live a life that points to the One who strengthens your every step. Live a life that aspires to be selfless and ready to serve, not out of obligation, but out of love and joy. Live a life that echoes in a small but powerful way, the life of Jesus on this earth two thousand years ago. Live a life of love. This transforms your everyday chores into opportunities to work as if you are working for the Lord (Colossians 3:23, Ephesians 6:7). No, it doesn't mean you'll love scrubbing and soaking and folding, but your attitude about these seemingly insignificant things will change, whether at home, work, or anywhere else.
Brother Lawrence writes in The Practice of the Presence of God, “We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” He worked in the kitchen of a monastery and lived a life determined to see even things like scrubbing dirty dishes and washing floors as a way to serve and praise God. Anything you do, when done out of a heart that loves God and desires to obey and praise Him, can be seen as worship and praise to Him.
And that is what this Proverbs 31 woman is doing. Her hard work is not so that she will be praised, though her family does praise her (v. 28-29), but as an expression of her love for God, which then spills over to the way she loves her family and her community. She lives her life on mission, serving those who are destitute and hurting (v. 20).
Do not miss the point of Proverbs 31. Look past the works she does (though they truly are admirable!) and look at this woman's heart--her noble character, loyalty to her family, compassion to those who are needy and poor. She is a woman in love with her God and ready to live each day reflecting that love through her actions for others.
As a newlywed, I want to pause and process Proverbs 31. I want to prayerfully examine her but not be bogged down with expectations to be a "perfect" wife (whatever that means anyway). And since I tend to teeter toward making productivity an idol that makes me feel accomplished and worthy, I want to be careful to examine my heart and the motives behind the ways that I help my husband. I don't want to be so productive that I lose my focus to love God, my husband, and people. As a new wife, I am excited to come alongside Greg and encourage him, pray for him, cheer him on, lovingly correct him when needed, and have a whole lot of fun adventures together. But I also want to see everyday things, like folding laundry or putting ingredients in a crock-pot as a way to love Greg too. When done out of love, these are not domestic duties to be scorned, but a way to that Love puts on working gloves. They're not merely boxes to be checked off on my to-do list, but an expression of my love for him.
This Proverbs 31 woman is a treasure more precious than jewels (v.10). She has a husband that trusts her (v. 11), children that love her (v. 28), and a community that is blessed by her compassion (v. 20). Rather than being mentioned for her outward beauty (her looks aren’t mentioned at all), she is more concerned with the unfading beauty of a gentle spirit that is precious to God (1 Peter 3:3-4), living purely and in wisdom (Titus 2:3-5), both in the home and in her business. She is ready to help those in need (Romans 12:13) and gives generously through her purse as well as her hands (Ephesians 4:28).
This is true beauty that does not fade.
Whatever life stage you're in currently, I hope you can see this Proverbs 31 woman a little bit differently today. May she not be an exact ideal to mimic, nor a woman to be brushed off as archaic or a slave to her family. She is strong because of her strength in God, and that allows her to be the excellent woman that is worthy of praise.
That is a good thing to be inspired by even today in our culture and society. He is able to mold and make women who are not concerned with themselves all the time, but who love Him and love others through their words and actions.
Elena is a newlywed to a handsome mister, a lover of books, a daydreamer of traveling adventures, and an admirer of all things lovely (like tea, flowers, & hand-written notes). She loves encouraging others towards the beautiful hope found in Jesus, especially through one-on-one conversations and through her blog, Beautiful Hope.