As soon as I did it, I knew it was going to hurt. With little thought, I turned to grab the glass dish that no more than 10 minute earlier was in a 425° oven. Instantly my hand knew what my brain didn’t, it was still really hot. Thankfully I avoided disaster by not dropping it, but the red whelp on my hand had already started to form. My foggy brain from a restless night of sleep assessed the kitchen around me as I waited for my hand to cool. The countertops were (and still are) cluttered with school papers, breakfast dishes, supplies for the cooking that will go down in the ever near future. The floors could use a good sweep and mop. In the background I could hear the hum of the washer and dryer, reminding me of the mountain of clean and dirty clothing that needed attention. I could have been giving thanks for the reminders of my children, the ample food we have, the blessing of getting together with family, and gift of indoor plumbing and washing machines.
Instead, all I was thinking was “Darn you Proverbs 31 woman and your unrealistic standards. I’m over it!”
I know, not very holy. But in that moment, the idea of living up to this seemingly unattainable standard what just too much. After I’d settled down and my hand stopped throbbing, I felt this nudge to spend a little time re-reading about this “Wife of Noble Character” that I was rallying against.
I’m neither the first nor the last person to write on this topic, but if you’re feeling the sting of trying to do it all and failing, maybe some of things I noticed today might help.
1. Proverbs 31 isn’t written TO women.
Say what? I’ve been super guilty about always jumped right down into verse 10, ignoring the first 9 verses of the chapter. Making this assumption that this message was written directly to women – silly me I know. This morning though, when I slowed down to actually read the whole chapter, the first verse caught me off guard.
“The sayings of King Lemuel – an inspired utterance his mother taught him.” Proverbs 31:1 NIV
Now I added the emphasis above, but I had never noticed that little line “his MOTHER taught him.” This what what his mother had shared with him. A women, who knew the struggles of being a wife, a mother, a partner, a provider, was passing this message along. A woman who knew the depth of exhaustion that comes with raising a family and managing a career. A women who had lived her life with the same basic stresses and struggles I, as a woman, feel today. These words weren’t given as a measuring stick for women to live up to, but rather instructions to her son about characteristics to look for and advice on how to value his future wife. At the end, in verses 30-31, the chapter closes by saying,
“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gates.” Proverbs 31:10-11 NIV
Hmm…doesn’t like marching orders to me, now does it? Instead, it is wise advice to a son from his mother to seek a wife who loves the Lord and to honor her for all the work she’s done. I don’t know about you, but I can get behind that message.
Now, that’s not to say as women we shouldn’t be looking to these values and working to imitate them. Honoring the Lord, loving our husbands, helping provide for our family. All really good things, no? For far to long though, within the circles of Christian women, this woman has been the woman to whom we should aspire to be. A task that can leave even the most super of super-moms feeling like they just aren’t enough. Which is where this next point jumped out at me.
2. She had help!
That’s right friends. This glorious and amazing woman we all aim to be, she wasn’t doing it alone.
I had the privilege a few weeks ago to attend the Ezer Collective. It’s a 3 day conference led by Jo Saxton, designed to encourage women in leadership, especially those in ministry. It was during that conference that I first heard this concept on the P31 woman having help. Now, full disclosure, as I heard Jo teach this portion of the message, my mind immediately assumed this was knowledge that she’d gleaned over years of studying the original Hebrew text and cultural aspects of life during that time.
So you can imagine the light bulb moment I had this morning as I re-read,
“She gets up before dawn to prepare breakfast for her household and plans the day’s work for her servant girls.” Proverbs 31: 15 NLT
I’ve traditionally only ever read the NIV Bible, but when I started really taking time to study scripture, I quickly realized the value in consulting multiple translations. In my NIV Bible, the first half the verse is roughly the same, but the second half reads, “…and portions for her female servants.” I read that line for what feels like a hundred times and my take away has always been – get up and make sure everyone is fed.
So when I read the NLT translation, or the ESV Bible that phrases it as, “…and portions for her maidens.” Or in the Amplified Bible, which says, “…and assigns tasks to her maids.” The line takes on a much different meaning. Sure she gets up to fix breakfast, but she also sets the day for her MAIDS – as in MORE THAN 1.
Boom! Mind blown. The truth had been there all along staring me in the face.
This women wasn’t killing it on her own. She had multiple people helping her get it all done. MULTIPLE! I can’t help but wonder what would I be knocking out of the park if I had someone doing my laundry full time. Someone managing the kitchen and preparing some meals. Someone watching my kids. My guess is, I would probably be doing a lot.
The idea that this woman was doing it all on her own, is just silly, because she had help and it was ok. So if you find you can’t do it all without a little help, then rest in the truth that you’re in good company.
As women we need to stop measuring ourselves against her, and instead looking to the characteristics that matter most. Are we loving the Lord with all our hearts, giving Him praise for everything we have? Are we pouring into our spouses and children so that they know the depth of our love? If so, you’re doing a great job girl! Keep at it.
As I now rest on the words I’ve poured over this morning, I don’t have the same feelings I did a few hours earlier. Instead feeling like I must measure up to the P31 woman and just being over the pressure of the impossible, I look to these verses for inspiration, not condemnation. Now, I may not be spinning my own wool, while preparing meals for friends, and tending to a vineyard, all with enthusiastic energy (or energy at all some days). There are days where I most definitely “eat the bread of idleness,” but at the same time, I am caring for my children, ensuring they are nourished and clothed. I am chasing after Christ with my whole heart. I am encouraging and loving my husband to the best of my abilities.
So am I really over the P31 woman? Well yes and no. Yes, I’m letting go of the pressure I feel to constantly measure myself against this standard. It’s a pressure that I hear over and over with my friends, and so yes, I’m over that. However, I’m learning to accept that I can’t do it all, all the time, on my own. She didn’t, so why should I expect I should. I’m learning that there are gifts that I have been given that I need to steward well, or at least better. Mostly thought, I reminded that above all else, she had a heart that feared the Lord and pursued Him daily, something I can and should be doing. Because we can do all the things “right” but if we aren’t pursing Jesus first, nothing else matter.