She’s pretty and well-dressed and she’s smart and she’s creative and she’s kind and she’s successful and she’s the invisible rival of so many Christian women. She’s the Proverbs 31 woman, whose to do-list is ever growing but always empty by the end of the day.
The thought of Proverbs 31 is one that causes young women to dream of what they could one-day be when they find the Boaz they’ve always been waiting for and he sweeps her off her feet and out of the fields of single women. The thought of Proverbs 31 leaves women feeling guilty that they’re not what they should be, and they’re not sure they’re capable of being that. The Proverbs 31 woman is the invisible rival that we can never beat in a competition, because she’s a woman praised in a poem written by someone who adores her.
But within the words of this poem there is wisdom – otherwise, it would never make it into Proverbs or Proverbs would never have wound up in Scripture. If we dare to set aside the rivalry and listen for a moment to the wisdom of this woman, we might learn something.
She is Trusted
The Proverbs 31 woman is trusted. She is of noble character (v.10) and her husband has full confidence in her (v.11). She’s someone who has been faithful to her husband and to her work, as you see in the long list of what she does. The confidence of those close to us is not always easily given. The confidence others have in us is often borne of us having shown up and been there and loving well over and over again. Her husband has confidence in her, and she is known for her noble character. What are we known for? Are we thought of as people who are flaky, or proud, or selfish, or when people consider us do they think of us as those who can be trusted, who they can have confidence in? We’ll never be perfect, but if ‘gossip’ is the first word someone thinks of when they think of me – we’ve got a problem.
She is Driven
The suggestion sometimes made of the Proverbs 31 woman is that even now, to be a Proverbs 31 woman, we must be able to sew and quilt and do all manner of handy tasks. What it means of her is that she is not idle. She doesn’t sit around and do nothing when she could be doing something. Of course, we can assume she rested – after all, they did have a dedicated Sabbath Day! There are too many times I catch myself watching Netflix when I could be doing something more useful – whether that’s a load of laundry or catching up with a load of friends and loving them. Whatever it is, the Proverbs 31 woman is driven to do what is good – not to simply do nothing. This is a challenge to my idleness, and perhaps to yours too.
She is Dignified
“She is clothed with strength and dignity, she can laugh at the days to come.” These words are often emblazoned on a notebook or a mug, but the root of the strength and dignity comes later when we hear that a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. The Proverbs 31 Woman is one who knows God, and gazes at him with awe and wonder fitting of His power. She can have confidence and strength and dignity because she is God’s and she knows this. It isn’t her husband who gives her security – though he is mentioned several times. The picture here is of a dignified woman who fears God. All she does flows from that.
She is You & Me
I read once that Jewish men sing this poem to their wives at the Sabbath meal every week. It’s a song of praise to their wives, even if they’ve not gotten out of bed before dawn each day and they haven’t touched any flax nor worn any purple. This isn’t a legalistic list to follow. It’s a picture of praise for someone who is loved. She is you, and she is me. Whether or not there is a husband in the picture, a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised because of who she is. She is driven and she is trusted and she is dignified. You are. The beauty of this
The beauty of this is that it does not rely on us. It’s all about God, who makes us beautiful. Jesus came so that we could be known and loved and so that all that made us unbeautiful – the sin and the shame – could be washed away and we’d be made new. No amount of good work, or to-do lists, or quiet rivalry with a woman from a poem, can change that.
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to lay down my arms on this invisible rivalry and go on being who God made us to be. It’s better that way.