I Never Saw Such a Woman

nina

I cannot stand Proverbs 31. CAN. NOT.

Can I get an amen?! No? Ok, well, you’re a better person than me.

Yes, I understand “all scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16). However, if you’re looking for a quick way to raise my hackles, go ahead and encourage someone to be a “Proverbs 31 woman.” Or teach your young men to find themselves a “Proverbs 31 woman.”

And here is why: she is an impossibility. I respond to this scripture like I’m Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice: “I never saw such a woman. She would certainly be a fearsome thing to behold.”

For real. Let’s make a list of all the things she does: brings food from afar and rises before dawn to provide for her household and servants, invests in real estate and is successful in agriculture, girds herself with strength and strengthens her arms (sister works out!), runs a cottage fashion industry weaving and constructing garments of linen and sashes for merchants while also outfitting her family and crafting on-trend adornments for herself, extends her hand to the poor, etc. She’s also trustworthy, wise, kind, confident, her kids rise up and call her blessed and she’s never idle. These are not things an actual person can do in a day. Standing next to her, I am a sad sack of womanhood.

If you have never read Proverbs 31 nor felt yourself crushed under the weight of it’s impossible standards, bless you. You are living with a freedom I only dream about.

If you are a man looking to find yourself a Proverbs 31 woman…Sir, you better up your game. Homegirl runs her own vineyard and a handcrafted fashion empire, works out, dresses well, manages a staff, and likely exhibits all fruits of the spirit. You better also be a fearsome thing to behold or ain’t nobody got time for your nonsense. Actually, if you’re a man you’re not reading this anymore because I made a Pride and Prejudice reference. I get it.

We have been using this scripture as a measuring stick and a definition of womanhood. This lady has been set up as our most high example, despite the fact that she never actually existed in the first place. These are proverbs, not biographical sketches. They are meant as tools and sources of wisdom, but any tool can be used for good or for harm. A beautifully crafted, well-balanced chef’s knife can either be used to dice and julienne and craft gourmet dishes or, you know…murder. You can use a brick to build a hearth around which families will gather for warmth and company or you can use it to smash their front window.

My point is, we’ve been given this beautiful tool and I think we’ve been using it wrong. What if it isn’t a ruler, isn’t our definition? What if it’s permission?

I spent several mornings in this passage this last week because it just happened to be what came up in my reading schedule. I wrote out the passage in sections over a few days, praying and pondering, and was struck with the thought, “I would totally follow this girl on instagram.” A completely modern picture was painted. I kinda wanted to be her friend.

16 She considers a field and buys it;
from her profits she plants a vineyard.
17 She girds herself with strength,
And strengthens her arms.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is good,
And her lamp does not go out by night.
22 She makes tapestry for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies sashes for the merchants.

Today she’s making a killing on etsy, probably has a boutique or works the high-end craft fair circuit, and rakes in the extra income from that vineyard. Maybe she’d go to Crossfit. She definitely dresses better than I do. And she dabbles in real estate. #girlboss

She’s rad. And she’s not the timid, worked to the bone, housewife I’d been led to believe. She’s thriving, whip-smart, trusted. And what if, instead of my job description as a woman, this is the antidote to all the “I can’ts” and “I’m nots?” I’m not good enough to run my own business. I’m not smart enough with money to make those kind of real-estate choices. There are no children arising and calling me blessed. I am less than. I am not her. I cannot be her. I feel bad for wanting those things and she is praised for having them.

What if instead of reading all of her long, glowing accomplishments and thinking, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t” we thought “He can, He can, He can?” Because here’s the deal, that lady is not intrinsically awesome. Her life is not in her control.

30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.

This is where I think I can reclaim this passage from it’s old life as the yardstick that shows me my inadequacy and see it as the scripture that grants permission to live in the fullness of who God created me to be. What if we saw it as a testament to the work our Father can do in a person? This passage is just as much a part of the story of God’s redemptive grace as any other part of the Bible. I AM not living up to the woman described in these verses, but it doesn’t mean I CAN not. I believe there are great things God has going and we just get to jump on that train.

It also doesn’t mean I have to live up to her. Proverbs 31 is not the gateway to the Kingdom. Jesus is the gateway to the Kingdom. He made you beyond good enough. I think what this passage can be is God saying, “Look at what I see in you. There are great acts of service, generosity, beauty, and love I have for you and we can do these things together.” You get up in the morning, partner with God, and see where He takes you.

Author Sarah Bessey has described that in Jewish culture, this passage that we so often use as a job description is used as celebration and praise for the hard work that women put in every day; that Jewish husbands will memorize this passage and recite it to their wives around the family table. How beautiful is that?

I promise you right now that I will leave this earth never having planted a vineyard. I just don’t see that in my future. Nor do I see tracking down raw wool and flax and weaving my own linen. Or selling sashes to merchants. I currently have no children to arise and call me blessed. I’d borrow some, but I don’t think that’s how it works. I can, however, grow in wisdom, kindness, generosity, diligence. I can go to bed every night not having met the standard, knowing that His grace covers me, and He will be faithful to complete the good work He began. I get to do big, hard things. Not her things, but the unique things God has for me.

I get to be rad, like this imaginary woman. Sisters, we get to be rad. Not because we do a lot of flashy things, but because we are created and reborn through grace. He has made us so.

Proverbs 31:10-31 (NKJV)

The Virtuous Wife

10 Who can find a virtuous wife?
For her worth is far above rubies.
11 The heart of her husband safely trusts her;
So he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.
13 She seeks wool and flax,
And willingly works with her hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
She brings her food from afar.
15 She also rises while it is yet night,
And provides food for her household,
And a portion for her maidservants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
From her profits she plants a vineyard.
17 She girds herself with strength,
And strengthens her arms.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is good,
And her lamp does not go out by night.
19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff,
And her hand holds the spindle.
20 She extends her hand to the poor,
Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of snow for her household,
For all her household is clothed with scarlet.
22 She makes tapestry for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the gates,
When he sits among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies sashes for the merchants.
25 Strength and honor are her clothing;
She shall rejoice in time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
And on her tongue is the law of kindness.
27 She watches over the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and call her blessed;
Her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many daughters have done well,
But you excel them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
31 Give her of the fruit of her hands,
And let her own works praise her in the gates.