Burying The Proverbs 31 Woman™

Standard

Recent conversations with the fairer sex will form the basis for this post and the next. My track record on speaking about issues that women face has not been perfect, though, as I tend to get a large number of livid comments from women who enjoy the evangelical status quo just fine. On the other hand, I also get an equally large number of women who write me privately and thank me for exposing the pressure they feel to conform to impossible “Christian” standards for women.

I think the standard that leads to more burnout of women in 2010 is striving to be The Proverbs 31 Woman™. I add the to distinguish a genuine, Biblical womanhood from the chimera that evangelicals have spawned in creating the idealized form of womanhood as depicted in that Proverb.

To get a clear idea of this problem, let’s look at the text:

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar. She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens. She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet. She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.
—Proverbs 31:10-31

Being a geezer, I remember the old Enjoli perfume commercial. I think a lot of other people do, too, because we continue to cultivate that image for women today.

I think women today resent that “she should do it all” image. (And I think that evangelical men everywhere breathe a sigh of relief that they don’t have to contend with a Proverbs 32!)

Yet that image remains the evangelical ideal. Except that being The Proverbs 31 Woman™ also adds homeschooling, leading an American Heritage Girls troop, making the family’s clothes and meals from scratch, crafting high-demand handmade doodads for sale on eBay or Etsy, running a women’s Bible study (or, at minimum, participating in one, preferably with Beth Moore’s imprimatur) , and out-Deborah-ing the female judge of the Old Testament.

I think I could probably retire today if all the Christian women who are burned out of the expectations of being The Proverbs 31 Woman™ sent me a dollar.

I know it’s not possible to talk about cultural distinctives in the Bible that don’t align with our modern age. People who do get called all sorts of names. I’m going to talk cultural distinctives anyway.

Most women today do not have handmaidens who do the real grunge work around the ol’ tent. And while she may still bring her food from afar, it’s because she packed up her five kids into the minivan and headed to Kroger, not because she dispatched her servants to the Italian Coast for fresh olive oil. The woman of Proverbs 31 made her family’s clothes because all the necessary components her household grew or bred, though I don’t know any woman today with easy access to sheep and flax. Today’s woman’s husband is not likely the vanguard at the gates, but some middle management automaton who slaves in a cubicle 20 miles from home. And the woman in Proverbs 31 didn’t have to take a full-time job out in that business world because her husband got downsized and has not been able to find work for a year.

American women today don’t live in tribal villages that offer an unseen network of support. Instead, most have cocooned their households because they’ve had it drummed into their heads that it’s every family for itself.  Even if she wanted to, she could not go to the tents next door to trade for medicines, balms, sandal repairs, fresh spices, and so on. Instead, she fights wrong charges on the phone bill, diagnoses the reason the oven stopped working, sits endlessly in pediatrician’s offices, and fills out mountains of bureaucratic paperwork. And the woman of Palestine 2000 B.C didn’t have to spend every evening shuttling her four kids to band, soccer, or basketball practice, piano lessons, and 4-H Club meetings.

Yet somehow, we expect American women of today to exactly model their Palestine-dwelling counterparts of 4,000 years ago.

Ha!

All that said, what is the real point of Proverbs 31?

The Bible makes it very clear what the wrong kind of woman is:

Idle

Gossiping busybody

Adulteress

Prostitute

Call me crazy, but the latter two are not going to be issues for most Christian women.

Skipping the gossiping busybody for now, idleness is the remaining issue. Look at the list of activities of the woman in Proverbs 31 and note how it concludes:

She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
—Proverbs 31:27

Given the manic lifestyle that we’ve created for women circa 2010, who among them is truly idle? Who ignores her household’s needs? What Christian woman out there is not giving 110 percent? Most women work harder than their husbands! Almost every woman I know contends with two lives worth of responsibilities and daily chores. Yet somehow we continue to add requirements to their being The Proverbs 31 Woman™.

I chose the word Burying in the title of this post for a two-fold reason. It’s high time we stopped burying today’s Christian women under the expectations of being The Proverbs 31 Woman™. We need to let them be who God made them to be and not force them to conform to a standard that none can attain. In other words, grace. I also think we need to bury that title of The Proverbs 31 Woman™ and move on.  It’s used by too many as a cudgel, and I think a lot of women would agree that they’re tired of the beatdown.

Now, about gossiping busybodies…

I think that women who feel most buried by The Proverbs 31 Woman™ are those who get looked down upon by other women. Some women who pride themselves on being The Proverbs 31 Woman™ are the ones administering the beatings to those women they feel don’t meet that standard. Fact is, any woman who concerns herself with how some other woman is not doing The Proverbs 31 Woman™ correctly is headed right into that gossiping busybody title. In other words, the self-selected arbiters of what constitutes The Proverbs 31 Woman™ probably need to stop being judgmental prigs and just mind their own business. That would please God more than anything.

Proverbs 31 offers us God’s word about a woman who is giving her all for her Lord, her husband, and her children. Almost every woman I know is already doing that. Let’s stop making her job harder.

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19 thoughts on “Burying The Proverbs 31 Woman™

  1. Dee

    Thanks for writing this one, Dan.

    After ten years of putting hubby through grad school (I worked, he didn’t) while having young children at home, starting up and running a family business in which we both worked a minimum of 60 hours a week, adopting from overseas, closing said business due to the economic downturn, attending all church services and events, participating in choir and worship team, hosting a small group, running the household, keeping an attractive home, paying the bills, being taxi mom, and dealing with rebellious teens, life has been kinder in recent months. Even though we have relocated 600 miles from home and we are currently unemployed, life is quieter. I am SO grateful for the rest.

  2. Diane R

    I believe the central theme of this section of Proverbs is what true submission and relationship to husbands really is. In other words, submission is NOT codependency. And godly husband authority is NOT control (which might include abuse). This woman, first of all, married an honorable husband which gave her a headstart over women who marry questionable men. Second, he gave her a modicum of independence and freedom to make decisions that other cultures at that time would never consider allowing a woman to do. In other words, he trusted her, which the passage also indicates. We can certainly apply these principles to our present day without needing to copy exactly minute by minute WHAT this woman did. For example, are husbands encouraging an entrepreneurship trait in their wives (if it is there of course) instead of feeling “threatened?” Are husbands themselves honorable, or are they so insecure, no matter who they are married to, she will never become the Proverbs 31 woman? Just a few thoughts on this passage which I myself have also studied for some time now.

    • Carol Pietra

      Absolutely agree, Diane. For years I felt intimidated by The Proverbs 31 Woman until I realized a few things: she had help to do everything she accomplished, she certainly didn’t do everything listed every day, she was able to enter into business transactions and make financial decisions without running everything past her husband first, and she had the support and appreciation of her husband. I like to think of these realizations as “How I Learned to Relax and Love Proverbs 31.”

    • Chris

      Seconded, Rick. My wife is more than I could have ever thought to ask for.

      And Dan, I agree with the need for grace. I consider my wife to be of such character, not because she “meets all the criteria”, but because I see in her the overarching character qualities that I see in the woman of Proverbs 31.

      Between the “Proverbs 31” issue on the one side, and the “Jesus is my REAL husband” issue on the other side, is it any wonder our relationships aren’t doing much better than the world’s?

  3. I gave up on trying to get on the cover of “Today’s Christian Woman” after a breakdown forced to repent of the fear of man that is at the root of perfectionism,to being a woman who seeks to fear the Lord. My focus now is on these two main things: “The heart of her husband trusts in her”, and “Her children rise up and call her blessed”. So I wear thrift shop clothing, but I have learned to laugh at the times to come.

    I do disagree with some of the writers here–we modern women have plenty of servant girls–every woman with her Frigidaire,Radar-range, and Maytag has all the hired help she needs at the touch of a button.
    So we might be better off than this poor benighted woman.

    • Ah that perfectionism is raising its ugly head agaaiinnnn! Look at all thoae typos! Grammar mistakes! I am a homeschooling mom–how can I hold up my head? I want to fix them…I must, I must! Aaaagh!

      Note to self: do not try to post while simultaneously trying to bake a birhday cake–remember, we cannot do it all!

  4. Pingback: A Quiet Simple Life » Link-o-rama 22
  5. Dan,

    Great post, and great comments. I appreciate especially what Diane and Carol stated in their comments. I also appreciated your statement about men breathing a sigh of relief about Proverbs 32 never being written. What was written, and is often overlooked, is Ephesians 5:22-32. In this passage Paul compares marriage to the relationship between Christ in the church, and it shouldn’t take a theologian to understand the ramifications of this. Unfortunately, however, the application of this passage is usually missed. Obviously, the greatest work in the relationship between Christ and the church was done by Christ Himself. He literally gave His all for His bride, and His bride is compelled to do likewise out of love for Him. It all started with Christ though. Likewise it is the responsibility of the husband to lay down his life for his wife, and that means laying down his own interests and needs. Christ never sat on the couch and watched TV while His bride cooked, cleaned and took care of the kids, because after all, he worked all day! Likewise, I don’t see Jesus leaving for days at a time to go hunting, leaving His bride to take care of all the responsibilities at home (not to mention all the money spent on this hobby, and then he complains because his wife spends money on scrapbooking supplies). Maybe if more was said about what it means to be a man in Christ, more women would be empowered to actually be a Proverbs 31 woman (without having to actually strive for that specifically).

    My wife is a Proverbs 31 woman, and I tell her that occasionally (I don’t tell her more because it doesn’t seem to mean much to her). She is industrious, and she uses her gifts and talents to benefit her family. That, to me, is one of the key points of this passage. All women have gifts and talents, and I believe they should be empowered by their husbands to pursue and maximize those gifts, within reason of course (all things should be done within reason, not just things pertaining to women). Whether those gifts are the more “traditional”, like homemaking, or “non-traditional”, like entrepreneurship or other things, all can be vital to a family, and to the body of Christ at large, and therefore should be encouraged. It is interesting that Diane mentioned entrepreneurship, as my wife has run her own business for over 3 years, and is instrumental in helping me run mine. I have long felt that there was something important about Christians being in business, and I wonder if there is something specifically to Christian women in business? Just a thought.

    Mark

  6. B J

    Dear Lord, Jesus what You have done for my brother in having the ability to marry and keep a job, despite the hardships of life, like growing up without a dad, what you have done for me brother please do for me, for my mother is up in age and needs to retier, without out having to take care of me. I need a job but I need to finish school more, and if any thing happens to my mom, there is no other family left by me and my brother, for he has a mate as well as a life, and so do relations that is why they do not have time, because family just is not what is use to be. I would rather, single than be sorry that I marry the wrong person, or be married to some one who might be sorry they married me, all though it is better to marry than to burn; it would be might nice if my mother could see both of her children married to the right Christain person for all the right reasons, without devorce, major illness, or abuse, just because without family there is nothing left but Chrsit, and all though only what You do for Jesus will last, it is not good for man or women to be alone,amen!

  7. LORD I AM SO TIERED OF MY PARENTS UNSTABLENESS OF PUT ME OUT OVER AND OVER AGAIN, ONLY TO LIVE IN DIFFERNT APRANTMENTS OVER AND OVER AGAIN, LORD I WISH I HAD FAMILY I COULD GET ALONG WITH SO I COULD HAVE A MATE I COULD GET ALONG WITH, IN THAT I AM NOT ABLE TO HAVE CHILDREN AND AM NOT SURE I WONT ANY, AT MY AGE, AND RETIERMENT IS NEAR BY,AMEN!

  8. I think there’s more to the Proverbs 31 woman than people initially realize when just reading the passage. I’ve incidentally been reading a new book by Dr. Tony Evans and his daughter, Chrystal Evans Hurst, called “Kingdom Woman” that has really been resonating with me and giving me new insights. Right off the bat they talk about the Proverbs 31 woman being the hallmark of kingdom women, “But the Proverbs 31 woman is not the model of a perfect woman. Neither is a kingdom woman called to perfection. Women, you can be a Proverbs 31 woman and more – but that doesn’t mena you do it all at the same time.” They talk about life flowing through seasons and about getting help, not trying to do it all. It’s really interesting. If you’re interested in Dr. Evan’s book, they have free downloads and information at kingdomwomanbook.com.

  9. Heather, I agree with you fully. I find a tendency in women I have met to feel that they have to be all things, to all people, right now. There is no freedom to say “no”, or “I can’t do that”, or “I need help”. Whether this comes from a paternalistic society (seems strange to say that nowadays, but I still think paternalism runs deep in America) or some other source, I see it as a strong pattern among a lot of women I know, and it is a terrible trap. Unfortunately this often times results in significant emotional hardship, because eventually the ability to keep up with the increasing pace fails, triggering an even greater attempt to make it all work, and the problems spiral. All too often there is either a missing spouse, or uninvolved spouse, and this contributes as well, although I have seen cases where the spouse is as involved as he can be. There is a definite need for revelation on these issues in the hearts of men and women, and freedom in Christ needs to be shared. I feel like women in general are under oppression in our society in this regard, and it need not be the case, especially in the body (where often times it is the worst). I like what you said, heather, about not doing it all at the same time. Life certainly does flow through seasons, and some things that may be on our hearts now may not be accomplished for many more years.

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