Burying The Proverbs 31 Woman™


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.


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

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


Gossiping busybody



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.


See also:

For Even Sinners Do the Same


“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”
—Luke 6:32-35

My post the other day (“In the Land of Inconsequence“) brought many responses, both in comments and personal emails. My thanks to all who wrote. I appreciate what you add to the conversation.

Whenever I write a post that asks whether we Christians in America have succumbed to some sort of lowest common denominator discipleship, I receive responses from people saying that claiming to believe in Jesus while being a good parent, spouse, neighbor, employee, and so on is enough to ensure fulfillment of the requirements of being a true disciple of Christ.

But I struggle with that answer. And I struggle with it because in the Bible and throughout history true discipleship has never had a lowest common denominator baseline.

Instead, the way of true Christian discipleship is

On a narrow path

Found by few

That requires going a second mile when only one mile is called for

Asks sacrifice of the ordinary to gain the extraordinary

Puts its followers at constant odds with the world

And demands one’s very life

Even to the shedding of one’s own blood

This is why I wonder if being a nice, caring, saved suburbanite who lives, works, and acts exactly like my nice, caring, unsaved, suburbanite neighbors fulfills the greater calling of Jesus.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
—Matthew 5:38-42

The “you have heard that it was  said…but I say to you….” statements of Jesus should shake us all. I find them disturbing to the status quo because Jesus ratchets the conventional wisdom up a notch and then turns it on its head. In short, He continually shows that the Kingdom of God takes everything you and I accept as normal and claims it has no place in the Kingdom. Why? For even sinners do the same.

And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
—Revelation 12:11

If I am content to be an acceptable parent, spouse, employee, and neighbor who does all the things our society claims I should be doing, am I truly a conqueror who loves not his life even unto death? Or have I fallen into the conformity of aspiring to little more than being a nice guy with a nice wife, a nice house with a white picket fence,  and 2.5 nice kids with nice teeth, who will someday go to heaven, amen?

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
—Matthew 7:13-14

Shouldn’t we be a bit more concerned that normal, acceptable, and conformable bear a striking resemblance to a certain wide gate?

The question I ask myself (and you) is this:  Does the Christian life look different?

If it does, then how well should it conform to the lowest common denominator standard that we have erected for it?

The early Church looked at the status quo, then looked at Jesus. And they decided that living a conventional life paled in the light of Jesus. This is why they turned the world upside down. No CompromiseThis is why they lived as a community of faith that resembled no community the world had ever seen before. This is why they annoyed the societal authorities. This is why people sought to kill them.

When you live so far above normal, when you serve a God who is so much bigger than the biggest thing you can imagine, it’s going to drive the normal people to want to kill you. Because their normal is a puny, shriveled thing that is shown its true nature when the genuinely enormous shows up.

If the devil wanted to truly disarm the Church, I can’t help but think that the easiest way would be to convince us that normal is just fine by God.

Explains a lot, doesn’t it?

They’re Taking Over!


Classic AM radio (photo by Vic Brincat)This last weekend saw me riding the driver’s seat of our Corolla for long stretches of time as I cruised north and back. Searching for some music to imbibe, I cruised the dial, the seek feature on our car’s radio stopping every 0.3 MHz to land on a different station.

Here’s what I discovered: about a hundred Christian radio stations, each and every last one playing “i Can Only Imagine” at the same exact time.

Okay, so maybe the “I Can Only Imagine” comment is an exaggeration—though not by much.

And each of those stations is “kid-safe” or “family-friendly.”

A decade or two ago, I would have welcomed those stations gladly. Now I wonder if all they’re producing is milquetoast believers whose idea of a spiritual challenge is choosing the right two-tone cover for their TNIV.

Worse, all these stations seem to be owned by the same conglomerate, so it’s not unusual to find two or three stations on the dial playing “I Can Only Imagine” at the same exact time because some “DJ” is sitting in a booth in San Antonio spinning that disc, pumping it out to thousands of subscriber stations across the country. Why? Because a lot of local stations obsessed over demographic figures, switched their programming to be mostly (bad) music, gave up their distinctive voice, and saw their audiences shrivel up. Or the stalwart audience went elsewhere, leaving the station to the new masses, masses who had no intention of financially supporting that station. Big conglomerate swoops in and the next thing you know, new ownership, and a DJ who sounds suspiciously like Ryan Seacrest.

I used to listen to Christian radio primarily for the teaching. I suspect that most Christian radio stations don’t even have teaching anymore. And what teaching remains seems about as stale as year-old bread.

There’s something tremendously sad about witnessing the dynamic Christian radio I knew in my youth distill down into this lowest-common-denominator slop we have today.

I find it disheartening, too, that the most challenging teachers out there are either gone from the airwaves or have dumbed-down their messages to be more appealing and easily grasped by an audience with an attention span of a paramecium.

I also find it discouraging that an artist like Derek Webb, one of  the few contemporary musicians I listen to, can’t get airplay. Then again, a line like “I am a whore, I must confess…” ain’t all that family-friendly, now is it?

So instead of dancing a jig over the juggernaut of contemporary Christian radio stations taking over the radio dial, I’m nostalgic for what once was.

Are you?