Lessons Learned from Proverbs 31
Proverbs chapter 31 paints a picture of a woman whose characteristics have, for decades, been set forth as the standard to which women like myself, who have grown up in the church, should aspire. The last 21 verses of the text are dedicated to explaining why she – the Virtuous Woman, as she is most commonly known – is so remarkable:
She is trustworthy and adds value to her husband’s life. She protects her husband emotionally. She is hard-working and productive. She is organized. She is resourceful. She manages money well. She is energetic and strong. She is unselfish. She is well-respected. She is generous and compassionate. She is confident and she is creative. She is always well-dressed. She possesses remarkable inner strength and self-respect, both of which are evident to all who encounter her. She is optimistic. She speaks kindly and chooses her words wisely. She pays close attention to what goes on in her own home rather than allowing herself to get wrapped up in gossip, discontent and self-pity. She is loved and admired by her children. And for these reasons, she is praised and adored by her husband.
Wow! Knowing what I now know, it’s no wonder this one woman sets the standard for women everywhere. But, if you’re anything like I was when I first started down the path of trying to make sense of this whole Virtuous Woman thing, then you might be thinking a little differently. You might be thinking, “There’s no way that one woman can be all these things. No woman has it this together.” If this is where you are, it’s okay. Really, I get it. I thought the same thing; and as I made a mental list of the women I knew, trying to see who fit the bill, I concluded that this standard was unrealistic. I chalked it up as a lofty goal that was utterly impossible for any woman to reach – myself especially. And so, I made no real effort to pursue this standard. I kept doing what I knew, what other people were telling me I should do. I kept regurgitating what I’d seen growing up. I kept doing me.
It took quite some time — I’m talking at least 9 or 10 years of a marriage filled with ups and upsets, heartbreak, trials, failures, doubts and so much more, before I started to reconsider my position. It took almost another 2 years before it all started to make sense, and before I began actively pursuing this “impossible” standard. It’s funny how God brings about circumstances in your life that literally force you into such a state of vulnerability that you have no choice but to stop and follow his leading. In retrospect, I must say that I’m glad that he stopped me, because it allowed him to shine a light on this Virtuous Woman thing that completely changed my perspective on marriage and on what it means to be a godly wife.
What God showed me is that the Virtuous Woman doesn’t have it all together. She has flaws. Just like me. But what sets her apart and what makes her flaws seemingly non-existent, is the fact that she understands her purpose, both as a woman and as a wife.
God showed me that only a woman who understands who she is in him, can consistently demonstrate these characteristics. Only a woman who recognizes how much God values her, can uphold such a standard. Think about that for a moment. God alone is all-sufficient. 2 Peter 1:3 tells us that in him lies everything we need. But even so, God acknowledged that there was a void in man’s life that could only be filled by a woman. So, he created us, the only beings suitable for man; the only beings who are compatible with him mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. No other earthly being can do what we do! I say that, not in an arrogant way, but to point out how much thought and care God put into creating us. You don’t put that much effort into something without believing that it can do everything that you intended.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that at some point in her life, the Virtuous Woman that we’ve all read about probably made some mistakes. Maybe she made mistakes with money or mistakes with her children. Maybe she had moments of being selfish and discontent. Or maybe she, like so many women I know (myself included), reached a breaking point in which she crumbled emotionally under the weight of her responsibilities and everything else that life was throwing her way. But when God revealed to her what she was worth to him, when he revealed her purpose, then and only then did she come to understand that:
Though we often try, we were never called to be superheroes (or superwives, for that matter). To do so would imply that everything we do is in our own strength, and that God’s presence in our life is unnecessary.
So many of us experience burnout and come so close to our wits end because we’re trying to live up to the expectations of people whose perception of who we should be is likely rooted in experiences that are contrary to the Word of God anyway.
We were never called to be perfect. Jesus tells us in 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NLT): “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”
Everything the Virtuous Woman is, everything that she does is by the grace of God. This is the bright side of our journey toward becoming better wives. Though we may not see ourselves in all of her characteristics today, this doesn’t mean that they are unattainable, and it doesn’t mean that we must work at them alone.
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. (Ephesians 3:20, NLT).
God knows the desires of our heart and he is more than willing, and more than able to bring them to pass. We simply have to make ourselves available to him, and be open to his direction (which sometimes means correction, but we’ll get to that later). So…who’s in?