An honest look at the (shudder) Proverbs 31 woman
I recently sat down and wrote a guest post for my friend Melissa’s blog, Compassionate Odyssey. (You’ll see that up there after her new series launches in January!) In the post, I mentioned how there is so much pressure on young Christian women to be the perfect “P31” (Proverbs 31 woman). The pressure is often applied by well-meaning older Christian women in the hopes that once we young’ns achieve the level of godliness that this lady reached, our Boaz is going to come snatch us up. (In case you’re not familiar with the story, Boaz is the love interest of the book of Ruth who is super godly and awesome. Our college girls’ Bible study calls him the George Clooney of the Bible.) They’re doing it “for our own good.” But there are a few things that I find wrong with this mentality:
- The P31 was a hypothetical person. King Lemuel’s mother gave him a list of attributes of a good woman, and that’s what we get in Proverbs 31. (Although there is some debate about whether or not Lemuel wrote the second half of the chapter, which is where we find the Proverbs 31 woman, to be fair. In any case, she’s still hypothetical!) So basically, holding a real woman to that list as a standard is incredibly unfair. If you’re the one being held to it, it’s just plain discouraging! The Proverbs 31 woman isn’t meant to be a standard that we’re all supposed to fit; it’s a list of things that are desirable for a person (not exclusively a woman, either!) to embody. It’s not like you’re disqualified from being a godly woman if you don’t meet every single one. They’re things for us to be striving for, but it’s important to remember that we might not (read: probably won’t) ever meet every. single. one. Rest assured, friend: you are not a failure as a woman if you don’t get up before dawn and sew clothes for your family. I promise.
- Our desire to become more godly should never, ever come from a place of trying to find a spouse or earn human approval of any kind. Our motivator should not be, “So-and-so is going to love me/think I’m so holy if I (fill in the blank with whatever “holy” thing you want)!” Finding a husband might be a side-effect of becoming more godly, and that’s awesome, but it shouldn’t be the goal. If your heart isn’t in the right place, I might even say that you aren’t actually becoming godlier. You’re just putting on a darn good show. If you want to be godlier, do it for the reason that we are called to be as like Christ as possible (1 Peter 1:15), not for the fact that you might score a hottie out of it.
With all that in mind, I want to take an honest look at the Proverbs 31 woman. Hold on tight, ladies, because this might be a little scary at first. But hey, we’re in this together, and I think you’ll see that it’s a lot less intimidating and/or discouraging than it might seem on the surface. (I’m not P31-bashing with this post, either! I think she’s great when she’s interpreted correctly!) So if you’re brave enough, click through, and we’ll read Proverbs 31:10-31 together and talk a little more in-depth about what being a P31 really entails… It’s more doable than you probably expect!
(P.S. This post is not just for the ladies! The qualities that the Proverbs 31 woman embodies are great for men and women alike to have. So read on!)
“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.” (Proverbs 31:10-12 NIV)
Okay, this is pretty straightforward, actually. We don’t really have to dig too deeply to figure out what King Lemuel’s momma was trying to say here. Finding a good wife is pretty awesome. So what constitutes a good wife? That’s what the rest of this passage is going to tell us. This first part lets us know that she is good to her husband and is trustworthy. “Good” means a lot of things: she is respectful to him, loving, doesn’t put herself in compromising situations with other men, etc. (That last one kind of encompasses “trustworthy” as well.) She supports him and doesn’t undermine him. (And psst… When it says he lacks nothing of value, it’s talking about her. Awww!)
“She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants.” (vv. 13-15)
I know what you’re thinking here: “Um. I do not deal with shearing sheep or foraging for food very often. Sooo…” It’s okay. I don’t either. The list of things mentioned in Proverbs 31 should not necessarily be taken literally. I feel like women are often pressured into becoming homemakers and being super-domestic because of this chapter even if that’s not where they’re skilled and/or not what they enjoy. If it is, that’s great! But it’s not for everybody. So instead of shaming other Christian ladies because they aren’t stay-at-home moms or something, we should think about this. What does it mean that the P31 makes every meal for everyone in her household? It’s probably more important to grab hold of that underlying meaning – she’s taking care of her family and making sure they’re healthy – instead of taking it to mean that you’re a massive sinner if your husband is the main cook in your house. Anyway, the list is a little less daunting and more obtainable if it’s looked at in this way versus extremely literally. Doesn’t that make you feel better? (Me too.)
“She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.” (16-18)
I know, I don’t buy very many fields or plant too many vineyards, either. The point is that she invests her money wisely. You might not buy fields, but maybe you buy, I don’t know, the store-brand face wash that’s cheaper than but has the same ingredients as your usual name-brand. A P31 is not a gold-digger. She uses the money she has in a responsible way and provides for herself and her family with it. When she sees that what she’s doing is working, she keeps at it. She probably doesn’t literally stay up all night (or else she would be cranky, which would rule out being good to her husband, right? Haha), but she keeps her nose to the grindstone and isn’t lazy.
“In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.” (19-21)
If you are a typical member of our Pinterest-crazed society, you have probably learned how to knit/crochet… Or at least thought about learning how to knit/crochet. Right? 🙂 A distaff is a tool used for spinning wool. So basically, this section is talking about the P31 making yarn from scratch and making clothes for her family. If you are an overachiever, feel free to actually knit your family clothes. Whatever. If you are more like me and suck and knitting no matter how hard you try, never fear! You don’t have to know how to make outfits for your family in order to be a godly woman. Really! The main point here is that the P31 takes care of her family. She plans ahead for things that might come up — cold weather, in this passage — and anticipates her family’s needs before they arise. Maybe you have a pre-packed lunch in the fridge for your husband to grab if he’s running late for work (or hey, if you’re not married, maybe that lunch is for you! That’s cool, too!). Being responsible and planning ahead so that you don’t have to worry about a random crisis is P31 status. Good for you, girl. Also, notice that the P31 is kind and generous to people who have nothing to offer her. She is loving to the poor and needy. She doesn’t consider herself to be better than them. She just loves them with Christ’s love.
“She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple. Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.” (22-24)
Again, you don’t have to, like, crochet an afghan or anything here. And if purple ain’t your color, that’s fine by me. The P31 presents herself well. She isn’t purposefully sloppy and gross. She does her best to look presentable. That’s not to say that her outward appearance is what’s most important. But it is to say that she knows her worth and dresses herself accordingly. (Side note: I’m not implying that you can’t dress comfortably or always have to wear makeup or whatever. Present yourself however makes you feel beautiful. It’s easy to be negative and unapproachable when you don’t feel pretty. So whatever makes you feel beautiful, whether it’s an LBD or yoga pants, you rock it, girl!) The P31 presents herself in a way that also honors her husband. She helps his reputation rather than hurting it. She supports him in his endeavors. The way she presents herself reflects back on him, too; in other people’s eyes, the kind of woman she presents herself as says a lot about the kind of man her husband must be. She doesn’t allow herself to reflect negatively on her husband. Her identity doesn’t revolve around her husband (it should revolve around who she is in Christ!), but she does her best to make sure she is reflecting well on him. She also uses her unique talents to help her family, thus glorifying the Lord. The biblical P31 knows how to make sashes, but maybe you’re a great artist who could commission her work for a little extra spending money or something. I don’t know what you’re good at, but I bet you do 🙂
“She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.” (25-27)
The P31 rests securely in the Lord. She knows that nothing that could happen will separate her from his love (Romans 8:38-39). She can, as the New Living Translation says, “laugh without fear of the future.” I love that! She is not living in fear because of the uncontrollable unknown. She knows that handling whatever happens in her life is well within God’s capabilities. She also knows that words have the ability to heal or to hurt depending on how they’re used. She’s careful to only let life-giving words come out of her mouth. She doesn’t gossip or say hurtful things. Instead, she shares the wisdom and insight she gains with others. Her motives in doing that are also good; she does it in order to help build them up, not to brag about how holy she is. And again, she looks out for her family and is involved in their lives. She isn’t aloof or uncaring with any of her family members. If something needs to be done, she does it without complaining or expecting to be praised. She isn’t lazy, and she loves her family fiercely.
“Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’ Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”
The P31 doesn’t act the way she does because she expects to be rewarded. She does it because it’s the right thing to do. However, her husband and children are eager to appreciate her. That seems like a foreign concept in today’s world! Too often, we appreciate people from afar and don’t tell them! When was the last time you thanked your mom? 😉 Really, though, don’t assume that people know how you feel. Tell them that you are grateful for all they do! Let them know that their good works don’t go unnoticed. It means more to people than you might think!
The chapter — and the entire book of Proverbs — ends by saying that outward beauty isn’t the most important thing. Looks will fade, but a beautiful heart won’t. If a woman is rooted in the Lord, she is always going to be beautiful. Isn’t that awesome? We don’t know what the P31 might have looked like if she was a real woman. In reality, it doesn’t matter! She could have looked like Adriana Lima, or she could have looked like Gollum. Her inner beauty outshone any outward beauty (or lack thereof) that she might have had. Rest assured that even if you don’t think that you’re outwardly beautiful (which, come on, you are!), your heart is what truly matters.
So basically, this is the list we just came up with:
- Is good to her husband
- Is trustworthy
- Is personally involved with the affairs of her household
- Makes an effort to make sure her family is taken care of
- Is kind to and cares about even people who are her “inferiors”
- Uses money wisely
- Does her best at whatever tasks she takes on
- Doesn’t give up when the going gets tough
- Isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty and do work
- Is compassionate and generous
- Makes sure her family is provided for by thinking ahead
- Is presentable
- Supports her husband and doesn’t hurt his reputation
- Uses things she’s good at to help her family
- Knows that her spiritual clothing is more important than her outward appearance
- Rests confidently in the Lord’s provision
- Speaks words of life rather than words that hurt
- Isn’t lazy or aloof
- Loves and is loved by her husband and children
- Knows that her true beauty comes from her identity in the Lord
Notice that nowhere in that list does it say she looks perfect all the time, never makes a mistake, makes the best sugar cookies out of all the moms on the block, or gets up at the crack of dawn. Doesn’t this list seem a little less scary than the literal one we’re handed so often? It sure does to me!
Alright, time to ‘fess up: did this post make you change your mind about the P31? Do you feel better or worse after reading this? 🙂 I hope you’re walking away feeling encouraged and not intimidated by the concept of being a P31. Let me know what you think in the comments!