She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come. Prov. 31:25
Can’t you see her now? That woman Proverbs 31 tells about? I’ve realized recently that sometimes I receive the meaning of this chapter more deeply when I let isolated verses wink at me. They slow the swirl of unattainable perfection that Proverbs 31 woman seems to juggle tauntingly. I mean, don’t you hate her a little bit sometimes? That grating combination of impossible perfection and annoying piety? Like, this woman not only is a stay-at-home mom, she’s an entrepreneur, who always makes her husband happy; feeds her family perfect, delicious, well-balanced meals; who apparently doesn’t ever sleep (or need to); doesn’t have emotional breakdowns (once a week); bakes cute Pinterest perfect snacks from scratch (but manages not to Pin like it’s her job); and doesn’t eat “the bread of Idleness” (whatever, she probably doesn’t eat bread at all).
At least, that’s how I feel when I don’t use my brain and read what’s actually going on here. You know how when you were a kid, grown-up tv shows were thoroughly uninteresting to you? Like, you didn’t understand why your parents couldn’t just watch cartoons and Disney movies all the time??? But when you grow up, you realize how much more meaning and depth is there and you become receptive to broadening your horizons of entertainment (while of course reserving a special love for cartoons and Disney movies, too). You actually want to watch stuff like Bones or Castle or CSI… or Scrubs. (Ok, I don’t watch CSI. I barely can watch Bones. They really play up the gross on that show. Castle is great, and Scrubs is just a staple of life, to say nothing of Gilmore Girls or Chuck or Merlin…) All this to say, I feel like over time it’s been the same process with my understanding of this infamous chapter of the Bible.
I know I’m not the only one to have a visceral reaction to this chapter. Upon first reading, I come away with an impression that the woman is just boring, door-mat-ish in her makeup, and would probably make me feel bad about not loving Jesus enough… Then I read it again, and realize- no, it’s not that she’s boring: she’s impossibly interesting! Because she apparently does everything (except sleep, which she doesn’t need because of some sort of secret, high-powered batteries that keep her running). Upon a third reading, I’ve decided she doesn’t actually exist and why did no one tell the author this??? Then, I tell myself- Haylie, you are a grown woman, and you do love Jesus, and you must not roll your eyes at the Bible.
This is, perhaps, the downside of growing up hearing chapters like these over and over. You tend to think you see them for what they are. But it’s a huge mistake to think you’ve read something of the Bible once or twice and have therefore plumbed all its depths. I’ve been similarly mistaken in thinking I understood this woman. I don’t think she’s as unattainable as we think she is. I think a few other (bazillion) women read this chapter and had the same thought, and somehow this massive misconception of the Proverbs 31 Woman has run rampant in the body of Christ. (Satan loves it when we do that with the Word of God- take it to mean something it doesn’t based on half-truths or partial understanding.)
But recently, I heard a different explanation of this chapter. That we may actually be seeing a picture of- not a day in this woman’s life- but different seasons of her life. Which makes sense to me. My husband reminded me that the other crucial part of studying any part of the Bible at all is that you need a perspective of faith to actually understand what’s going on. (Maybe that’s why Paul described it as looking like foolishness to the rest of the world? Seriously, click both of those links. They are SO worth it.) We- the human race- are just slightly prone to hyperbole. That exaggerated, awful, judgmental, pearls-wearing-Stepford-wife picture is something we have drawn from this chapter and allowed to burn us out. (Which should have been our first clue- since when does any word God gives cause burn out??? It doesn’t. God’s Word is life-giving.)
And rereading it, I realized that’s totally off-base. This woman, though she is active, doesn’t strike me as striving any more. She reveals herself as being purposeful, like she knows who she is- Whose she is. “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.” That woman sounds like she is filled with peace- with abundance. (She sounds like Aimee, right?!) That is SO backwards compared to the way I used to read it. How did I take it so wrong before? Maybe I wasn’t quite grown up enough to see the childlike faith she has.
That other Proverbs 31 Woman? If you think about it, she’s basically a Mean Girl.
Yeah. When she smiles, it’s not a good thing. (You want to tell her to keep her forked tongue behind her teeth.) And based on who she is, I would imagine her god to be petty and small, painting him as if he merely requires you to adhere to an impossible list of demands that somehow make you “virtuous.” That sounds more like a human- like maybe a strict sorority sister (though let’s be clear: my understanding of what sororities are like comes exclusively from movies and TV shows) than the living, loving, Almighty God. She leaves out His love, grace, and the fact that in our weakness, His strength is made perfect. That His grace is sufficient for us:
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions,in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
~ 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
So, if we know God’s grace is sufficient, than we can give up our striving, our doomed-to-fail, try-hard dying life. If Jesus really came to give us abundant life, then the Mean Girl can’t be right; we can’t be meant to live in incessant torment, constant shame. (That’s one of Satan’s other great and widespread lies- that Christianity is about shaming you into a certain way of life. But ironically, isn’t it the other way around? Isn’t it humanity’s incongruous expectations and fickle, changing opinions that really perpetuate this toxic outlook?)
Shame, after all, is the opposite of dignity. And the real Proverbs 31 woman is clothed in dignity. She doesn’t live in fear, either. “She can laugh at the days to come.” Wow. So hype and headlines don’t define how I live? I mean, the world says everything is failing, and that you should worry about everything failing. Governments, systems, institutions, families fail. Technology will falter, the power will go out, bank accounts will empty, then your fridge will empty, and worst of all your personal style will, altogether, dissipate and no one will like you! Eesh. (We live like we’re doomsday preppers sometimes.)
That’s a lot of lack. However, abundance says there’s more than enough. God reminds us of His infinite resources. Because of Him, we have security that 401k’s can’t provide. Easy for me to say… but it’s hard to live that way.
“The most revolutionary thing we can do is choose to see the good instead of the lack.”
– Leeana Tanersly
Isn’t that good?! I saw this quote at The Nester’s blog. (And now I have another book to add to my list… speaking of impossible…) That’s the whole point of this project. It’s not even to have a post for every single week that showcases a new doodle. (Good thing, because clearly I haven’t done that… I counted up all the RA Project posts so far, and I think I technically need to be on my 15th-ish post right now. Or something…?) The point is and has always been to be intentional, to stop living in lack. But, like anything worth pursuing, it’s harder to be abundant and choose joy than it is to be fearful and despairing.
But, let’s you and me choose the better things anyway. I mean, we could just skip all that kneading and waiting for dough to rise and buy some canned cinnamon rolls at Walmart, but real cinnamon rolls- and real faith- are worth the work and the wait. (I feel I should confess that I have never made real cinnamon rolls. But the amount of energy I’ve invested in dreaming about them makes me feel as if I’d done all the work…)
So, this one’s going on my vanity. Which was a HOT MESS before. No, really. It looked like this:
It’s really probably the most beautiful piece of furniture we own. And now, you can tell.
And I think maybe- if I pretend well enough- I can imagine myself putting on strength and dignity like clothes. And then maybe- just maybe- that could someday be what I’m known for. Not in a feeling-superior-to-everyone-else kind of way, but in the way that someone who’s been through the wardrobe returns seeing the world through a different lens and lives in a different plane.
Thus, if you need me, I’ll be over here in my dignified yellow pants, laughing through my lip gloss at the days to come, becoming- in spite of myself- who I was made to be, “…A child with palms stretched open toward the sky” as a kindred spirit recently described it.
Are you reshaping the way you see that Proverbs 31 girl? What is she looking like to you, these days?