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Photo by carygrant on morgueFile

Proverbs 31: 10-31, I’m convinced, is a woman’s nightmare. A “hymn to a good wife,” as Eugene Peterson labels it in The Message, it waxes poetic (and patriarchally, IMHO) about the “good woman who is hard to find, and worth more than diamonds” (v. 10).

The Proverbs 31 wife and mother is a domestic diva, the Martha Stewart of her time without the grumpy, demanding personality and the jail time. She is an excellent steward of financial resources (v. 13 and 16). She is up before dawn cooking breakfast and getting the day going for her family (v. 15); she keeps herself and her family busy throughout the day, “suffering nothing from laziness” (v. 27, The Message and NLT) and she works late into the night, “in no hurry to call it quits for the day” (v. 18, The Message). She makes all of the family’s clothes (v. 22) and keeps them mended (v. 21), and still has energy to make garments to sell to merchants (v. 24) and reach out to help the poor (v. 20).

As far as her children go, they are equally as impressive. Well-mannered and well-behaved, they do all of their chores (v. 27b) and respect and bless her. She even has a well-known and respected husband (v. 23) who joins in the chorus of all who praise her (v. 28), “Many women have done wonderful things, but you’ve outclassed them all” (v. 29, The Message)!

A woman who fears God is to be admired, praised, rewarded for all that she does (v. 30-31). In case you missed the subtle description over these 31 verses, there is only one sort of woman who fears God and is therefore worthy of praise. That would be the Proverbs 31 woman.

I respond in different ways when I read these verses. I’m like Rapunzel in Disney’s movie Tangled, swinging from one emotion to the next and at war with myself and my self-worth. Mostly I sink into myself. The weight of my failure and knowledge that I will never, ever measure up pulls me down as if lead has been tied to my feet. Does this mean that  I am not a God-fearing woman? Does this mean that I am not worthy of respect, blessing, admiration, praise, or reward?

Photo of a woman standing by laundry and holding a pail, Tulelake, Siskiyou County, California, September 1939 at Historical Stock Photos.

Other times the feminist in me takes over and laughs haughtily with contempt. Seriously?? she asks. What female is like this?? Could it be possible to pigeon-hole women, wifehood, and motherhood into archaic gender roles more than Proverbs 31 does?? I don’t know how to sew, and I expect my husband and children to be healthily responsible for themselves. So, I guess I’m outta luck. *Insert HUGE eye roll here.* Whatever!

Yes, I get that Proverbs 31 was written well before the two American waves of feminism (first: late 19th and early 20th century, second: 1960s and 70s), and that it was an oral tradition long before it was written. The poem is a sign of its times. Touche. Thousands of years later, though, plenty of peeps wield Proverbs 31 like a patriarchal sword, making sure that women stay well within their domestic realm. No bueno. These verses are meant to lift up women (as limited as I feel that they are), not entrap and oppress them.

I once heard Christian author and speaker Liz Curtis Higgs read and comment through Proverbs 31. Even she, the ultimate encourager of Christian women, cracked jokes, made the all-female audience laugh, and laughed herself at the ridiculousness of the Proverbs 31 woman standard. “God loves you because you are [God’s] beloved daughter, not because you measure up.” she concluded.

As I read and prayed through Proverbs 31 this time, I noticed that it makes no mention of her heart. Sure, we can assume that the Proverbs 31 woman’s heart is a good one. How does she love and express genuine care, though? As a child of what psychotherapist Jodi Lee Cori calls “an emotionally absent mother,” I pine for the love, for a connection, and for eye contact that looks into my depths and finds cherishable treasure.

What does it mean that the ideal mother as described by Proverbs 31, is praised for what she does, rather than who she is and how she loves?

Questions for y’all…
What say you? Do you have a love/hate relationship with the Proverbs 31 woman? How do you respond to the poem? How, if at all, does it shape your behavior as a woman? wife? mother?

“Blogging my book idea” is series of posts. Click here to read the first post, and here to read the second. Only God knows how long it will last, and how the posts that emerge will relate to one another. I invite you to engage with me, and walk the path to publishing with me. My guess is that the book, whose ultimate purpose is to serve God’s plan by touching readers, will be that much stronger because of your input.