The Truth About the Proverbs 31 Woman

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Yesterday, I wrote to encourage moms. Today, I’d like to take apart the misapplication of the Proverbs 31 woman and her endless abilities,  piling a terrible load of guilt on women over the centuries.

She pops up every Mother’s Day, like a taunt, a symbol of all that we’ve failed to do, all that we can never do, even though we pour our heart and soul into our family. It’s crazy-making.

Well-meaning pastors have unwittingly piled expectations on us as women for generations — something to strive toward but never attain. My mentor told me she’s not even a real woman, but an allegory, and wisely warned me not to take on guilt — advice I was happy to heed. Still, I find myself eyeing that whole Proverbs 31-situation warily, as I would someone who’s holding a knife! How much shame and guilt has come from making those attributes a to-do list?

Imagine my surprise to find Rachel Held Evans’ discovery through her Jewish friend: Proverbs 31 is meant to be a TRIBUTE to women for their valor, for what they have already done — not a standard for what they haven’t done!

Eshet chayil—woman of valor— has long been a blessing of praise in the Jewish community. Husbands often sing the line from Proverbs 31 to their wives at Sabbath meals. Women cheer one another on through accomplishments in homemaking, career, education, parenting, and justice by shouting a hearty “eshet chayil!” after each milestone.  Great women of the faith, like Sarah and Ruth and Deborah, are identified as women of valor. One of my goals after completing my year of biblical womanhood was to “take back” Proverbs 31 as a blessing, not a to-do list.

This changes everything.

Moms, this is an “atta girl!” — for all of us. NOT a “need to fix it, girl!” It was never meant to be a yardstick to fall short of but a champagne glass raised in toast to us for our character, for putting our heart into all we do! As RHE points out, the MEN in Jewish culture memorize this, not the women — so they can raise a glass to toast their own Proverbs 31 wife/mother/daughters!

This Woman of Valor is who you ARE, not who you AREN’T!

You are not failing; you are succeeding! All you need is already inside you! God has already given you the ability to love your children — just do that! That’s all.

If you have not loved well because you thought you needed to change them, if you have damaged your relationship with your children because you have not accepted them as is, tried to change them, piled guilt on them, then by all means seek them out. Apologize for your mistakes, tell them you love them as is, and they don’t need to change to gain your approval. (Because God never told you to give conditional love or approval.) 

So to you, Women of Valor! Bless you for the amazing job you are doing as moms! Your family is blessed!

7 thoughts on “The Truth About the Proverbs 31 Woman

  1. Thanks for this, Susan! Because of this, I bought the book and am enjoying it. All kinds of new insight. I’ve discussed it with the women leaders at my church, and we’re planning a women’s group to read it together and discuss. It’ll be great.

  2. NICE post today!  Healthy twist for me on this…. new perspective!     I am praying for you right now… it’s 6:345 in Austin  I pray that th Lord most importantly give s you His peae and His thoughts, that he provide you with the words He would want you to speak, that you speak with clarity and that it is peppered in LOVE…  may lives be changed and people set free.  Bless you sweet Susan…  XO

  3. Thank you. I’ve never heard this about it. I always felt like I was the only one saying, “Hey, wait a minute. Did anyone else notice she had servants?” Imagine how much more we could get done if we were as wealthy as she was and had staff at our disposal!

  4. Hi. Thanks so much for the encouraging words. Not a “need to fix it”, because Jesus fixed it! 🙂
    Still, an excellent model of virtue from which we can learn, and, (although slow on my part), maybe grow.

    • 🙂 Yes, I know. The way that story has been used as a “standard” indicates the problem of what we do with Christianity: we make it a standard to attain instead of a place to live from! It’s the difference between ultimately being approved and ultimately being NOT approved. ALL the difference.

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