My days are packed full of activity as a mother of four, a wife, a part-time employee, a cook, a friend to many and a regular chauffeur. This means there are times in my exhaustion when I am left wondering, Am I adding up, God? Am I really living the life You called me to live?
In my weariness I am often confused and possibly influenced by the world's expectations of who I should be as a woman — as a wife and mother. I compare myself to every other woman I come across, taking note of all that she is and comparing what I am not to all that she is. And that's when I have to refocus by checking to see if I am honoring and glorifying God first and foremost through truly embracing who He made to me be and by doing what He called me to do.
Proverbs 31:10-12 reads, "An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life."
So I ask myself what a Proverbs 31 woman might look like in this day and age. I understand that this will look different for all of us, especially in our different seasons of life, and I believe that faith-oriented groups have often ended up with misconceptions. But I am confident that being a woman of God is less about what I do and more about who God says I am and how that translates into my behavior.
What biblical womanhood does not look like
Throughout the years I have heard messages from Christian leaders, pastors and mentors that have left me confused, wondering what my goals should be as a woman of God. With many false teachings about true biblical womanhood, I'm curious about what lessons I can throw out.
The Proverbs 31 woman is one of the most well known women in Scripture, so I assumed she would be a good example to look at for direction. By considering what this woman modeled for us, we can more clearly understand what she did not model for us.
The Proverbs 31 woman:
- wasn't a woman who worked strictly in her home with her children
- didn't remain silent when she had an opinion
- wasn't weak and passive in her presentation
- didn't refrain from making her mark on the world
What biblical womanhood looks like
Proverbs 31 continues describing the virtuous woman in verses 13-25:
She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar. She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens. She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet. She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.
Reading about this amazing lady honestly makes me more tired than I already am! She was opposite of everything we've often been led to believe a woman of God should be in the 21st century. The Proverbs 31 woman was an incredibly courageous woman living in a culture where women weren't accomplishing all she was endeavoring to do.
For us to truly embrace who the Lord calls us to be, I believe it would be helpful to understand this woman's biblical example at the same time we endeavor to understand who God has gifted each one of us to be as His precious daughters. We must know our target if we're going to head in the right direction.
She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: "Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all." Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates. (Proverbs 31:26-31)
For years I wanted to avoid this passage of Scripture because this woman's description made me feel that to emulate her I would no longer be sleeping, eating or even opening my mouth and speaking. However, I recently came to understand another way to look at this amazing woman.
In reading Dr. Tony Evans and Chrystal Evans Hurst's book, Kingdom Woman, I realized that the Proverbs 31 woman exemplified great qualities because she really was strong, intelligent, capable, giving, resourceful, efficient and spiritually minded. Unfortunately, if women today are striving to be all of those things at all times, they will feel like they failed.
So, let's make it practical. It may be possible to fulfill the calling of Proverbs 31, but those qualities don't all have to be fulfilled simultaneously. Much of what is noted about this woman is what we are growing into as we become more like Christ.
To put it in more contemporary terms, Dr. Evans and his daughter Chrystal lay it out so it doesn't seem quite so unattainable. They explain that the Proverbs 31 woman did the following:
- She honored and respected her husband.
- She fed and clothed her family with the healthiest and finest she could afford.
- She invested the use of her skills in a personal business.
- She spoke wisely and kindly to others.
- She dressed herself attractively.
- She helped the poor.
Something about that list simplified it for me. It took away some of the guilt and shame of not measuring up and some of the confusion in not knowing what the expectations were. As a result of a better understanding of this passage, I feel like I can take a deep breath and give myself some grace to see myself as a "growing" woman of God who seeks to please the Lord.
Modern-day biblical womanhood
I believe that women have another force breathing down our necks as Satan reminds us of all we are not rather than all that we are. We find ourselves believing the lies of the Enemy, comparing ourselves to other women and struggling with the expectations of the culture.
It may be helpful, then, to realize that most women in the Bible were not frail and quiet. They were surprisingly bold and they said what they thought about the issues of their day. They overcame obstacles, fought through resistance and broke through social norms to take a stand for the One they believed in. These were not women of silence, weakness or passivity. They were impacting their communities and even changing the paths of many around them.
Much like the Proverbs 31 woman, we are called to be women of impact. We are called to use our God-given strengths and talents, within each season of our life, wherever we believe the Lord is calling us to use them. If that is within the home, we need to be strong and courageous as we serve our family. And if that is through a career, we need to pursue that with all our heart. In both scenarios, we are still women of God simply living out our calling in ways that may look different.
I want to encourage you to follow the Proverbs 31 woman's example. Love your husband and family deeply, honor them and value them regardless of what your current season or calling looks like. Pray with your husband and discuss decisions concerning your calling, and then find solutions that you can both feel great about.
As a married woman, be the "excellent wife" you are called to be. Be the wife who is trusted by her husband and brings him "good, not harm, all the days of her life." If you really want to be brave, ask your husband what that would specifically look like to him. Spend some time asking God to reveal to you any blind spots in your life, and continue seeking Him while you grow into the wife He desires you to be.
Ultimately, you are called to fear God in all that you do, including in your role as a wife. Honor Him with your thoughts, words and actions. Seek Him and ask Him for the help you need in each decision you make and each action you take. May you glorify Him in all you do, making it apparent that you are a follower of Christ by the love you show to those around you (John 13:35).
Be faithful to live your life one day at a time — giving yourself grace as you grow and develop into your own version of the Proverbs 31 woman. Instead of wasting your time looking to everyone else and everything else to decide what expectations should be on your life, spend more time looking up. Ask the Lord to direct your path. He is faithful, and He created you for a greater purpose than you can imagine.Erin Smalley serves as the program manager of marriage ministries at Focus on the Family and is the author of several books including The Wholehearted Wife.