She looms over us like a menacing shadow. A shadow casting much taller than us, so we are constantly trying to measure up. Who is this lady of mystery? It’s the Proverbs 31 woman.
If you’ve grown up in the church, like me, you’ve probably heard a lot about her. There are countless books written about her, sermons preached on her, and numerous interpretations of her. We throw the term around loosely: “I want to be a Proverbs 31 woman,” “She is so Proverbs 31.”
She is the epitome of womanhood, so we must do exactly what she did, right? Not exactly. A lot of times we confuse the Proverbs 31 woman with June Cleaver from the 1950’s TV show Leave it to Beaver. We think domesticity and the virtuous woman go hand in hand, and they can at times, but don’t always have to. What I mean is this: no where in the Bible are we commanded as women to be cooking recipes from scratch, making sure our houses are spotless, cleaning up after our husbands, or cleaning dirty dishes and laundry.
These are good things to do for our families, but are not things that necessarily make us good wives and mothers. If doing these household chores comes from a heart of service and love for our husbands and children, then great! But if we are excelling in these domestic endeavors, while simultaneously yelling at our children, manipulating and controlling our husbands, complaining, and angry then we are not being virtuous women. We are just good cooks and maids.
More than Maid Service
The Proverbs 31 woman is much more than a maid and a cook. Rachel Jankovic says, “The state of your heart is the state of your home.” Proverbs 31 is not an unreachable example of a domestic goddess, but a heart lesson in being a virtuous woman in the home. She is nothing like June Cleaver.
These are the June Cleaver’s of today: fake, always smiling and perfect looking even when everything is crumbling around her, a social construct and not a Biblical example, she avoids conflict by pretending everything is ok, does everything without effort and with ease, feigns love towards her husband at the dinner table, but then slanders him to the women in the salon.
This is the Proverbs 31 woman: real, hard-working, most likely dirty and sweaty from back breaking labor, does not manipulate, control, or deceive her husband, she does not talk bad about him to others. This is how she does him good and not harm. This is the very reason her husband can trust her. “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” (vs. 11-12.)
She is an entrepreneur (vs.18, 24), she is intelligent and wise with money (vs. 16), she is strong (vs.17), she is generous and compassionate (vs. 20), she plans (vs. 21), she is not lazy (vs. 27, 13-15), she is frugal (vs. 22), she speaks with wisdom and kindness (vs. 26), she is not anxious and fearful (vs. 25.)
The Virtuous Woman
As you can see, being a virtuous woman is deeper than being domestic. The domestic endeavors of the Proverbs 31 woman flowed from a heart of virtue. Her story isn’t about being a better housewife, checking off lists, living naturally, or getting a lot accomplished. Her story is about being more Christ-like.
Of course we can’t attain to Proverbs 31 status if we think of her as June Cleaver and reduce womanhood to domesticity. But we can attain to the real Proverbs 31 status, because Christ has redeemed us and given us the grace to live for him. We can be more like Him, because He died for us and empowers us by His Holy Spirit. We just need to humble ourselves and ask for His grace.
Proverbs 31 is not an overwhelming list of things we should be doing as housewives, but an oversupply of grace as we see what God can do in us. We don’t need to be praised for how well we take care of our homes, how good we cook, how many homemade cookies we can bake, how many crafts we can do with our children, how many books we read to them (though these are good things), we should be praised for our fear of the Lord in how we live in our homes and treat our families.
“…But a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (vs.30.)