Proverbs 31 woman

The Strong Alaskan Woman + How NOT to Hate the "Virtuous Woman"


       I’m just back from leading a retreat in my own beautiful state. I love speaking to Strong Alaskan Women! (And I met some truly amazing women. Beyond words. Shout-Out to Baxter Road Ladies!) We can endure the rigors of the wilderness, but I admit, when it comes to the duties of the house, I'm done for. After just 4 days away, laundry is piled everywhere. The dirty dishes I accidentally left in the dishwasher grew a gruesome mold. The counters are lost in stacks of mail. And there's other work to do. By Friday, I have to bake 15 dozen cookies, read and endorse a book, design a label and write three articles, as starters. 
          This is my everyday life, and likely yours as well.  But doesn't our exhaustion make us virtuous, biblical? You know, a Proverbs 31 woman? I hear some of you choking. Does anyone like this over-lauded woman who never sleeps, who is forever doing crafty earthy things like sewing clothes, planting a vineyard, spinning wool by lamplight? Didn't she ever go for long walks  in the desert, looking for beauty, writing poetry? Why don't we hear about that?
        We love to hate her---and still we laud her. Women on both sides of the Mommy Wars (which still exist, though I would downgrade it to "The Mommy Skirmishes") claim her because look! She does it all! She's a domestic diva and she sells her own merchandise and deals in real estate. 
            But too many women are goaded into a frantic busyness thanks to an overemphasis on this one chapter of the Scriptures. I say this as not as an urban woman who disdains the earthy home arts. I wrote part of this out at my fish camp in Alaska where I cook massive meals for 8 – 12 people, make all our own bread, smoke salmon, work out on the fishing nets with my family when I can, write essays and books,  mother my two younger sons and four young adult children.  The writer of Proverbs would be proud of my schedule.  
                                                 And I’m tired. So are many other women I know. Even Strong Alaskan Women. And honestly I  don’t think we should be called godly or virtuous because of it. Most women I know who do everything---including homeschool their children---are sure they are still not doing enough. I remember the words of a woman who ran her house, homeschooled her many children and who one day guiltily lamented that God was calling her to give up her one respite in the day, her thirty minute nap. (Really? Yes.)
              Surely a man conjured this woman up. Who else would turn the gospel of grace into a gospel of domestic works-righteousness? Ummmmm, another woman, actually: King Lemuel's mother. Before we hunt her down and stone her (or, as an Alaskan woman, shoot her)------ she’s not real.  She’s not even meant to be real. Hear this!
Dear Women Who Are Trying to Do It All: (me. And you?):   The noble woman is not intended to whip us into domestic goddess works-righteousness. She’s an ideal. We don’t have to spin wool and stay up to midnight making matching denim jumpers for our daughters to impress God with our love for our family. Or for Him.               Look what we've done. We have focused so much on her activities, failing to see that her activities are illustrations of her love and values. The heart of the message is who she is, her character, not what she does, her performance. All that she does springs from a bountiful, wise heart that “fears God”—the whole theme of Proverbs.

            There is no single way for women to “fear God”---thank goodness! And loving and fearing God does not require relentless performance and exhaustion. (If you see that raccoon-eyed woman giving up her nap, tell her “Don’t do it! God wants you to take a nap!”)                        So. I have laid down most of my sarcasm toward that woman , and sometimes even the bread board and the keyboard to remember that what God wants from me, from us, most of all: our hearts, our love, our attention. 
              And what do we get back from all of that good living? Surely someone as holy as King Lemuel’s mother would say nothing about reward.  Isn’t a wise life its own reward? Ah, but this woman (and her son recording these words) knows what we need! “Praise her!” she says. “Honor her!”  “Let her works bring her praise at the city gate!”                How can you hate this? Pay attention! Tired, Noble Women who Love God, take a break! Go outside. Take your camera, your notepad or nothing but your eyes. Find beauty, love God.   Even in your own house, if you rest a moment, you'll see it.  (This right here in my living room. The only flowers blooming---and I didn't even know it. Until now.) 
Allow others to praise you—and help you! Don’t be afraid of being honored. You deserve it.  You really do. God—and this not-so-Strong Alaskan Woman, and that very wise woman in Proverbs---says so.