Whether it’s how perfectly we lined our eyes, how much weight we’ve lost or muscle we’ve gained, how fast we climb the corporate ladder, how well we did on a test, if we made the best lunch for our kids, planned an awesome event, or crossed the finish line faster – we create these standards, and THEN we compare ourselves to other women who we think are doing a better job. We’ve always done it; and, in a social media world, it’s even easier to get caught in this game comparing our worst moments with other women’s highlight reels.
Proverbs 31 serves as the original “social media” standard for Christian women. Like many other girls, I grew up listening to this passage preached from the pulpit of a church, as a hallmark of honoring women – particularly on Mother’s Day. We put this picture in our mind of how this woman is supposed to look, and with a deep sigh, we know we’ll never be good enough. For some women (like me) who are really great at self-doubt, the chapter comes with a lot of baggage.
If you haven’t read it, you can catch its entirety here. Basically, it outlines a domestic superwoman who has figured out how to have it all together. She is the epiphany of the iconic phrase, “bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan.” She gets up super early, has strong biceps, makes money, laughs in the face of trouble, is a Pinterest-perfect mom, makes sure the house is cozy, and serves the poor in her spare time. What does this Biblical standard mean for those of us who aren’t married? Who don’t work outside of the home? Who can’t cook? Who hires a nanny? Who doesn’t have kids? As we read the passage or hear it taught, a crazy anxiety can overtake heart with yet another impossible standard that marks our inadequacies as a woman.
How many of us know, that’s not how God intends us to live? He has an amazing purpose for our lives and wants us to live to the fullest, content, and with purpose. The Bible is replete with truth; from cover to cover it tells us how to live that kind of awesome life, but all too often we get hung up on the mold we’re supposed to fit. Proverbs 31 is not a “to do” list, but a celebration of wisdom-in-action that transcends gender and circumstance to reach the heart of following Jesus with fierceness and integrity, celebrating the often overlooked successes of daily life.
Out of context, we take this Scripture and read it as a job description; and, we are so focused on what the Proverbs 31 woman’s roles, that we reduce being a woman to marriage, being a mom, and domestic virtuosity. But, we know from other Bible stories of courageous women like Ruth, Deborah, Esther, Mary, and Martha that they didn’t necessarily fit the “mold” of a Proverbs 31 woman. They lived lives with incredible bravery and strength. These Biblical heroines acted out of wisdom and operated in God’s unique purpose for their lives. How a woman, or anyone, exemplifies the characteristics of Proverbs 31 depends on their passions, gifts, abilities, and calling. One of my amazing pastor friends, Tiffany Hester told me last week, “We were not made to fit in someone else’s mold of who we are supposed to be, but the mold in which God created us uniquely and individually.”
If you don’t fit the mold of the domestic super-heroine of Proverbs 31, take a deep breath and exhale relief. If you’re a lawyer, be a lawyer full of integrity and strength. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, face each day with bravery and nerve. If you are a teacher, mark your mornings with boldness and finish the day stronger than when you walked into the classroom. If you’re a pastor, a nurse, a leader, a fry cook, a barista, a cashier, a neurologist, a writer, a fitness instructor, a maintenance worker, married, unmarried, kids, no kids, rich, poor and everything in between – do it with all that you have and bring heroism, courage, and a fierceness to every role you walk in. It is not our roles that define us, but what we bring to the roles that make us who we are. In turn, celebrate the women in your life that bring wisdom, uniqueness, and passions to bring the hope and love of Jesus to the world; that’s what honoring Proverbs 31 is really about.