(I know, ladies, it strikes fear in your hearts. But go with me on this one.)
An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life.
She looks for wool and flax and works with her hands in delight. She is like merchant ships; she brings her food from afar. She rises also while it is still night and gives food to her household and portions to her maidens. She considers a field and buys it; from her earnings she plants a vineyard. She girds herself with strength and makes her arms strong. She senses that her gain is good; her lamp does not go out at night. She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hands grasp the spindle. She extends her hand to the poor, and she stretches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household, for all her household are clothed with scarlet. She makes 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, and supplies belts to the tradesmen.
Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future. She opens her mouth in 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 bless her; her husband also, and he praises her, saying, “Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all.” Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
I don’t know about you, but I get a dizzy spell thinking about all the work this woman does (paragraph 2, above). And I illogically start thinking that I’m a total slacker if I’m not up at dawn, planting vineyards and sewing linen garments.
But this woman is honored not because of the particular things she did. She’s honored because she did what needed to be done in her culture, at her time, to take care of her family. She, like many of us, was a homemaker (I love that word–I’ll save my reasons for a later post).
The verses about her character (paragraphs 1 and 3) are the real challenge, because they’re wholly applicable today. To me. At times, these verses have discouraged me, because I believed that they held up an impossible ideal. But then I heard these verses read aloud at the memorial of my grace-filled friend, Annette. And in her case, every word was the unvarnished truth.
You might think that realization would have been even more discouraging: now it’s not just a faceless, ancient woman I’m supposed to emulate. It’s a woman that I’ve known, in the flesh, for nearly thirty years. But I wasn’t discouraged. I was inspired.
I knew Annette. I knew her to be utterly human. I watched her deal with the joys and struggles of life, just like the rest of us. I knew her to be strong and dignified and peaceful. And I knew, and never doubted, precisely what her source was for that strength and dignity and peace. It wasn’t a personality trait. It wasn’t genetic, and it wasn’t some trick that could be learned from a self-help book. It’s the very same source that I have: the limitless well that is Jesus.
Sitting in that service, listening to the heartfelt, genuine tributes that were shared about my friend, I was filled with an amazing sense of wonder and of hope. Proverbs 31 is not an impossible ideal. It’s a promise that the beauty of this biblical woman’s life, and of my friend’s life, is immediately, astonishingly accessible. To me. To you. Today.