I went to my friend's funeral last week. Funerals rarely capture the nuances of life, neither joy of a life well lived or the grief that comes from a life of poor choices. I sat in the service hoping for a glimpse of her heart and the joy that she effortlessly brought to so many people. My heart was filled as the minister began to read Proverbs 31:10-31. My friend Joyce embodied this in her life. She was born the year that women got the right to vote and she never took this right for granted. She started working for her Dad's business during World War II and balanced a career and raising four kids. She managed her finances and investments, gave generously, maintained friendships and joyfully reminisced about cooking pound cake and Oyster casserole for New Year's day.
Joyce embodied the Proverbs 31 woman. Depending on which translation of the Bible you are reading, this well known passage is titled "Description of a Worthy Woman in the NASB version, the ESV titles is "The Woman who Fears the Lord", the NIV titles it "Epilogue:The Wife of Noble Character."
For many of my friends and me, reading Proverbs 31 can be intimidating and a reminder of all that we aren't doing right. The NASB titles this passage "Description of a Worthy Woman" but often reading this can instead make us feel unworthy and like we don't measure up. This scripture was written by a mother to a son in a male dominated society to encourage him to value his wife and all that she can and will do, not to make us women feel inferior. But we don't read it as such, and rather than encouraging and motivating us, it highlights all the areas our lives aren't successful.
Many years ago, after I shared with an older woman, who had raised her kids and was expecting her first grandchild, how I was overwhelmed with insecurity every time I read this passage, she encouraged me to keep in mind that we don't have to do it all at once. As Ecclesiastes reminds us, "There is a time and season for everything."
I now see her wisdom and perspective. When I was younger, I couldn't imagine making clothes for my family, buying real estate, getting up while it was still dark to provide food for my family, or having kids and a husband that called me "Blessed" but I didn't have to. I needed to go to work and do my best at that time with the responsibilities I had and not get worried about what I wasn't doing. Soon after having my first born son, I was getting up "while it was still dark" every three hours to feed him. I have since moved on to carrying out modern versions of "she puts her hand to the distaff, she hold out her hands to the poor, and she dresses herself with strength."
Too often as women, we feel the pressure to do it all. Have a career, raise kids, keep our house perfect, be a good manager, a wise investor, a perfect wife, a good cook. These are all good things but they are just too much all at once. Instead, we need to give ourselves grace and understand that just as my friend had 97 years to become a "Woman Who Fears the Lord" each of us have a lifetime whether is is 17 or 97 years to grow and use the gifts that God has given us for His Glory and to bless all the people around us. Rather than being intimated by the Proverbs 31 woman, I have come to embrace her as a model of how to live well as a woman one step and verse at a time. Becoming a Proverbs 31 woman should be a joy-filled validating process that lasts our entire life.
Do you feel pressure to do it all?
How do you manage your expectations and society's expectations with your responsibilities?
Do you have a scripture that you lean on when you feel the pressure to perform?