Proverbs 31. That much-loved and much-hated passage of scripture that has been used countless times to both teach and encourage women. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be like King Lemuel’s mother? She had it all together, right? Even her husband had nothing bad to say about her. Which, considering the time-period she lived in, was quite a feat.
As I matured into adulthood, I was under the impression that I was required to love this passage of scripture. Along with all the other teenagers in my peer group, I aspired to be like her. After all, she was respected, worked diligently, raised well-adjusted children, spoke with wisdom, and feared the Lord.
I didn’t admit at the time that I was intimidated by her. By the time I became a wife and a mom, I pretty much hated that passage of scripture. I felt that I couldn’t live up to that sort of expectation, both from my husband and from the pulpit. The last thing I felt was “clothed with strength and dignity.” I was often weak, frustrated, and anything BUT dignified in my messy hair, pajamas, no-makeup state. Marriage was definitely not what I had thought it was, and neither was motherhood. So the more I read and heard about this amazing woman of God and strived to be like her, the more I seemed to fail. All I wanted was for my lamp to go out at night, to get a full eight hours of sleep (those were the days!) and to not have to wake up and do the unending, monotonous things that I had done every day for years.
Who am I kidding? I still long for that!
Then I had knee surgery in August 2016, and found myself bed-bound for twelve weeks, with a three-year-old and a two-year-old. I had a lot of time to think and reflect on my uselessness, and one of the things I reflected on was this passage I had come to despise. It took on a new meaning for me. I came to realize that this crazy expectation I had wasn’t placed on me by my husband or the teachings I had heard, but I had assumed was God’s expectation. It was written in His book, by His divine authority, and so surely the root of the issue was that I didn’t like what He had placed there. Suddenly, I had my Maker to contend with, not man.
And contend I did. Besides the mounting frustrations with being immobile, I found myself angry at God for his unrealistic expectations that I should be somehow perfect and able to manage my household like the King’s mother did. That my husband would be held in high esteem because of me, that I should be consistently giving to the poor and needy…the list goes on.
I don’t know when it happened, but as I lay on my back staring at me ceiling for weeks on end, the passage turned itself inside out. And I wondered… “Was she always like that? Day after day? Month after month? Year after year? Or was this just how her son viewed her, because of her trust in the Lord?”
I’m no biblical scholar, so you would need to ask one of them. But what I do know is that if she was a woman (which she was) and if she was a wife and mother (which she was) then she must have been like the rest of us who are labelled that way, too. She must have struggled with her marriage and children. She must have struggled with weakness, exhaustion, and feeling overwhelmed. She must have been just as surprised by Lemuel’s observations of her as I would be if one of my sons were to write something like that about me.
Friends, whatever the case is with you, whether your sufferings and strivings are done with joy or with exhaustion and heartache, Proverbs 31 should encourage us. Because, if my rambling thoughts are anywhere even close to being true, behind the scenes of Provers 31 was a tired, overwhelmed wife and mom who clung to the grace of God with a fighter’s tenacity. Yet her son didn’t see the struggles as being worth mentioning, because what stuck out to him was all the ways she was getting it right.
Now, I read that passage with a grin on my face. Her son’s words came from a man who respected and loved a woman who undoubtedly was flawed, yet unswervingly devoted herself to the things of the Lord. May it be so with us. Whatever season you find yourself in, and in whatever capacity, the expectation isn’t that you will be perfect. Christ already did that for you. The beauty of Proverbs 31 is that Christ will transform our half-hearted, weakened moments into something noble and strengthened by grace.