If you’ve run in Christian circles long enough, you are familiar with the Proverbs 31 woman. She is the Biblical measuring stick by which husbands look for wives and women look for inspiration. She has been used as an encouragement and teaching tool. Unfortunately, she has also been used by some in the church as a way to make women feel inadequate and chastised.
In case you don’t know much about her, she is a seamstress, takes care of the poor, and runs a large household of people. She is both a homemaker and a small-business woman. She is up before anyone else and is the last to go to bed. She is smart, witty, resourceful, kind and hard working. Everyone loves her. I’m sure her Facebook page has pictures of perfectly manicured children gazing adoringly at her and I bet she has the most followers on Pinterest: she is crafty. I’m also pretty sure she would be president of the PTA and her kids would eat all their vegetables because she takes the time to cut them into shapes of dinosaurs or rocket ships or something.
For many of us, the Proverbs 31 woman illuminates a standard we are not living up to. Like her fictitious Facebook page, she is a carefully edited highlight reel of a person. We only see her good side. Those of us who make it through the day wondering if we’ve even brushed our teeth don’t feel very encouraged by a woman who not only weaves her own linen, but then makes her own clothing out of it.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the Proverbs 31 woman. I think she has a lot going for her. But for a few months now I have been mulling over Psalm 101 and wondering if there isn’t another, different Biblical view of womanhood lurking in there. I kept going back to verse 2, “I will walk in my house with a blameless heart,” and wondered if there was not more to glean about the dark side of womanhood. Not to say that women are or should be confined to the home, but more that home is where we relax, where we are our true selves. Home is where our families are formed, our morals are implemented, our shields are down. Home can be a place of immense comfort or distress.
So I implemented an exercise my favorite seminary professor taught me. He argued that the Psalms were written as prayers to God and they can be our guidepost for our own prayers. He encouraged us to take a Psalm, line by line, and write it in our own words as our own plea to God. Armed with what I know to be true about the rest of Scripture- that God is more concerned about the state of our hearts than the state of our wardrobes- here is my own version.
1-2 God, You are bigger than all things. You encompass the far ends of human emotion: Love and Justice. You are fully good and fully sovereign; a mystery you cradle together in Your broad hands. I’m so sure of this, I won’t just tell people about it, I’ll openly sing of it, loud and clear. I don’t know which I am more grateful for: blessings You’ve given, or adversity that has allowed me to embrace them. I will tell others how You’ve knocked me down and helped me up. That, ‘There is as much love in the blows of Your hand as in the kisses of Your mouth.’ I will sing my hope that you will set things right in the next life if not in this one. When are you coming to do that God? We can’t do this alone.
2b-3 I will share this great mystery not only out in the world where it is easy to look polished and put together. Where I can fool others. Where I can fake it.
I will do this at home where it matters most.
This means legitimately loving those in my encampment: shining bright around my husband and children, my family, my in-laws. Purposefully blessing the people who push my buttons and try my patience.
To the people who wont or can’t leave. To the people too little to argue back. To the people I know will cover for me. To those who have endured my poison I will be a vessel of your love.
I will hack up the bitter roots in my life. I will keep short accounts. I will forgive quickly and completely. I will embrace conflict but only when I have to. Otherwise I will sow in peace. Will I be perfect? No. But no one lives well without first resolving to do so.
Even though this discipline is hard, the end goal is peace in my home and peace in my heart. I will go about my chores with a light and guilt-free spirit. I will pick up socks without resentment. I will make dinner without worrying who will do the dishes. I will not spend my life counting what percentage I give in comparison to others or how much weight I pull around here. I will regard small tasks as holy and give thanks. Piety must begin at home or else it has no merit. Can I preach peace at church and permit strife at home? Can I extol others to forgive and withhold it myself?
I resolve to walk in my house with a blameless heart.
For that, I have to sift through the fog and fix my eyes on You. Help me to remember that we become that which we look upon. Let me reflect and be a reflection of you.
Help me to be disciplined in putting to death things in my mind that defeat this goal. I shouldn’t be surprised- You Yourself said, ‘garbage in and garbage out’. I can’t watch scary movies and not be afraid when I turn out the lights. I can’t fill my mind with women’s magazines and wonder why I am discontent with what I look like and what I own. I can’t mold my schedule to match that of the women around me, adding more to my over pressurized pace and expect peace. My eyes are the ticket booth to my heart and not everything is worth the price of admission.
3b-4 I know I need this because your voice is so small and hard to hear sometimes. I need to surround myself with people who say, ‘shhh…listen’. The voices of this world tell me I am not good enough, pretty enough, witty enough. They grumble constantly of unfulfilled needs. They hiss like the serpent did to Eve, “Did God really say?” and they convince me that what You have given is not enough.
That’s why I won’t invest my time in women who hear these voices and become ungrateful. They throw back Your gifts in Your face. I won’t allow those who are choking on their own fear to suffocate me too. I don’t want to spend my time with women whose verbiage is soaked in fear, anger and regret. Those whose end goal is self-preservation won’t influence me. Those who hold tightly to their rights won’t sway me. I need to be reminded that I don’t lack love for myself or belief in myself. If I lack anything it’s love for You.
5 I will separate myself from women who trash other women in my presence. Those who have nothing but complaints for their husbands will not be invited back. I will distance myself from those who preach hate and intolerance. I won’t listen to sermons by those who preach against homosexuality but won’t preach against pride.
You yourself implored us to Love one another as you have loved us. You said nothing is greater than to put aside our own desires and needs and wants for the good of our friends. I will try to remember that you care most how we treat each other. Gossip and slander are not tiny sins. They are THE sins because it undermines Your greatest commandment, that we love one another as You have loved us. To degrade another is to degrade Your very likeness. We, all of us, are made in Your image, fully beloved by You.
I hear Jesus’ words echoing back to me when I implore my kids to ‘please share’ ‘be nice to each other’. I want to shake them and ask, Don’t you get it? This world will not be kind to you! You are all you have in this world. There is no one else who is your brother, no one else who can love you like a brother can. Love each other!
Begin with me: Cut out my tongue and my pride. Forgive me when I think I need a tune up or a reboot instead of a complete overhaul. Forgive me when I think there are major and minor sins. There is either reconciliation to or separation from You. Sin is not a problem, it is Utter Destruction: it is an ember left to smolder in your fireplace that will burn your house to the ground.
6 I will look for like-minded women, those who love your ways. Those who embrace peace and encourage their husbands. Those who long to soak up good things, beautiful things. I want the women who speak to me to be women who love transparency and will speak truth into my life even when I don’t want to hear it. I want to pray with women who aren’t afraid to beg and cry ugly tears; who aren’t above pleading their case to God knowing He may not answer in the way they would like. Women who love repentance, women who believe in second chances. I want to be around women who are broken wide open, nerves and vessels and throbbing veins all exposed. Not women who stitch themselves up and dab on a glob of concealer. I want truth and tears and blood.
I want to know and be known by women who do small things, hard things, in the secret where no one else knows. Those who give away their money recklessly, who serve with abandon, who forgive swiftly, who love wildly. Women who take seriously their role as risk takers, life shapers, learners, teachers, and preachers. I embrace those who expect God to speak and encourage me to listen. I yearn most of all to be amongst those who submit their lives wholeheartedly to God, because submitting is scary business.
7-8 These are hard resolutions I’m making to you God; seemingly impossible to follow. That’s why every morning when I wake up, I will remind myself that it is Your voice I need to listen to. I will silence the bad thoughts, the ugly lies and those who promote them. I will remember that Jesus did not come to stitch us up. He came to make us new.
I’ll reject the lies that tell me not to sacrifice too much, or give too much away. I’ll respectfully decline the offer to have boundaries or to be a ‘good steward.’ I won’t judge those who spend money on vacations but not Your poor, or concern myself with those who take the easy road, the wide path. I’ll especially plug my ears around those who say you can live this way and still follow Christ.
I’ll try to remember that little eyes watch how I respond to lack of money. Little ears listen to my tone when I speak to my husband. Little feet are walking just one step behind me on a trail I’m blazing. Every morning when my feet hit the ground, may these resolutions be my guide. May those who run hard after God be my teammates on this narrow road. May our sneakers get muddy together.