Saturday, October 13, 2012

Model P31

Sometimes it frustrates me when someone always takes the controversial view on an issue or tries to pitch something in a way that no one has heard before. In my mind, there is such a thing as conventional wisdom. On the other hand, there's no reason to open one's mouth if you have the same thing to say as everyone else. I recognize myself as someone who likes to provoke, but I hope I am moving toward having more discretion and being more challenging at the same time as I talk about my beliefs and opinions on this blog. I guess that is what one would call wisdom. I'm seeking to give readers a take on things that they may not have considered before, but also be humble in my delivery and be fully honest about my own shortcomings and blind spots.

I just realized that most of my blog posts start with a "disclaimer" paragraph, as it were. I hope I use that to communicate fairness and open mindedness, not as a ticket to barge ahead in saying whatever I feel like saying.

So, dun dun dun.... my topic today is Proverbs 31; how I think it is abused and what I find its merits to be. This is not to say that I have authority to say whether a portion of the Bible has merit or not, but rather my commentary on how I see it generally referred to by women today. {photo}

Let's be honest here. While we all want to be the best we can be as wives and mothers, the Proverbs 31 standard makes me, at least, feel like a sloth. It's good to get a kick in the pants every now and then and be called to a higher standard, but I wish women wouldn't hold the Proverbs 31 woman in such high regard that they feel like failures in their real life or look down on women who aren't industrious in the way that the P31 woman is. I can't think of any specific examples of people I know who've necessarily abused this passage in either of those ways, but I feel a tad uneasy when I hear people quote this passage (though it's certainly not always quoted with misunderstanding!) because I feel that there can be those underlying feelings about it. Far be it from me to discourage any woman from gaining hope or encouragement, direction or vision from this passage, but let me clarify why I think the P31 model is "over rated", as it were. I think their are Christian circles in which the P31 woman is seen to be the epitome of womanhood, and I challenge that idea because different people serve in different ways, for one, and secondly, I just don't think the text says "this is what a woman should be like."

My first argument for this point of view is found in the very first sentence of the chapter. Proverbs 31:1 (NIV) "The sayings of King Lemuel—an inspired utterance his mother taught him." So basically, everything following are wise words from a mother to son. While I believe all scripture is God-breathed, I don't think that means that God is telling us in Proverbs 31, "this is the best way for a woman to be." That is NOT to say that there is anything in the chapter that a woman shouldn't consider striving fore, simply that I'm not sure it's necessary to make this THE biblical standard of womanhood. In fact, there are many women in the Bible who are not like the P31 model who Jesus compliments or who are portrayed as admirable. 

Secondly, this is not a real woman. I often forget that. Rather, it's a mother's ideal wish list for her son's partner. Every mother and every spouse has some idea of what sort of person would make a good partner, but we also know that real people are flawed. As an aside, I recently heard a podcast host go on a mini-rant about the Facebook and Pinterest trend of posting inspirational photos or quotes about "real women having curves." I realize the point is that most women don't look like a Vogue cover model, but it hadn't occurred to me that "real women" can also be curveless or any shape, actually, as the show host pointed out. Real women are, well, real women. All shapes and sizes. Models are real women, curvy women are real women, and less curvy women are real women. I think that's a relatable point to the image of the P31 woman. She's someone's ideal that some women may be similar to, but not all women should be held to. In the NIV Bible, verses 10-31 are entitled "a wife of noble character." Again, they do describe a noble woman, arguably not the only or best woman. I'm not sure that anyone would say that the P31 woman is what you should strive to be above all else, but I think it's a worthwhile reminder that the passage is an example, rather than the example, in my opinion.

Verses 10-31 of Proverbs 31 detail traits of this noble woman. Taken literally, I think there are portions of this passage that are discouraging to modern women. For example, we are not all good at hand-making things, and we do not all "get up while it is still night." I find it more helpful and encouraging to realize the principles behind model P31's actions and aspire to those instead of feeling guilty for not measuring up to this superwoman. Below, I have copied (and spliced) verses of the chapter and summarized in bold what I think the point is. 

11 11-12 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. 28-29 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” - She honors her husband and is loved and respected by her family; she treats them well.
13 13-15 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants17-19 She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers- She works hard and uses her time and resources well. 
16 16 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. 23-24 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them,  and supplies the merchants with sashes. - She is industrious, wise with money, and business savvy.
20 20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. - She is generous and compassionate.
21 21-22 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple. 25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. - She is confident, well prepared and skilled at a craft (or good at what she does). Her family is well kept/presented (see also vs. 23-24 above). 
26 26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. - She is in control of her words and is a wise teacher.
27 27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. - She is aware of her surroundings, and not lazy.
30 30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. - She fears the Lord.

I think that all the qualities in bold are things that are reasonably achievable or at least sought after by Godly wives and mothers. I also find it less daunting to think that while it is important that I use my household's money wisely, that may not always mean that I hand make clothes and sell them. Do you agree with my interpretation? I would love for you to share your thoughts in the comments or on Facebook. 

I think what jumps out to me above all about the P31 woman is how hard she works, particularly with her own hands and creativity. I think what convicts me most in this passage is how utterly un-lazy this portrait of a woman is. I heartily believe in taking breaks, relaxing, and enjoying life, but that's not the same as being lazy. If I had one criticism of the P31 lady, if she were real, it seems to me like she doesn't have a lot of fun (even though her life sounds pretty fulfilling) . A lot of women don't have that luxury, but I think part of using time and money wisely includes indulging in life, on occasion. I like that her physical traits (other than being well dressed) don't seem crucial to King Lemuel's mom. 

My mom, Victoria, has raised (and continues to nurture) 5+ children and is currently working on her Master's degree in social work. She usually has a part time job and an internship to go along with everything else. She's the best and savviest cook I know and I learned a lot of my good money-managing tips from her. This picture reminds me of her. My mother in law, Debi, is one of the most generous people I know. She has raised (and continues to nurture) 6 children and fostered many others. She is an incredible crafter (one of the few hand-quilters left!) and has successfully married off 3 sons to women who fear God. My gospel community co-leader (alongside her husband) Jessa also has 6 kids, cooks dinner for our entire group every week, and is the most incredible, innovative and frugal crafter (and thrifter!) I know. She works tirelessly to make our church an inviting and creative setting and is very generous with her time and talent in catering and decorating for every kind of party you can imagine, often at no more than the cost of materials. My best friend, Michelle, works full time to support her husband as he works through his Master's program, teaches guitar lessons on top of that, gives a lot of her time to our church through her musical talent and loves to cook her husband meals made with organic veggies. My friend Kenna is one of the most industrious (and stylish) ladies I've ever met - she gave up a very successful and globe-trotting career designing Barbie clothes for Mattel to marry a youth pastor and raise the two most adorable red-heads on the planet. Her home looks like it belongs in a magazine (which you can bet your booty she decorated with her own two hands!), owned her own vintage clothing store, and now heads up an incredible party planning/decorating company from her home, while waitressing at the best local breakfast spot on top of it all. Another friend, Laura, started her own clothe diaper business from home when she found out that her second daughter was allergic to regular diapers. You ladies all rock and inspire me. What a bunch of un-lazy people.

In closing, let us all strive to be the best women we can be, but don't be discouraged if you don't sound exactly like the the lady from Proverbs 31 or let someone tell you you're not being a good enough lady if you don't "measure up". God deliberately created each of us differently.


  1. amen, sister! this is a beautiful passage until you've heard it abused. then it just piles on the guilt. i also grew up with a mom who, in my opinion, is a great example of a version of the P31 woman. i'm not there yet, but i'm working it at it!

    1. Aweswome to have moms who are such role models! It sure gives you something to strive for. :)


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