The Counterfeit Proverbial Woman

To those raised in a “Reformed” environment that stressed a woman’s domestic duties but looked down upon any activity that might take a woman outside the home, “going wild” might mean anything from living in dorms and studying theology to sleeping around and snorting cocaine. Amazingly enough, in some worlds, the two forms of “rebellion” are more alike than different.

But what most won’t imagine it means, is exactly where I’m about to go.

I’m not sure the point of Proverbs 31 is that all good women must garden, sew, and buy real estate. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say if we make that the point, we’ve missed it entirely. A good deal of Proverbs is spent on wisdom, and some of that wisdom is a reminder of what types of women to avoid: the sneaky women, the manipulative women, the “dripping faucet” nagging women, the seductive women, the contentious women, and on the list could go.

Proverbs 31, in contrast, is about a particular kind of woman, too: a woman of valor. She is strong, wise, and industrious, and I think noting these three adjectives speaks most directly to the point of Proverbs 31. And “far above rubies” tends to indicate this sort of woman can change a man’s life in ways that cannot be bought for any reasonable amount of money. So, she’s kind of a big deal–a rare commodity, if you will. In other words, any average woman can nag, seduce, manipulate, and stir; the clear message to men here is to find a woman that can truly help you rather than trip you up.

Sure, we’re given examples of how she used her strength and wisdom, and how her industriousness helped care for the home. None of these things should be disputed, and every example provided contributes to our understanding of just how industrious this woman really was. She didn’t mess around, and everything she did made life easier for her husband, children, and employees.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid what’s happened in some of our circles is that instead of focusing on the strength, wisdom, and industriousness of the Proverbs 31 woman, many women have latched on to her particular areas of expertise and have decided these things must, clearly, be the very heart and soul of Proverbial femininity. By extrapolating that a bit, one might assume a woman becomes a Proverbial woman merely by mastering particular skills.

However, it’s dangerous to turn “Proverbial womanhood” into some sort of idol or achievement, just as it’s dangerous to turn the gospel into a list of “do’s.” This is especially true when we decide to nitpick the particulars while ignoring the core, which is a very typical and Pharisaical sort of thing to do. Women desperately want to outshine and one-up one another, and this will inevitably turn destructive; what’s in the heart will eventually come out in actions. Even if an end goal might appear honorable, it’s possible to approach any good thing with a deceptive, selfish, and wicked heart. And we do.

It’s dangerous to set up a list of rules associated with achieving such a status, as if sewing, gardening, and buying real estate can somehow make you a strong, wise, and industrious “ideal” woman. No, nothing can turn you into a Proverbial woman quite like a genuine heart of thanksgiving living in response to the gospel. Anything else is simply “Real Wives of Orange County” dressed up for church–legalism in all its glory. And legalism kills.

I don’t really care to spend much time here on what sorts of work women should and should not engage in, even though I believe the particulars are important; I tend to think that’s for individual families to decide, because the main point in Proverbs 31 seems to be that she, the woman, makes the life of those around her (particularly her husband) pretty darn good. Particular needs are going to vary from home to home, but I do believe there’s a sort of art to balancing all of these things properly and choosing the right kinds of investments for time and effort. It’s also clear that this woman is focused on what will best benefit her household and home, though she certainly doesn’t appear bound to it in any physical way, considering she’s out buying fields and dealing with merchants. But it’s plain to see she’s not pursuing any career for success’ sake; she pursues everything out of a heart of love and service to others. And really, gender aside entirely, shouldn’t we all?

And so we need to be careful not to hold up a counterfeit Proverbial woman as our ideal. We need to be careful not to imagine that because we live a particular way, dress a particular way, raise our kids in a particular way, or whatever the case may be, that we’ve achieved Proverbial womanhood or at least come closer to it than our less informed friends down the street. This is unnecessarily divisive, but more than that, it’s wrong.

There are all sorts of “wild” women, and this isn’t just for those who are outlandishly so. The word “wild” is known to mean “uncultivated, undomesticated, or untamed.” It’s possible to look good on the outside and be living a life of complete rebellion in your heart. It’s possible to appear to have it all figured out, but be gut-wrenchingly, wildly untamed in the mind, two-faced, or simply broken on the inside. Maybe you’re a stay-at-home mom, but are you characterized by wisdom and industry or are you characterized by foolishness and idleness? Maybe you’re a busy businesswoman, but are you motivated by a heart of service to others or an idol of success? Are you characterized by charity, humility, and hard work, or are you characterized by frivolity and folly? Are you characterized by excellent conversation or by gossip? Do you consider the wisdom of those around you, or are you defensive and stubborn? We all have places to grow as we aspire to serve God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and I think it’s something to just acknowledge it rather than pretend we’re doing alright.

The fact is if we were to really spend our time engrossed in the needs of others, particularly those in our own homes, but outside of them as well (more so for those of us who are single), we would have a lot less time to sit and compare lives and/or discuss who’s doing it right. The reality is we’re all going to make mistakes, and we’re all going to be selfish from time to time. The last thing any of us need is for our lives to become some sort of ridiculous, prideful game, and it really is true that as we begin to compare ourselves to one another, we become fools overtaken with foolish rivalries and petty jealousies.

Don’t allow yourselves to be sucked into that sort of foolishness, because it is the heart of the counterfeit Proverbial woman. Find valuable ways to use your time. Find ways to improve the lives of those around you through service and good, hard work not because you have to but because you want to. Live a life of true thanksgiving, because you’ve been given so much. Love others the way you’ve been loved of God. Give of yourself the way Christ gave for you. If these are your motivators, I can guarantee there will never be a shortage of things to do, but the outcome will be so much greater than the outcome of some ridiculous checklist of virtues, as though one can be virtuous apart from proper motivation.

Don’t be a counterfeit Proverbial woman. It’s a bad deal all around. Be characterized by your faith; be characterized by your selflessness; be characterized by your love. Start with the gospel; the rest will fall into place.

Photo: Picasso’s Girl Before A Mirror

Beka Johnson
Beka Johnson

Beka is the Director of Inbound Marketing for a fintech company in the Seattle area. She loves dabbling, reading, scheming, writing, and dreaming up ways to make good things better. When she’s not working, you can find her digging up all sorts of adventures in her new city.

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