A few days ago, I blogged about the misappropriation of Proverbs 31. Many readers were supportive. Others were constructively critical. Then, there were the negative Nancy’s. One guy even accused me of setting Christian women up to fail and trying to destroy the family unit. I’m pretty sure I don’t have that kind of power. So I wanted to be clear—I love Proverbs 31. My original intent in writing about P31 was to call into question the traditional interpretation of mainstream contemporary evangelicalism. It was NOT to say there is something wrong with Proverbs 31. I have no desire to disregard the text, but I do want to see it grab a proper place in Christianity. Instead of idolizing Proverbs 31, I want us to read it as one of a multitude of images for godly living offered to us in scripture.
Truth be told, I’m incredibly inspired by Proverbs 31. That’s why I care how we interpret the text and the context in which we use it.
In Proverbs 31, I come face to face with a multiplicity of courage-giving images. It’s filled with strength, words spoken in love, and thoughtful, courageous actions.
At the crux of the poem is the phrase “a wife of noble character.”
Rachel Held Evans, who does an incredible job speaking about Proverbs 31, points out that “wife of noble character” (in Hebrew, eshet chayil) is best translated as “woman of valor.”
Valor is the picture of strength and gumption—a person digging in her heels and holding on for the ride. A woman who not only expresses courage but gives courage.
Our problem often begins when we read the text prescriptively, as something we should do or accomplish. But this text wasn’t written as a to-do list. The anxious, type A part of all of us wants to know how it looks to be a man or a woman. Just tell us what to do, and we’ll do it.
I fear we love fences and boundaries because they make us feel safe.
But Proverbs 31 does not present tasks to emulate or an individual to model; it’s about wisdom, strength and courage.
Growing up, I thought Proverbs 31 was restrictive and confining. I bought into the domesticity-centered interpretation, but it was a small arena in which to run.
However, the nature of wisdom literature would prevent us from reading Proverbs 31 as a lifestyle to accomplish.
Instead, Proverbs 31 shows us a way to live.
The arena is blown wide open.
And we’re free to run.
Proverbs 31 rattles off a litany of daily activity, but the activity is not central. It highlights the movement of women in the community and the home, and each task is done with purpose. Purpose is not limited to huge projects or publicly recognized endeavors. Purpose isn’t found in any task or role—purpose is a way of living.
If purpose is a way to live, move and breathe, then what was limiting and small about Proverbs 31 becomes liberating and infinite.
There is nothing we can’t do with purpose.
And we as the church need to hear that our value is not based on the culturally-ranked importance of our work, whether staying at home or working outside the home.
Our value comes from our connection to God.
Proverbs 31 gives us images of a strong woman, a resourceful woman, a woman who thinks and acts and isn’t threatened or anxious. A woman who is present, who moves with wisdom and speaks with kindness. She works hard and embraces responsibility. She’s thoughtful. She’s a risk-taker, she’s more than an observer—she’s a doer. She moves with foresight and seizes opportunities. She gives. She serves. She loves.
She does what needs to be done, and her life benefits those around her.
She contributes to her world.
It matters that she is on the earth.
And sometimes she does that through laundry, and other times, she does it through med school.
Love with courage. Serve your world with strength. Speak out of a living union with a God who created you.
Do it wherever you are.
Because when you move, breathe, love and speak, you can shatter walls. You can change the world. And you do this not as one completing a list—but as one who moves with intrinsic purpose.
Let this poem set you on fire—let it motivate you to do what God has made you to do. Let it bring deep meaning to mopping, child-raising and working at the bank.
Let it free you to live not for the home or the corporate world, but for the one who made you in the first place.
Then, we can be instruments of courage to our spouses, our neighbors, our children, our co-workers and our world.
I guess, after reflecting, I’d have to say I’m more of a P31 chick now than I’ve ever been.