I see this phrase violently clinging to many social media bios of young, (typically) single Christians: “I want to be/I am looking for a Proverbs 31 woman.” Every time I read this, something inside me cringes.
To preface things: I believe in the Bible. I love it, I read it and I actively try to do what it says.
Now, in case you need a recap, this hypothetical woman in Proverbs 31 is skillful in a lot of different things (If you’re not familiar with the passage, you can read it here). Scratch that—she’s skillful in everything. According to the chapter, she wakes up super early, has great biceps, buys property, wears a lot of purple, cares for her kids, cares for the poor, keeps her home warm at night and doesn’t eat carbs.
It sounds like this woman really has figured out how to have it all.
Maybe you, like me, read this passage and think to yourself well sheesh. Is every woman supposed to try and fit this mold? And how would that be possible if every woman is different? What if she can’t sew or cook or hires a nanny for her kids during the week? What if she never even gets married? Does that mean she’s not living up to her God-given potential as a female? Does that mean she’s living in sin?
And what if you don’t want to be a Proverbs 31 woman?
If you have the same frustrations I do, here are some things that may help you out:
The Proverbs 31 Woman is Not a Real Woman.
Some scholars have speculated that the Proverbs 31 woman is not one woman, but rather a conglomeration of admirable attributes of several different women.
Still others say that she’s not really a woman at all, but rather a personification of wisdom. If you’ve read the whole book of Proverbs, you’ll realize that wisdom is consistently referred to as “she.” As the final chapter, the analogy of a woman is used to depict a tangible example of wisdom in action.
This Chapter is Targeting Men, Not Women.
If you notice, the only instruction in the chapter is given to men in the last verse, “Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.” Rachel Held Evans writes that in her research for her book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, she learned that in Jewish culture, men memorize this chapter as a song of praise to the women in their lives.
But in Western culture, it is instead often prescribed to women as a task list to fulfill.
Our Standard is Not Found in a Person, it’s Found in Jesus.
Think of Ruth the pagan or Rahab the prostitute. There was also Deborah the judge and Esther the queen. Scripture portrays all different kinds of women, many of whom we can relate to. But they do have a couple of things in common, and one of them is that they operated in wisdom. They did what God told them to do, without trying to change who they were.
Whether you’re male or female, you can use Proverbs 31 as a reference point to see not the exact person you should be, but what type of person—someone who takes wisdom and uses it. Women and men can both learn from this chapter. Proverbs 31 is directed towards Solomon’s son, after all.
So if you’ve read this in the past as a standard you would never be able to live up to, you can take a deep breath. This is going to sound really cliché, but Jesus loves you. He made you just the way you are—and no matter what that looks like, it’s enough. Fortunately for all of us, wisdom works for everyone.