The Proverbs 31 Woman.
We hold up this fictional woman and point to her, saying, “That. That is who we should strive to be.”
In a world obsessed with perfection, it is so tempting to toss her up onto projector screens as a prescription for how to become the perfect woman and the perfect wife. We teach it to each other and we preach it to our daughters.
THE MYTH OF PERFECTION
As a teenager, I interpreted her identity as an identity I, too, should strive for: as a woman of God, as a wife and as a mother. She was everything I was supposed to be. It is a vicious way to live, as we try to reconcile who we are with who we believe we should be.
The attributes described in Proverbs 31:10-31 are not bad. They are good, important and biblical. The problem lies in the guilt that this description inevitably places on many women within the Church. Let’s face it: We can’t measure up to this lady—and I don’t think we are meant to.
As I continued to read articles and listen to sermons dedicated to how to become “a godly woman” by following this passage, I realized two things:
The Proverbs 31 Woman is literally fictional.
There are real-life women in the Bible who do not fit this description whom God still used in miraculous ways to further His Kingdom. A lot of them.
ACTUAL WOMEN OF THE BIBLE
Since Genesis, God has used women of all backgrounds, ethnicities, careers, relationship statuses and reputations as important and necessary characters in His great love story for humanity.
In a walk-through of the Bible, we read about many unique women purposed by God in His time and in His way.
Sarah was a good wife but was cynical about the future and even laughed when God promised her a son in her old age. Sarah did not trust God to keep the promises He had made, and yet He chose to keep them anyway. And from her lineage, Christ was eventually born. God wrote an old, cynical lady into His story.
Deborah was a warrior and the leader of Israel. She was strong and wise, fighting for justice and holding court under the Palm of Deborah. She was quite likely the opposite of gentle, quiet, demure. Under her authority, the Lord led the Israelites out of bondage. God wrote a feisty warrior into His story.
Rahab was a prostitute who knew the Lord. She hid the Israelite spies to protect them from the king of Jericho and then helped them escape over the city wall. The spies returned to the Israelite camp, armed with knowledge and prepared for battle. The city of Jericho was destroyed, but Rahab and her family were spared because of her kindness to God’s people. God wrote a faithful prostitute into His story.
Esther was a Jewish orphan turned queen. When she was told of a plan to destroy the Jews in that area, she broke the law and risked her life to go before the king and plead for the lives of her people. God wrote a law-breaking queen into His story.
Priscilla was called to proclaim the Gospel and did so courageously. Unwilling to simply watch her husband, Aquila, preach, she stood up beside him, even taking Apollo, a missionary, aside to correct his faulty teachings. Apollo went out from them to Achaea, where he engaged in public debate and proved to the people there that Jesus was the Christ. God wrote a passionate preacher into His story.
THE WOMAN AT THE WELL
The Samaritan woman at the well is unnamed, but was vital in taking Jesus’ message and ministry into the Samaritan community. She was the wrong ethnicity, according to the Jews, and had been divorced five times, but Jesus looked at her heart and gave her a mandate: to preach the Gospel to a community he could not have reached in the same way. God wrote a broken, unloved woman into His story.
GOD WANTS US ALL
Today, we see that our unwavering God continues to use an eclectic diversity of women for His purposes. We see nuns pour out their lives for the work of Christ, serving diligently. We see working moms who come home just in time to cook dinner pour out knowledge and love of Jesus into their children. We know there are missionaries flying across oceans to take the Gospel to the ends of the Earth.
And we see the ones here in America rising up and fighting in the name of Jesus for those who are still oppressed in the Land of the Free. There are teachers faithfully showing up every single day in our children’s lives to teach and guide and mold the next generation into the leaders of tomorrow. And young lawyers stay late at the office because their God-given passion for justice consumes them like a wildfire burning in the night.
The full-time pastors working in actual brick-and-mortar churches are no more important in this work God has called us to than writers-turned-accidental-preachers speaking at universities and writers’ conferences.
Is it possible that, in order to fully understand how God is using us for His good work, we must stop obsessing over what it means to be an ideal woman of God and instead focus on what it means to be the messy, flawed women God created us to be?
Rather than lamenting at our inability to fit into an idea of what a “godly woman” is, we should instead joyfully take our place in the long line of women who might have ruffled a few feathers in the name of the Lord. Whether we have a fierce sense of justice like Deborah or we are called to proclaim the Gospel like Priscilla, whether we courageously protect the vulnerable like Esther or we are every kind of “wrong” but are determined to be faithful and obedient to Jesus like the Samaritan woman at the well, God wants us all.
God works in mighty and wondrous ways, and He can purpose every single one of us, uniquely gifted and talented, to continue telling His great story.
[This article originally ran in 2021]