This is about the time of year when I usually consider writing the Proverbs 31 a nasty letter.
You know what I mean. It’s the time of year when all those thoughtful, prayerful goals you’ve set seem hopelessly unrealistic. (How many books were you planning to read in January? What was that bit about organizing the kid’s closets? And cutting back on caffeine… seemed like a good idea at the time.)
Or maybe that’s just me. I’ve finally gotten to the place (now that I have four kids, it’s about time) where I am enthusiastically embracing the joys and headaches of homemaking. The art of butter cream frosting, the green of fresh parsley, the spicy kick of garlic: yes, please.
I’m slightly less enthusiastic about laundry, but we’ve made our peace.
These are my peeps. This is my calling, so let’s get to it. Let’s pursue excellence. I’ve got the whole wide world at my fingertips! Do I want to sew up twirly skirts for the girls? Make my own soap? There’s probably a tutorial online. I’ve learned so far that I’m awful at organic gardening. I love chopping vegetables. The smell of baking bread makes me want to put on an apron and hug someone. I want to keep learning.
So I sit down at the beginning of the year, and I map out all the things I want to master, or at least try. All the things I want to do differently than last year. All the ways I want to be different. Grow.
Goals, goals, goals. LOTS of very good goals.
Sometime shortly after this moment of raw idealism, life happens. “Routine” is just a low-scoring word in Scrabble. I wake up before the sun; the kids wake up even earlier. I start sorting through closets; everybody gets the flu. I really do want to attack those unfinished sewing projects, but have you seen the new drama on Masterpiece Theater?
Enter Proverbs 31 Woman with her strong arms and her well-clothed household.
Cue the despair.
The woman is amazing, and if I’ve been listening in Sunday school, I know she is my standard. She is generous, strong, kind, wise, trust-worthy, never lazy, and she most certainly does not yell at her husband when he comes home from the store without the Kalamata olives.
I pretend I’m annoyed at her brilliance, but really I’m not. I want to be like her. I want to be a safe haven for my family. I want the word of kindness on my tongue. I want to laugh at the future.
When I spend some time re-reading the Biblical portrait of the virtuous woman… I’m shocked. I could have sworn I read in there once “She has organized all her spices alphabetically.” And, “She immediately picks up toys as her children put them down.” And this gem: “She is always caught up on her laundry.” None of these are in there!
In fact, most of the descriptions of the virtuous woman have to do with her faithful actions, not the state of her household. We learn how she spends her time. We learn what her priorities are. What her character is like. She is faithful, even when life throws curveballs. She works hard, even though the work is never done. She expands her interests, even when her world feels small. She demonstrates grace to her family, (I’m guessing here) because she knows what it is to receive grace.
Why is it so easy for me to trade in one wrong heart-attitude for another? I ask my Father to help me drop-kick idleness and discontentment, but I fail to guard my heart, and in creeps the idol of perfectionism. I work manically to accomplish all I think Proverbs demands of me, but what if God’s plan for my day doesn’t look like that? Perfection tells me to get that cake baked and the kitchen cleaned up. Grace says to let the kids help even though it will take longer and some batter will get spilled down the side of the cabinet, because somewhere in the middle of measuring and pouring, they start to tell me what they’re thinking. They ask questions about life and friendships and God.
I imagine what the Virtuous Woman would have to say about being held up as the standard of womanly perfection. She’d probably be shocked, because like all of us, she would know her own shortcomings best. She’d remember all the battles she lost before she started to win a few. I think she’d tell me that a joyful home, a home where grace dwells, is better than an organized one. A clean heart is to be sought above a clean house. Yes, I do think she’d remind me to pick up my bones and get busy. Life is full of trying! Work! Give! Love! Laugh! Don’t quit!
“You will fail. But you will grab hold of grace, and you will get back up again,” she says to me. “This is the kind of thing your children will rise up and bless you for.”
Lori Chally is an aspiring fiction author and mother of four creative children who never fail to provide inspiration. In her spare time (yeah, right!) she enjoys modern quilting, trying out new recipes, and scoring vintage finds! Lori can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.