Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Proverbs 31 in Light of the Season

"Woman Holding Balance" by Johannes Vermeer


"She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness."
~ Proverbs 31:27

Something tells me that the legendary Proverbs 31 Woman was done with her child-bearing years. At the very least, we may presume that she was not currently in the early stages of pregnancy. Having slogged through the first trimester of two pregnancies at this point, I assert that there is not a pregnant woman alive who could manage even this verse out of the 31st chapter of Proverbs on a daily basis during the first three and a half months of pregnancy, let alone the rest of the chapter! Of course, that doesn't mean that pregnant women do not watch over the affairs of their homes or that they are perpetually idle, but the fatigue and nausea (among other lovely symptoms) of early pregnancy are a collosal hindrance to the daily tasks of running a household.

Having been in my second trimester now for just over a week, I feel like I am finally reaching that light at the end of the tunnel...only to look behind me and see the carnage and disarray that is my home. Since returning home from spending a week at my in-laws for Thanksgiving, I have returned to housework with a vengeance: scrubbing, laundering, washing, neatening, organizing, cooking, and baking like I haven't done for three months. But, I must confess that my mind was not in the best place as I did all this work. I found myself feeling terribly guilty for the state of my home, the neglect of my daughter and husband, my lethargy and lack of motivation, and in general what I viewed as my failing in my duties as a wife, mother, and homemaker over the past few months.

Sometimes guilt is the conscience's way of waking us up and telling us we need to repent of something. But, I was already doing the repenting, so why was I feeling so guilty? In my experience, it seems that guilt which follows repentance is often not the work of my conscience but of the devil. God is merciful and does not hold our inequities against us. But, Satan does not want us to enjoy the freedom and peace that come from God's forgiveness; he taunts us and tempts us to think that our repentance and God's forgiveness are not enough.

This is how I came to reflect on Proverbs 31 today. Surely the woman in this famous chapter is an ideal, not an everyday reality. Her efforts, skills, and attitudes are a goal which will not be easily attained, perhaps because the striving is what best builds our character not the end result. And, during each season of our life, we will find that some aspects of this legendary woman are more attainable than others. During this stage of my life when I am worn out with the blessing of bearing children, I find that I am not capable of being a Proverbs 31 Woman. It is in this place of weakness and inability that I am learning the most important lesson this chapter has to offer: It is not by our efforts that we can attain the virtues of the Proverbs 31 Woman. Rather, such works are made possible by a willing spirit, directed by the hand of God, in humility. Right now, God is using my willing spirit for something altogether different: rather than weaving scarlet cloth, I am weaving a human life. This is my current work and my reward which "praises me at the gates."

I'm not saying by any means that we mothers should use pregnancy as an excuse to wallow in idleness. Far from it. But, we should not guilt ourselves because our bodies are unable to keep up with all of our goals. Rather, we should learn to cultivate humility, to let God be strong in our weakness, and to find new ways to care for our homes and families: ways which will likely involve asking for help rather than doing everything ourselves. The humility and gratitude we learn and the way we prioritize during this season will enable us to attain more of what we read in Proverbs 31 as our seasons of life change.

4 comments:

  1. Bethany, I think the Proverbs 31 woman did all she could for her home and family - just like you are!! Of course, housekeeping standards are often lowered when you're fatigued by early pregnancy (I actually had to leave the dishes in the sink because attempting to wash them gave me terrible nausea), but it doesn't mean you "eat the bread of idleness". I hope you continue feeling better - and what a cute baby ticker you have at the top of your blog!

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  2. I have learned quite a bit about this having two toddlers and a baby due in March - I can so relate! I also read a few things differently now, for example, when it says that "her light does not go out at night," I understand now that for me that means that I am always alert to the needs of my family, no matter what hour. It could be 2am and I am ready to comfort a crying child.

    It is so nice to come across your blog! Nice to "meet" to you!

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  3. Yours was the second "hit" when I Googled the question, "what did the proverbs 31 woman do during child bearing years?" I didn't think I would find anything, really. My question was so specific! But God knew what I needed to read. Everything in your post is exactly what I was telling my husband about just now. I am nearing the end of the first trimester of my fourth pregnancy (in six years) and the fatigue in this pregnancy is greater than in any of my other pregnancies. I wake up in the morning still tired. I spend all day tired and unable to think coherent thoughts. And of course, I feel guilty. Society tells us what the standard should be, but their standard is unattainable. I appreciate being able to read this 4 1/2 years after you wrote it! I wanted to add another "alternative interpretation" that I just came up with. Verse 15 says, "She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens." I told my husband that in our household right now, this amounts to me waking up at night to feed the baby. Ha! Thank you for the encouragement!

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