Wrestling with Proverbs 31: The Trusthworthy Wife

Proverbs 31. The one passage that both inspires and overwhelms us simultaneously. The passage that drives us but can make us feel insecure and ineffective as a woman of God.
This passage and I have a conflicted history.
Ten years ago, I joined a mom’s Bible study. I was trying to parent one (very difficult) six-month old, we had just purchased a small house in a new town and I was drowning. I was struggling to manage my part-time job, a new baby with horrible acid reflux and trying to wrangle a million. Baby. Toys.
Most of the women in group had multiple kids and most had much larger (and nicer) homes. I was already feeling insecure and then we started a Bible study about the Proverbs 31 woman. As we progressed through the study, the women discussed their “messy” homes and how they couldn’t sleep with dishes in the sink. One woman wiped her children’s fingerprints off the glass every single day; I could barely vacuum my floors.
As we progressed through the study, and I read about this Proverbs woman who did it all (her kids love her! Her husband adores her! She makes sashes/buys vineyards/weaves and spins wool and flax and serves the poor!), I felt like more and more of a failure.
Looking around, I knew that if these accomplished women in the study felt like they couldn’t attain Proverbs 31 womanhood, what hope did I have? How could I make my own bedspreads (v.22) and spin thread (v.19) when I could barely keep up with the laundry and dishes?
I cringed through the whole study, shoved the book in a shelf and have avoided that passage since.
Until last week. I meet with a group of amazing young women every week, and several of them are in serious relationships or recently married. When one of them asked if we could study Proverbs 31:10-31, I gritted my teeth and opened my Bible.
I’m glad I did.
After ten years of mommy/wife/working womanhood, I now find the passage and commentary comforting. It's not all about what I should be doing, it's about my character and relationship with God.
“Who can find a virtuous and capable wife? She is more precious than rubies. Her husband can trust her, And she will greatly enrich his life. She brings him good, not harm, All the days of her life.” (Prov. 31:10-12, NLT)
We often skim through the beginning of this passage, then focus on the tasks/things that the woman does in the following verses, but I don’t think it’s accidental that the mother starts with the woman’s virtue.
It is easy to judge our success as women, mothers, and wives based on what we do. The things we have control over. How clean our house is, how well we juggle working and momlife, how clean and well-behaved our children are. But we need to remember that the Proverbs 31 woman’s virtue is based on her character traits: her trustworthiness, kindness, work ethic, her willingness to help and her consistency (“all the days of her life”).
Consistency is crucial. If you spend the whole day frantically cleaning and parenting, but snap at your husband when he walks in the door or resent your children the whole time, you are missing the point of this passage.
After I read this, I was convicted. After fifteen years of marriage, is my character kind? Is my behavior trustworthy?
I don’t mean my faithfulness. We often view trust in terms of not having affairs or being sneaky, but it is bigger than that. Can your husband trust you to keep his confidence? Can he trust that in general, you’ll react with kindness when he walks in the door? Can he trust that when you do make a mistake, you’ll apologize and actually make behavioral changes in the future?
We all have bad days and good days. We all have moments where we mess up, we snap, we argue, we say unkind things. But is it a pattern? Does your spouse hover at the door, wondering what type of wife he'll encounter today? Do you find yourself justifying your behavior afterward (“If only he helped more around the house, I wouldn’t have to yell,” “If only he listened better, I wouldn’t have to be so mean”)? Or do you apologize quickly and truly commit to fixing your behavior?
I actually sent this passage to my husband and committed I would work on consistency and trustworthiness. That I would strive for kindness, for compassion, for a gentle tongue (even when I’m at my limit). That I won’t push myself to do all the things because I have to, but I will clean and pay bills joyfully because I want to enrich my spouse’s life as much as he enriches mine.
So if you’re someone that panics a little every time someone brings up this passage, I would encourage you to read it again and focus on the character traits that God values – kindness, compassion, serving cheerfully – instead of focusing on the all the things the woman is doing (and you aren't!).
Today, I might do some cleaning. I might cook dinner and spend time with my children. But most importantly, I will make sure that when my husband walks in the door, I smile and tell him I love him. I will stay patient and gracious. That will mean more to him than how many dishes are in the sink and it means more to my heavenly Father too.
In Him, Hilary
Hilary Cobb is a social worker, speaker, and writer. To find more about parenting, marriage and mental health, follow her on www.facebook.com/blessedbyhisloveblog/ or subscribe to her mailing list through www.blessedbyhislove.com.

2 comments

  1. I love your perspective on this passage! I’ll admit I’ve often skipped over this one too, mostly because I was frustrated that the woman’s worth was based on what she did, but you returned this passage back to Who she is, and that makes all the difference!

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  2. Hi Hilary, I love Proverbs 31. Its a great example of what we as wives should aspire to. I read something the other day that made me think a little. This was actually written to a man, to point him in the right directions when looking for a good wife. Although a great example for us, that also takes a little of the pressure off to live up to her right :) . I do agree that all the practical stuff, while being good, will not complete with how we make our hubbies feel at the end of the day. Great post
    God bless
    Tracy

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