Sunday, May 8

The Virtuous Woman

The Virtuous Woman
Proverbs 31:10-31
 A good woman is hard to find,
   and worth far more than diamonds.
Her husband trusts her without reserve,
   and never has reason to regret it.
Never spiteful, she treats him generously
   all her life long.
She shops around for the best yarns and cottons,
   and enjoys knitting and sewing.
She's like a trading ship that sails to faraway places
   and brings back exotic surprises.
She's up before dawn, preparing breakfast
   for her family and organizing her day.
She looks over a field and buys it,
   then, with money she's put aside, plants a garden.
First thing in the morning, she dresses for work,
   rolls up her sleeves, eager to get started.
She senses the worth of her work,
   is in no hurry to call it quits for the day.
She's skilled in the crafts of home and hearth,
   diligent in homemaking.
She's quick to assist anyone in need,
   reaches out to help the poor.
She doesn't worry about her family when it snows;
   their winter clothes are all mended and ready to wear.
She makes her own clothing,
   and dresses in colorful linens and silks.
Her husband is greatly respected
   when he deliberates with the city fathers.
She designs gowns and sells them,
   brings the sweaters she knits to the dress shops.
Her clothes are well-made and elegant,
   and she always faces tomorrow with a smile.
When she speaks she has something worthwhile to say,
   and she always says it kindly.
She keeps an eye on everyone in her household,
   and keeps them all busy and productive.
Her children respect and bless her;
   her husband joins in with words of praise:
"Many women have done wonderful things,
   but you've outclassed them all!"
Charm can mislead and beauty soon fades.
   The woman to be admired and praised
   is the woman who lives in the Fear-of-God.
Give her everything she deserves!
   Festoon her life with praises! (Proverbs 31:10-31, The Message)

This morning, in Bible class, we discussed Proverbs 31 and the Virtuous Woman.  It's Mother's Day and the teacher felt that it would be appropriate.  He mentioned it to his wife (a good friend of mine) and he told us that she rolled her eyes, and when he asked her why she said, "Oh great, now I can sit and feel bad about myself for 45 minutes."

I have to say that I understand what she meant.  It doesn't help that the versions of the Bible that we usually read make the jobs she chooses sound antiquated and un-relatable.  She's like one of those Super-Moms who makes her own crustless bread and survives on only 4 hours of sleep, dedicating the rest of the night to scouring her home with a toothbrush.  That's why I used The Message's version of the text above.  I don't always like The Message, but in this instance it made the passage much easier to relate to... or at least less antiquated.

Really, there are many standards that I feel I will never be able to live up to, but this one truly takes the cake.  The more that I sat through class this morning, the more irked I got.  Possibly, it was because of the comments, and the fact that they were almost exclusively coming from the men in the class, who seemed to clearly have no idea how high a standard was being set, or how capable a woman is without a man.  Especially that second one.

I had to speak up.  (Shocker, right? I didn't say everything I wanted to say, so maybe that's why I'm writing this.)  The Elder in our class had just pointed out that the example was to be an ideal, not necessarily something that we were always completely capable of achieving, but one we were to aspire to.  I said that I thought that the transition to being a mother was likely the hardest transition in my entire life and I agreed with Mr. Blankenship.

I wanted to say (and, of course, did not) that the list of jobs that this woman accomplishes are often the most thankless tasks.  Making sure your winter clothes are available and in good repair when it gets cold?  Most people don't think to do anything about that until it's actually cold, but talk about complaining when they are freezing and their long johns are in storage.  Planting and working a garden so your family has fresh, free veggies in season?  Great for your family, but will they even eat them?  Getting up before dawn to make breakfast and prepare for the day?  Wonderful, unless you only caught sleep in two or three hour increments the night before.  Really?  It's likely that no one will thank you for getting up early, but they'll sure complain if they are hungry, or don't have all their things ready to go when they have to leave in the morning.

Yes, a list of thankless tasks.

As I have been reminded, it's okay to thank yourself for completing these tasks- even if it sounds silly.  And, it's not as if Mothers do them to be thanked, anyway.  It's only now, as I am an adult, that I really understand how very hard my mother worked.  One summer she made 16 pairs of shorts for us.  That's 4 pairs apiece.  We didn't have a lot of money, so it was really necessary for her to do it.  I don't remember if I thanked her, but at least one pair of those shorts earned me my first nickname.  I wore them all summer and kept a chunk of the fabric even after I outgrew them.

I don't believe that if I don't become exactly this woman (say I never learn to sew properly, or I never am quite able to dedicate myself to a garden) that I will be a failure.  There is more in the spirit of this description than the specifics of it, that make her virtuous.  It's something to aspire to, though.  it's something to slowly hope I can evolve into.

Maybe one day I'll be able to go to bed early enough that I can manage to sneak up before the rest of my family.  Maybe one day I'll learn to sew well enough that I can make clothes for them.  Maybe one day I will be able to keep my tongue in check, and spend time helping the needy and think ahead far enough in advance that I can be prepared for the next season before it is already half over.  Maybe one day.  In the mean time, I'll work on the little things I can accomplish in her list. I'll work at getting proficient at them and worry about acquiring new skills as I can.


Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux said...

Thank you for sharing this, Chara! I'm pretty unfamiliar with books of the Bible and I would never have read one entitled "The Virtuous Woman" for exactly the reasons you've given.
My sense of inspiration and even feeling honored while reading it is a big testament to have just sorted through a bunch of my shit and feeling more settled in myself.
I completely agree that this is a standard that can infuriate. When I read it, though, I really noticed the parts that were positive--"her husband trusts her without reserve," how good I feel when I do get up before Ennis (but hey--he's 14 months old and I only have one child--SO different from even 6 months ago!!)... "she sense the worth of her work" to me showed that she just knows her own worth, not that her worth is defined by getting all this done. I love that she "dresses in colorful linens and silks," I love the way she values herself and isn't meek or thinking she doesn't deserve those nice things.
"She designs gowns and sells them"; I can sew pillowcases--I wish I could sew clothes, but this to me showed how she takes her creativity, her skills, her self-expression and goes out into the world--the joy of earning her own money, of placing value on her own creations.
"Her children respect and bless her; her husband joins in with words of praise... give her everything she deserves! Festoon her life with praises!" Yes!

So, I realize I wasn't at your bible study, and I have gotten so mad at the few bible studies I've been to that I had to hold my breath so I wouldn't just shout "You're Stupid!!" I hope you don't take any of this as an invalidation or a criticism because I also completely agree with your reaction to it. I just had to share how differently the verse struck me.
One of your "up before dawn" skills is obviously writing and storytelling--being a voice for others that resonates. Maybe you will never sew a pair of shorts for your own kids, but you will not have to worry about them in any "spiritual winter" because you are creating a life infused with thinking, God, story and honesty. Each of us manifest our virtue uniquely.

Anonymous said...

You did a touching job here in your blog. I wish I had been in the class but I'd probably stayed quiet. I know how busy you are. I
felt very inadequate as I raised my sons, not a good confession. I did not cook or bake well, & I did not sew at all. I had to search to find my talents & it was a long search. I heard the quote that you spoke of in Proverbs usually at a funeral. That bothered me greatly.
You are a dedicated wife & Mom, I think anyone who meets you knows this in short time. We love you & we support you in your journey.
Nana Carol