It might seem like we're skipping over verse 16 today, but I promise to get back to it. We'll take another look at all the types of work- both at home and outside the home- that the Proverbs woman is doing. But before we get there, let's look at how she does what she does.
Consider verse 17. It's one of my favorites in this chapter-
She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
As I'm writing this, my arms do not feel strong. Andy and I were up "while it was still dark" this morning doing a p90x video for back and chest. I don't think I've ever done so many push-ups in my life. But I gotta admit that feeling of exhaustion I have right now is very apropos for this message.
I don't think that the Proverbs 31 woman ever did p90x. Or yoga. Or pilates. But she is described as having physical strength. Her strength was gained through the work that she did. Back in the day, there was no need for WeightWatchers and Gold's Gym because women used to burn more calories preparing for their family to eat than they did eating the meal themselves! She didn't need free weights- she was probably picking up children all day (I know some women today who have some serious upper body strength from the same task!) Life has changed a lot over the millenia. Right now, my dish washer is running, and so is my heat. Yesterday I vacuumed my whole house, and currently I am looking at a day of "work" sitting on my bum in front of this computer. If I lived during the Proverbs woman's time, I would have washed dishes with my hands and would probably then go out and chop some wood for a fire so I can keep warm this morning. Yesterday I would have swept my floor alongside my servant girls, and today my "work" would consist of similar back-straining, sweat-inducing tasks.
I'm not against advancements in technology (I think I'd give away my kidney before I gave away my Dyson), and I'm planning on talking about work in another blog as I already mentioned. The subject for today isn't really work, then, it's strength.
Though the type of work today's women are called to might be different in some aspects- though many are the same- we need to be strong for our tasks. I think that verse 17 is such a wonderful word to women from our Sovereign Lord. He's called us to femininity- but here He's saying that strength is a part of that call, ladies! I LOVE that! He doesn't want us feeling like the weakest link, like we can't get things done, like we've got nothing to offer, and are of no use. No way! He wants us to set about our work with vigor. And in order to do so, we need to be strong.
Before I go further, let me clarify a couple of things that I do NOT think that God is in favor of. Though I loved it so much when I was a little girl because of all the lace and the roses and the illustrious decor, I don't think God was a giant fan of some of the things ladies put up with and/or put on during the Victorian era. I'm throwing that era out there as one example, but the basic idea has reoccurred throughout different cultures throughout history. I don't think that a woman who straps herself into a corset to the point of breaking her ribs and restricting her lungs from fully inflating is Proverbs 31ish at all. The idea of emphasizing physical beauty to the point that it incapacitates a woman's strength is not Biblical according to this passage. God doesn't want us to just "sit there and look pretty." Nor does He want us feeling sorry for ourselves or like we can't do what He's called us to do. He wants us to be women of strength.
But I also don't think that God is a fan of the idea that women can or really, maybe a better word there is should do what men do. We are different creatures, called to different work, and that is really a beautiful mystery. I am NOT saying that the Bible tells women to be silent, to only work from home, and to remain barefoot and pregnant for most of their lives. That would also be against Proverbs 31. But what I do believe is that a woman should be strong for her tasks, not his tasks. That doesn't mean that women don't need to be strong enough to take the reins from time to time. I know way too many Army wives who have to run the ship and run it well during deployment to make a statement like "just let your husband take care of that sort of thing." But, what I do think is that you can learn to walk alongside your husband, letting him assume responsibility for His God-given work, but watch and help because you need to be ready to step in at any time. I'm saying you don't have to do everything, but you probably need to have a decent idea of how to do everything, the complete nuts and bolts functioning of your household.
What I see a lot is that women fall a little too far to one of those sides. Sometimes, we can take on a "I can't do that!" mentality because we've convinced ourselves that we're not strong enough, don't have what it takes, etc. Sometimes we take on a "I can do that and everything else!" mentality because we've convinced ourselves that if we don't, no one else will. Everyone has their own circumstances that contribute to the type of work they're called to do, but I hope that as women, we are striving to do the work that God has given to us with strength. Why? Because our God is a mighty God. He is a God of incredible strength, and like we've already said, as women we are called to the noble task of representing Him accurately to husbands, families, and the rest of the world. God is not a wimp. He's not going to sit back and pout and say, "I caaaan't. It's tooo haaaard!" What a praise! If God was a whiner, I don't know what I'd do... But He's also a God who lets us participate in His plans. He's not taking all of the reins just at the moment, He delegates His kingdom work to His kingdom people- you and me! He is the Boss, and He is definitely in charge, but He's not excluding you from working alongside Him simply because He is able to do it all Himself. That's what we are supposed to represent to our husbands and families, coworkers and neighbors- a God who is strong and yet calls us co-laborers.
So whatever your task, Proverbs woman, ask God to help you become strong in it. Are you raising children? You will need physical strength to be sure- stamina, endurance, and joy! Are you keeping your household in order? Do the best work that you can do (Dysons help) and don't give in to that cluttered closet because it seems too difficult to even begin putting it into order. And in the workplace, work to the glory of God. We'll talk more on that subject later... Whatever task God has given you, remember that you represent Him in it. He would not say that something is "too hard" and then put it off forever. And He would also not consider everything only His to do. So seek His help, delegate, work vigorously, with strength. Don't quit. And certainly don't "not start" because you think it's out of your league. You're not a victim. You're not a wimp. And you're not a power woman. But you are a woman of power.
A final word- I do believe that physical health and strength are a part of this calling. We are called to steward our bodies well. But beware of falling into the trappings of vanity over physical appearance. It is absolutely true that a fit, strong body is able to do more work. I can prove that scientifically. But our culture tells us that that same body is an idol we need to show off, dress up, feed only certain foods and lord over others. It's not. It's a body made for a purpose. Keep it healthy. Keep it strong, but keep it humble. Ask God to help you to learn to discipline yourself so that you can take care of your body- and hopefully have fun doing it! But also ask Him to help you not become an image-worshiper. Besides, I don't care if you're a p90x graduate, you'll never be as strong as the Almighty- no matter how many push-ups you can do.