Back in January I read a great blog entry at Thinking of Things Aloft, a blog by a sophomore at Franciscan University, about Proverbs 31 that helped me find some useful perspective on a Biblical passage that I’ve always found poetically beautiful but rather intimidating and hard to relate to my own experience.
“. . . the Hebrew phrase (eshet hayil) translated as “a good wife” would be more suitably translated as “wife of valor”. The adjective hayil is the same used in 2 Samuel for David’s 30 Mighty Men. Those mighty men, you know, who did things like killing lions singlehanded. They were pretty impressive fellows.
Now we encounter their female counterpart. What does this mighty woman do? Strap on her husband’s armor and ride off into battle? Nope. She gets up early and does chores.”
Oh the glories of a good translation! When I read this I was so very inspired. I love the idea of a “wife of valor.” Not so much the idea of getting up early, though. I’m not so much a morning person. Then again, I can see why it would be a valorous act. I have to say that my appreciation for the virtuous wife has increased dramatically since getting married and having children. Especially when I’m pregnant and exhausted. The Proverbs wife’s schedule sounds exhausting to me.
It’s a truth I need to relearn again and again, that my vocation calls me to serve God in my daily tasks, in my housekeeping and child care and the ordinary moments, not just the extraordinary. It can be much harder and more courageous to deal with the small trials of daily life, the spilled milk the fussy baby, the smelly poop, than with the great trials—the miscarriage, the cancer diagnosis—that more obviously call me to turn to God and trust in him.
I am resurrecting this formerly half-finished blog post on Proverbs 31 now because I’m in the middle of reading Graced and Gifted: Biblical Wisdom for the Homemaker’s Heart by Kimberly Hahn, which takes that passage as its organizing principle. When coupled with the idea of the wife of valor, Kimberly’s down-home take on this woman of the proverbs has helped me to really unlock what was previously an impenetrable door. Kimberly hits on topics such as meal planning and food preparation, laundry, and time management and relates them to verses in the Proverbs passage.
I was always a bit intimidated by the woman who “obtains wool and flax and makes cloth with skillful hands” but Kimberly helps me see that this valorous action can be translated into modern idiom: we modern housewives also provide clothing for our families, even if we don’t make it by hand. Whether we buy it new, find it on sale, finding good bargains, or we get it used at thrift-stores or we obtain hand-me-downs from other people’s families, we still use our skills to do our best with the resources available to us. We also launder our family’s clothes when they get dirty and mend or discard items that are worn or torn.
I guess I tend to be a perfectionist and so I think of Proverbs 31 as holding up a standard which is impossible for me to meet: handmade clothing from fine materials. But really it doesn’t. Rather, the point of the passage is that it is in performing these everyday duties for my family—in whatever form our modern life demands of me—that I am valorous. Clothes shopping, sorting through hand-me-downs and doing laundry are my heroic actions, my version of killing lions and fighting fierce foes.
I don’t tend to think of my weekly grocery run in terms of merchant ships securing provisions from afar and yet that metaphor does make piling the kids into the minivan and heading to Stop and Shop seem like a bit more of an exciting adventure. I’m starting to see Proverbs 31 as an invitation to excitement rather than a passage that riddles me with feelings of guilt and inadequacy. Though I’m still not convinced about the rising while it is still night part. I’m working on it.
I’ll post a formal review when I’m done with the book. In the meantime check out this review of Kimberly Hahn’s Graced and Gifted at the Building Cathedrals blog.