A few years ago, after the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, a social media movement among young Christian women and men exploded. Protesting unrealistic body standards and the usage of raw sex appeal to market swimwear, one Baylor college student posted a Facebook status criticizing Victoria’s Secret, saying, “I’d rather have a Proverbs 31 woman than a Victoria’s Secret model.” Before he knew it, his post had gone viral.
Many Christian women I knew shared his post on their own Facebook pages praising his viewpoint, and many Christian men I knew shared his post, praising their wives or girlfriends for being the epitome of a Proverbs 31 woman. As I saw his post shared over and over again on my own Facebook newsfeed, I applauded his sentiment. He gets it, I thought. To this day, I have always loved the poetic nature of the passage.
Before looking at it more closely, though, I have always seen it simply as model of Biblical womanhood for which I needed to strive to meet. My well-intentioned resolve to hold myself to a “Proverbs 31” standard always left me feeling a little bit less than, like I was letting God down. It turns out that I might still have been missing the point – even if I wasn’t attempting to look like a Victoria’s Secret model.
Looking like a swimsuit model might be an unrealistic standard, but then again, it might also be unrealistic to hold ourselves to the perfect standard of the so-called Proverbs 31 woman. After all, she excels at cooking, sewing, and all things domestic – all the while “laughing at days to come.” If other Christian women are anything like me, they might fall into the trap of placing her on a pedestal.
As I reread this passage and read commentary on it, I am learning not to view Proverbs 31 as a biography of the perfect Biblical woman that I must become to please God or my future husband. However, that does not negate the power and beauty of this passage. It is still one of my favorite passages in the Bible.
The more times I reread it, though, the more I think that the passage is not written about an individual woman, but rather is simply the personification of someone who is faithful to the Lord in the mundane tasks of every day. Rather than beating myself up because I can’t sew, or scoffing at a woman to whom I cannot relate to in my modern-day job, I can read Proverbs 31 in a different way. It is a beautiful and poetic depiction of wisdom that I can learn from – as long as I learn from it while embracing the grace that is mine every day should I choose to accept it.
Even with this view, it can be difficult to see how Proverbs 31 can be practically applied to my daily working life. I am still learning how to unpack the passage in ways that help me to grow personally. I think the answer might lie in not focusing on the individual tasks or accomplishments listed in Proverbs 31, but rather looking at the heart behind them.
The woman in Proverbs 31 has “noble character” (v. 10). She brings “good, not harm” to those with whom she interacts (v. 12). She works diligently, and is willing to make unselfish sacrifices (v. 15). She is warm and generous, remaining unsusceptible to fear and anxiety because she knows who is in control (v. 21). She is business-savvy, to boot (v. 24). To top it all off, she speaks with wisdom (v. 26) and fears the Lord (v. 30). And these are just a few of her qualities.
From this, it would be easy for a perfectionist like me to walk away from the passage still viewing it as a prescription for perfection – even if I no longer think it is about one woman in particular. However, I am learning to not see this passage as a standard I must meet to please God. Instead, I pray that my heart would be a Proverbs 31 heart – seeking to please Him in all ways not out of fear, but out of the freedom I find in His grace. This applies to every area of my life, including the workplace.
Kate Moody works in Public Relations, focusing particularly on social media. She is a member of the 2015-2016 Capital Fellows Program.