Proverbs 31 modernized

Here is the opening text of an invitation to a women’s Bible study at my church: “Grocery shopping, strolling through a park, grabbing coffee – you are never without His light.” True enough, but these inconsequential examples of women’s activities don’t give me the feeling that this Bible study would have anything whatsoever to do with my life. The text doesn’t even begin to describe the most significant activities of most 21st-century women’s lives. Not only does it leave out the area of women’s lives where we most need God’s light – the care of our husbands, children and often also our elderly parents – it also ignores where most women spend the majority of our hours: paid work.
Many Christian churches, and much Christian literature, tend to have a sentimental attachment to the image of women as gentle creatures who spend most of our days in the quiet of our homes or doing unchallenging activities like strolling contemplatively in parks. This is simply not reality for most of us, and fails to offer us either the contextual spiritual nourishment that we need or the respect and honor our efforts deserve. Worse yet, it fails to give us any compass for living our faith in the 40+ hours per week we spend at paid work. It mistakenly sets our work aside as having no moral or spiritual value.
A few years ago I read a book entitled Life Management for Busy Women: Living Out God’s Plan with Passion and Purpose. It sounded really good, but the author basically hijacked Proverbs 31 to apply only to women with the leisure to spend most of their time making home a comfortable place for their husbands. At best, it completely ignored the reality that most of us are in the work force and at worst it implied that we are morally inferior to our sisters who do not have to work for pay.
That made me so angry. I don’t think Proverbs 31 was written to glorify housework – and it certainly wasn’t written to glorify running out for coffee with your girlfriends. It was written to praise all women who are virtuous and hard-working, who are engaged in activities of significance – whether their work takes place primarily in the home, or whether they work outside the home for pay.
So, I humbly offer this modernized version of Proverbs 31 as nourishment to my all my hard-working sisters – who, yes, LOVE to stroll in parks and go shopping and grab coffee with friends, but also have challenging work to do and deserve to have it acknowledged.

A capable wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
And he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good and not harm,
All the days of her life.
She seeks education and wisdom,
And works with willing hands
She is like the ships of the merchant,
She leaves her home to provide her family with food.
She rises while it is still night
To provide food for her household
And tasks for her workers.
She invests for her family’s future;
With the fruit of her hands she provides for her children’s education and her husband’s old age.
She girds herself with strength,
And makes her mind strong.
She knows her worth in the marketplace
And provides light and warmth for her household.
She puts her mind to the strategies and tactics of business
And her hands to technology
She opens her hand to the poor,
And reaches out her hand to the needy.
She is not afraid for her household in times of illness or unemployment
For her household has stored up a surplus for times of need.                                                                  She stands beside her husband as his equal in both rights and obligations
And offers him her good counsel.
She teaches your children, delivers medicine, wisely manages your surplus, invents great wonders for the good of all, and builds the car that takes you where you need to go.
Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she has confidence in her virtue, her competence and her future.
She has learned to be tolerant of those who disagree with her, respectful to those in a position of authority over her, and gentle with those under her authority.
She tirelessly works a long day to care for the ones she loves.
Her daughters see her as an inspiration, and her sons as models for their future partners.
Her husband respects and honors her.
“Many women have done excellently,
But you share with me the hard work of providing for our children.”
Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain
But a woman whose faith, character and talents blossom both in the hard soil of the work world and the softer ground of the home, is to be revered.
Give her the honor she is due
And let her works praise her in the city gates.

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