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How Can I Compete with Mrs. Proverbs?

Donna Morley

Several years ago when I began writing, my friend Glenda said, “Whatever you write about, don’t mention Mrs. Proverbs!”

Laughing I asked, “Why not?”

With a seriousness that surprised me she said, “I’m sick and tired of hearing about her! She’s perfect! What woman can ever compete with her? All Proverbs 31 does is make the average woman feel guilty. How can we ever measure up?

Thinking for a moment, I replied, “Well, we hear about Christ every Sunday, and no one can ever measure up to His perfection.”

Glenda said, “That’s different. Men and women in the body of Christ strive to live the Christlike life. Everyone understands how difficult it can be at times to imitate Christ. For some reason, although we fall short of His example, we are lifted up and encouraged. But when I fall short of being the Proverbs woman, I feel like a failure. And the only encouragement I’m given is information on the latest craft seminar, as if I need some skill at doing something in order to be like her. I want to scream every time I hear how that lady was able to sew, make things and then sell them, buy land, and buy food from afar. What is she–Wonder Woman? When I read Proverbs 31, I’m asking myself, along with the writer, “Who can find a woman like that?’”

Glenda ended with, “Unlike Mrs. Proverbs, no one is going to praise my works.”

After getting off the phone, I thought a lot about what Glenda said and decided she had a point. Many of us think that we simply can’t be as industrious, as godly, as perfect as Mrs. Proverbs seemed to be. On her own she bought a field. And she did more–she planted a vineyard, helped the poor, clothed her family with scarlet, and worked late into the night. Because of her works, she was praised in the gates (Proverbs 31:31).

Do you ever feel like my friend Glenda, that you simply can’t compete with all that? What should we do about this dilemma? Wouldn’t it be great if we could sit down with Mrs. Proverbs for a little chat and share with her our true feelings about how difficult she has made things for us ordinary women?

A Chat With Mrs. Proverbs

Interviewer:Mrs. Proverbs, how does it make you feel, knowing that every Christian woman, single and married alike, strives to be like you?
Mrs. Proverbs:Women need role models. It’s a God-given desire. I’m flattered.
Interviewer:The difficult part about having you as a role model is that you appear “so perfect.”
Mrs. Proverbs:We know the only perfect one is God. I have my struggles and shortcomings. You just don’t read about them.
Interviewer:Despite your humanness, you seem like a “super-woman.” Many of us believe it’s impossible to accomplish all the things you did.
Mrs. Proverbs:It’s kind of you to point out that I was industrious. I did work hard because of my concern for my family. What Christian wife or mother today doesn’t have the same concerns? And what single woman isn’t as hard-working? Though modern women may not be doing exactly what I did, they are doing things I didn’t do.
Interviewer:Well, with all due respect, many women, unlike you, aren’t given the opportunity to see that their work is profitable (v. 18). Therefore, they feel quite inadequate.
Mrs. Proverbs:When each day came to an end, I did consider my work as profitable, and I had no second thoughts about how I spent my day. How am I any different from all the many other women who can go to bed without regrets about how they spent their day? They too, should feel that their day’s work was profitable.
Interviewer:That’s a good point, but let’s take this one step further. You are shown to be a businesswoman. There are many women who feel inadequate to make things, sell them, and run a home business.
Mrs. Proverbs:I would like to make two points in regard to your comment. First, the proverb says I did those things “in delight.” The issue isn’t the trading and selling. It’s in doing the things God calls us to–with delight. In doing so, a woman will be doing the business God gave her, just as I did the business He gave me. Secondly, I did make money to help my husband. Not all women can do that. To feel that they must do exactly as I did is misleading. The underlying issue here is that I was a helper to my husband, in my case, by making money. Other women help meet their family’s goals by living frugally.
Interviewer:You are making yourself sound as if you are much like the Christian women of today.
Mrs. Proverbs:That’s right. You see, we can all be proverbial women in our own right. I say this not based upon what we do but upon who we are.
Interviewer:But much of Proverbs 31 is about what you do.
Mrs. Proverbs:Today’s woman is caught in a trap that I never had to contend with. It’s called “the performance trap.” So much of a woman’s sense of worth in your culture seems to be wrapped up in what she does, and she is judged by that. Having a career or a successful ministry appears quite significant, whereas being a wife at home or having a job that is “not worth talking about” makes a woman insignificant by your society’s standards. I just don’t understand this. No wonder so many women desire to change who they are! No wonder many feel so insignificant!
Interviewer:What do you suggest for women of today?
Mrs. Proverbs:I suggest that they live life at the bottom. The bottom is the place of humility, where we are free to regard the spiritual success of others as more important than our own. It’s where we can never feel threatened by the abilities and talents of others. It’s a place that saints of the past have occupied, where great rewards are found. Those who live at the bottom come to discover that it’s really living life at the top.
Interviewer:Any last words?
Mrs. Proverbs:Yes, it’s important for each woman to realize that God has given her a specific personality, talents, and giftedness–a unique beauty–that can be used to fit into His plan and accomplish His will. Real change–and may I include true significance–comes from the inside out.
Interviewer:Mrs. Proverbs, thank you for your time and helpful insights. You are absolutely right about the emphasis in my society on what people do rather than on who they are. And that focus really is a trap.

The Performance Trap

What is significance from the inside out? Perhaps we can understand this concept better by looking at its opposite–significance from the outside in.

One day while boarding a train en route to a celebration, Ella Wheeler (later ella Wheeler Wilcox) heard someone crying. She turned and noticed a woman dressed in black. Approaching her, Ella asked what was wrong and came to find out that the grieving woman had just lost her husband. Ellas’ remaining time on the train was occupied with listening to the woman and trying to comfort her as best she could.

That evening while getting ready for her joyous event, Ella looked at her own beaming face in the mirror and suddenly thought about the sorrowing widow. At that moment, she came up with the opening line of her poem Solitude: “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone...”

Little did Ella know when she first put those words down on paper that she would have to fight for them the rest of her life. A man by the na