This is a talk I gave a church this month, on the topic of “To Stand for Truth or to Abandon it.” I’m sorry to have been MIA for so long…I’ve been working on the talk, and on some other writing. I thought I’d share this, although some of the talk is specific to where I live I think it’s food for thought wherever you may be. Please read Part I first, The Jelly Donut Gospel
If you’re struggling with feelings of perfectionism and finding yourself feeling anxious and inadequate, you are not alone. I think it’s very common for Christian women to find ourselves caught up in those feelings, it’s something we have to be aware of, something that has always been a trap for people of faith.
It’s human nature to take simple truth and make it into something rule-and-works based…in Bible times, the Sabbath was an example of this. God made a day for us to just relax, take the day off, and revel in His love for us! And over time, his people came up with 1,521 rules surrounding what could and could not be done on the Sabbath. That’s a real count…1,521 rules! So instead of resting, people were spending the whole day looking over their shoulders, stressed out about accidentally breaking one of those rules. And, as we’ve read in the Bible, they also wasted a good deal of time watching other people to see if they were breaking the rules! I can just picture God rolling his eyes in frustration as people tip-toed around, not enjoying their God-given day off! Jesus addressed this issue in Mark, 2:27:
“Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
It’s pretty easy to fall into making Bible verses that are intended by God to build us up into lists of rules that stress us out. I’d love to say that Christian women never fall into that trap…who, me? But….Let’s talk about Proverbs 31. I’m going to read the passage for you, in case you haven’t heard it in awhile (this is from Proverbs 31:10-15)
“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family, and portions for her female servants. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.”
And it goes on from there, you can read the whole thing here. I’m pretty sure that most of you guys have some experience with these verses. How many of you…honestly now…read these verses and feel like you’re doing a good job measuring up to them? We tend to read this passage like a laundry list of things we are not doing right. We know that the Proverbs 31 woman is something we want to aspire to be like, and don’t get me wrong…my heart is not to say otherwise! It’s good to be realistic about areas in which you need to improve and it’s good to be honest about your own shortcomings. However, when we set a goal for being perfect and we measure ourselves against an image of perfection that we think we see in every other Christian woman we know, we are setting ourselves up for some issues. How many of you have done a study on the Proverbs 31 woman? And…honestly again…how many of you came out of that study still feeling like you weren’t good enough or maybe even feeling worse? Women are bad about comparing ourselves to others. We can get so caught up in ways to fulfill each of those verses that when we discuss them we end up mentally comparing ourselves to each other and feeling either smug because we think we’ve got that particular couple of verses down, or inferior because we realize that other women are doing great in an area that we are weak in.
I think we’re sort of wired to compare ourselves to other women. What happens all too often, even in the case of Proverbs 31, is that we end up focusing inward and become so self-critical that we forget that there is no condemnation in Christ, and that He doesn’t want us going around feeling bad because we’re not perfect. We know for sure he doesn’t want us going around judging other women because they are not perfect, but we tend to forget that it’s also not OK to do that to ourselves! Wait…don’t feel guilty and judge yourself for judging yourself! Just kidding. Sort of.
I realized I had an issue in this area awhile ago when I was driving somewhere and accidentally missed a turn. Twenty minutes later I was still berating myself for not paying attention and wasting time…not just being annoyed with myself but really giving in to negative self talk. And I realized how much I do that day to day over all sorts of things! The missed turn was really the least of my worries. It had been a really stressful, difficult few months and I realized that even more than the actual circumstances that were causing the stress, my unhappiness was due to forgetting who I was in Christ and focusing on feelings of not measuring up.
Back to Proverbs 31: I read something recently that really made me rethink this group of verses, and it changed not only my point of view about the P31 woman but also about myself. Did you know that in the Jewish tradition, these verses are sung by the man of the house to his wife every week at the beginning of the sabbath? The family gathers around the table and the man sings this to celebrate his wife and how awesome she is. They call the song “Eishes Chayil”, which means Woman of Valor.Now, I’m sure that Jewish wives and mothers are indeed awesome, but I’m also pretty sure that the average Jewish woman isn’t doing things much differently than we are! Her worth lies in her faith in God. I’m certain that in the week leading up to that sabbath song, the woman being sung to has not done each and every one of the verses in Proverbs 31. But I bet that Jewish women don’t feel threatened by the P31 woman, and I suspect strongly that this particular set of verses might not even drive Jewish women to spend an hour pinning 47 different types of hand made gifts on Pinterest. Um, not that I’ve done that or anything.
The difference is in looking at Proverbs 31 as a celebration about what we are already doing, a reaffirmation that you a a woman of valor…and not as a laundry list of things that you need to be working on in order to measure up! Understand my heart here, I’m not for a second saying that if you are kicking back on a daily basis spending your day watching re-runs of Gilligan’s Island and eating Ben and Jerry’s you shouldn’t let Proverbs 31 give you a kick in the pants. I’m just saying that we should remind ourselves of who we are in Christ…that, as it says in Romans 8:1-3a:
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.”
Friends, There is No Condemnation In Christ and he loves us completely, and he knows we are a work in progress, and if need be he’s even waiting right there to help pull us off the couch, flip off the TV, toss the ice cream and help us get back into gear. He is for us, not against us…he’s waiting for us to come to him with our burdens, our problems, our shortcomings.
Another thing to remember about Proverbs 31 is this: When those verses were written, I don’t think they were exactly rocket science. Spinning flax into thread would be difficult for most of us today, but back then that’s just what you did if you wanted to wear clothes. And she made her family’s clothes, but they didn’t have Old Navy back then and they each of them would only have had a few articles of clothing. She was clearly not lazy and she clearly got things done, she was operating out of her faith in God and love for her family. But she wasn’t doing ALL of these things ALL at the same time and ALL in the same season. I wonder if those verses were written today, what would they look like?
“She comparisons shops and clips coupons, she price matches at Walmart to get the best deal.”
“Her arms are strong, holding the toddler in one arm while stirring the chili with the other.”
“She washes and folds all her kids’ outgrown clothes and sells them at the consignment store, she uses the money to buy seeds for her garden.”
“She burns the midnight oil making a costume for the school play; although he is only playing a radish her child will at least look good.”
“She serves dinner at The Road Home, and when she can’t be there she sends a turkey noodle casserole.”
In all seriousness though, rather than berate ourselves for all the things we are not, for the ways we fall short and the struggles we have, we need to remember to celebrate the truth of who we really are as Christians: Loved by God, cherished daughters adopted into the household of the King of Kings, saved by grace, washed of sin, cherished and loved by God himself.
I found this video on Youtube and wanted to share it with you. When I first saw this, it really effected me. I started laughing and crying at the same time, Andrew thought I’d finally cracked. This guy has taken the verses from Proverbs 31 and set them to rhyme in English, and the tune he’s singing it to is the traditional Jewish “Woman of Valor” song. Just so you know, his name is Ari Lesser. You can look him up on Youtube and I bet he will wonder why a bunch of Christian women are all of a sudden stalking his youtube page. Listen to the words he’s singing, and the way he’s singing them…
Am I crazy, or does that change things for you, too? The irony of this is not lost on me. It’s pretty funny that we Christian women may need to learn a lesson from the very group of people we so often hold up as overly religious. But it’s a good reminder of how something God created to be enjoyed and celebrated can turn into something that stresses you out.
Maybe some of you are planning to go home and ask your husband why he doesn’t sing that song to you every week. But wait a second, doesn’t he? I think many of us are very good at dismissing the praises our husbands are trying to sing us…he says you look beautiful, you say “except that I need to lose 10 pounds.” He says “This pot roast is great, babe…” We say “I should have taken it out earlier, it’s too dry.”
Maybe you’re thinking, my husband is critical and he doesn’t even pretend to like my pot roast. Maybe you’re not married and this whole thing is making you feel lonley. Do you know what? Stick with me here, I know I’ve been talking forever and I know it’s getting late. This is important. In the Bible, Jesus refers to himself as The Bridegroom many times. In Revelation 19:7 it mentions the wedding feast of the Lamb and his bride:
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.”
Jesus is the Lamb, and the bride? That’s the church. That’s you and I.
So go back now and imagine these verses being sung just for you by Jesus…Jesus who knows you, who knows everything about your life and still sees you as fresh and innocent as though you were a child. Jesus who loves you passionately and completely like the perfect husband, the perfect father, the perfect friend. Jesus who already has everything he could ever need and yet values your every little effort so much that he wrote a song to sing to you, every week of your life.
This is the truth: That in Christ, that’s who you are. A woman of valor. And for me, that changes things. It makes me want to please Jesus, out of love and gratitude to him for how He’s saved my life. It makes me want to do good things for him because he loves me and he believes in me and he’s rooting for me, and because when I do them…even the silly, little things…it makes him happy! When I keep that in mind, it makes everything I do for the Kingdom of Christ a joy.
Lord, thank you for each of these women and for their hearts. I pray that each of them would accept you into their lives, that you would give them clear vision to see your love for them and your desire for joy in their lives. I pray that we would do everything we do as working for you, Lord, not for men! And I ask that you would bless us in the days to come, that we would go forth and be Salt and Light out of the love we bear for you. AMEN!!!