It’s that time of year. Three or more of the world’s major religions have some kind of holiday. The “faithful” are bustling around, getting gifts and tying up loose ends and making dinner arrangements. Bereft of the spiritual component, it’s enough to send the most stalwart into a chaotic, anxious tailspin.
My to-do list is longer with fewer checks each day. I constantly find just one more chore that must be done before the entire family descends like a Selachipmorpha school in a feeding frenzy (I really do love you guys). I struggle to balance my normal load of parenting, productive adult in the workforce, and householder with the little added extras of baking desserts and attending festive gatherings and decorating and cooking.
I feel my strength and resolve fading even more quickly as I read that last paragraph I wrote. It gets further zapped when I actually read the qualifications for the perfect woman as described by King Lemuel, who insists this is just what he learned from his momma (Proverbs 31 is the background):
- Brings her husband good not harm every day of her life
- Selects materials to make clothing for her family and servants
- Imports food from a distance
- Gets up before the crack of dawn to cook breakfast for her family and puts the leftovers away for the servants
- Buys a field with her own money and turns it into an agricultural opportunity
- Works at full speed and has all the physical strength she needs
- Actually uses the materials she selected to make clothes for those in her home
- Gives generously to the poor and needy
- Keeps her family warm with her tailoring and ensures her home looks like Martha Stewart came to visit
- In addition to making her family’s clothes, makes items she can sell for a profit
- Manages her household and is not idle
- Has wisdom and patience to teach all who will learn
- Has strength and dignity with a rocking sense of humor
- Gets street cred for her husband in their hometown because of all she does
I don’t know about you, but I’m wondering if King Lemuel’s momma thought he was too good to be married and that no woman would be good enough for her little boy. Yes, in some way, I feel dejected and set up for failure in looking at this check list.
Maybe though I’m putting the cart before the horse. I’m looking at all the things she does and is, but I’m not really seeing why she does it or how she got there.
Maybe the answer (or the beginning of the answer) is in one of the last lines at the bottom of the chapter. “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”
There’s that phrase: fear of the LORD. It’s so hard these days. We’re not to be afraid; fear is a negative emotion to be avoided or denied at all costs. As a result we get independent. We need no one and nothing.
The reality is fear of the LORD, like all moral law, can be summed in two points:
- Love your still, small Voice with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
- Love your neighbor as yourself.
Yeah, I’m back to feeling what I felt at the end of the check list that summarized the ultimate woman. The dejection and sense of smallness in the face of an insurmountable task has just skyrocketed out of control. I can’t begin to start to have a right perspective until I get outside myself.
True fear of the LORD starts with incredible, amazing grace. It’s a free gift that we cannot earn and we will never deserve, no matter how much money we give or how many lives we save or how many penitential sacrifices we make.
The gratitude for this grace begins to permeate everything. Buoyed by love and grace, we start to make conscious choices.
We choose to think about what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.
We choose the beautiful attitudes:
- Gratitude and recognition that we truly own nothing and everything comes from our still, small Voice
- Sharing in the sorrows of the grieving
- Meekness and humility
- Following hard after true righteousness with a passionate and sincere devotion that respects others without giving up one’s own convictions
- Mercy and forgiveness
- Purity and lack of ulterior motive
- Being at peace with all men
- Accepting criticism and rabid humiliation and trolling as part of the commitment to the path offered by the still, small Voice
We choose to replace the acts of the flesh (for example, sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like) with actions that reflect the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
With thoughts and attitudes and actions in line, living the agape love of the still, small Voice grows easier and easier. It is easier to be patient and kind. It is easier to not be jealous and to not boast. Anger can be left behind, and the huge historical tome of all the wrongs can be shredded and burned. It is easy to rejoice in the truth and be discouraged with evil. It is joy to protect and hope and trust and persevere.
Maybe that’s the point. The woman in Proverbs 31 had a dim, faint glimpse of what true service to her still, small Voice meant to her still, small Voice; others around her; and herself. The check list became the be all and end all because it was not yet the fullness of time for the highest measure of agape to be revealed and extreme grace to be released.
In effect, the Proverbs 31 woman was the beta version of the final release of a woman truly trying to live in grace and righteousness, fully connected to her still, small Voice and her community. She is continually perfected in love from mountain peak to mountain peak until you catch her fully formed and whole on the eternal flip side.
And I think I want to focus on that final release…