A 31 (year-old) Woman

That’s not me. It’s just a picture of a woman with her arms wide open to the sky. But it fits, right?

As my 31st birthday approaches (this Friday!), the “Proverbs 31 woman” has been on my mind quite a bit. I guess this is cliche since it seems the topic has been exhausted by women’s Bible studies, devotionals, books, podcasts, sermons, etc., in recent years. For many, this Biblical paragon is an elusive model of Christian womanhood that brings with it a tinge of bitterness….but I believe that is a mischaracterization we can attribute to the downfall of sin, as with many other Scriptural misinterpretations (read: http://churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/161344-aubry_smith_why_i_hate_the_proverbs_31_woman.html). It’s tempting to feel intimidated by the poetic representation of a woman who appears to “do it all”, as verse 29 states:

“Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” Proverbs 31:29

She is a woman of talent and character, hard-working and always putting the good of others before her own… she seems perfect, too good to be true. And perhaps she is. A tiny notation on these verses (Proverbs 31:10-31, “The Wife of Noble Character”) states: “Verses 10-31 are an acrostic poem, the verses of which begin with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet.” Ah ha! These verses are poetic — symbolic, even! This isn’t a representation of a real woman, it’s just a collection of admirable attributes, individual character traits arranged in alphabetical order towards which we might strive, clever and pretty-sounding…. like a Dr. Seuss poem…. right??

While that would be an easy out, I’m inclined to think not. God never expects less than perfection. In fact, He requires perfection, which is exactly what we cannot achieve. On our own. He sent his perfect Son, Jesus, to achieve it for us. Even the Proverbs 31 woman knows this, because she is a woman “who fears the Lord”, and “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). She cannot become “a wife of noble character” on her own. She does not wake up every morning with a checklist to “bring good, not harm, all the days of her life.” No, she begins with the fear of the Lord, the summation and binding factor of any praiseworthy deed. She is trusting in His provision to bring to completion the work He has begun (Philippians 1:6). And beginning with that trust, she can do all things in His strength.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Philippians 4:13

As I approach turning 31, I feel overwhelmed by all that I cannot do. This feels like a much larger hurdle than turning 30 last year. Even entering a new decade was not as daunting as approaching motherhood of three children 4 and under, while running a freelance design business, maintaining a functioning household, fostering personal relationships, and “extending my hands to the needy.” These are all things the Proverbs 31 woman achieves. And still “she can laugh at the days to come”! Laughter is not the first thing that comes to mind when I anticipate the days ahead… unless it’s the kind of hysterical laughter that accompanies insanity. But my fearful approach is not rooted in the fear of the Lord. He is the giver of all good things — the greatest of these being our salvation in Christ — and with the ransom He has paid comes an unquenchable hope, an undying joy. Suffering is inevitably a part of the Proverbs 31 woman’s life, though this section of the poem does not recount it in detail. But, even knowing struggles will come, she can live without worry or anxiety, because she knows in Whom her strength is found.


“Not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
Romans 5:3-4

So, as I welcome 31 and all that may accompany it, I am armed with this timely reminder of the 31 woman. Hers is a high calling, and a worthy one. And not so intimidating when I cease relying on my own strength to accomplish the “good works, which God prepared beforehand…” (Ephesians 2:10). These traits of “a wife of noble character” are achievable and it is very good to have a model (alphabetized in Hebrew, no less) by which to recount them. Will I achieve them all this year? Not likely. Perhaps not even all in my lifetime, if that is not the plan God has laid for me. But I will cease to fear the task laid before me, fearing the Lord instead, and rejoice in the sufferings — and the hope — that come along the way.

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