the ponderings of a mother

These are the ponderings of a mother in love with her children, both in my arms and in the grave. Some of these ponderings are quite emotional, some are funny, others contemplative and spiritual. All are sincere. May these writings bless you in many ways and bring you closer to the one, true God and Redeemer of all things.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

That Woman: Part Two

So, let’s spend some more time with that woman. Since I am feeling a bit less guarded in her presence I am ready to understand her a bit more. Truth bringing peace, as it often does.

I hope that as you continue to read about her you may catch a greater vision of womanhood.  I am working on it.  I cannot find it anywhere in our culture of extremes and sex and commercialism and perfection and…well, you get the picture. Some of us need a more realistic vision, you know, a counter-culture to the “women can/should do everything” (be mother, be sexy, be intelligent, run a company, bake amazing cakes, have a perfect home, garden, quilt, etc.) mantra that has left many a woman exhausted and unfulfilled.  And some of us need a freeing vision, a counter to the pseudo-Christian 1950’s traditional Americana view that confines women to a short list of roles. If we spend much time in the Kingdom of God we often find that God’s truth brings this radical freedom where the conventional, cultural wisdom fails us. That failing wisdom gives us extremes and places us in camps so we can polarize and judge one another. “I stay home with my kids” (read: you don’t love your children if you don’t). “I am working on advanced degrees” (read: you are selling yourself short by staying at home and I am better than you). “I grow my own vegetables and can them for winter” (read: you don’t? You probably eat fast food, too, no wonder your butt looks like that…).  Not everyone who says these things means these things, of course. But with all the mixed messages of womanhood in our culture that lacks biblical wisdom, sometimes speaker means it and sometimes it is just the hearer who hears it. Pride on one end or shame on another. Whatever happens in these conversations, at times, it polarizes.  And sometimes they are not spoken; sometimes they are airbrushed and slapped on the cover of a magazine for greater cultural dissemination. It’s laughable, really.

I truly thank God for women in Scripture that so often break the mold of cultural, or counter-cultural, womanhood.  Whether we are open to listening or not, these women are speaking and have been for millennia. So let’s engage that one woman again. That proverbs 31 woman.

After my initial encounter with her, I jumped into a biblical commentary to get a further take from some who have studied her (and other parts of Scripture) in the original languages.  Though I like to name my children with names of Hebrew origin and with beautiful meanings, I actually know nothing of the original language. I made a bullet list of some notable  observations:
  •  This proverb is actually a women’s description of a woman’s role, not a man’s description. Verse one says specifically “The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him:” (emphasis mine). 
  • The Hebrew word “hayil” is more properly rendered capable rather than noble. And in fact rather than a “noble wife” it would be better to read “capable woman.”
  • The order of her roles and character are not ordered in importance or logic but rather poetically, the first letter of each verse (from verses 10-31) using the chronological order of the Hebrew alphabet.
  • Women do teach as well, thus fulfilling God’s vision of Genesis 1 and 2 as man and woman together represent the full image of God to the world.

The main gist I gained from reading a couple commentaries is that this woman is neither the laughable must-d0-all-and-be-sexy-doing-it woman our culture forces upon us nor the backlash, counter-cultural traditional woman with small vision and specified roles. And, ugh, isn’t it so much more difficult when we cannot put things into boxes? I mean then, how can I relate to women who choose to work more than I do, or order food out more than I do, or make quilts, or open businesses, or use disposable diapers. Ah, if we don’t have categories how then can we relate? I need to put you in my box to decide if you are better, worse, smarter, thriftier, healthier, more environmentally conscious, make more money, etc., etc., than I do. When I can position you I can then bolster my ego figuring where I am better, and thus feel pride or where I am less, and thus feel guilt.  Exhausting, yeah? Of course, I say this in jest. Like-minded groups are great and offer support, but become detrimental to our soul and our societies when we use them like this.  There are so many women I know who “don’t like other women” or “don’t enjoy women’s groups” or despise “women’s ministry”…and I understand. But there must be another way, and, in my opinion, begins with a better vision of womanhood.

I see around me, and even in my church have spoken with women, who struggle with a healthy vision of womanhood…I am one of them!  Most women go with either the can-do-all and manage all things at once in order to prove the traditional role obsolete, if only to themselves, or the “holier” road of home-is-all-that-matters and I will focus only here.  Yes, yes, there are those women that do either of these scenarios well and in line with how God is speaking to them for their season of life. Most certainly, yes. But motivation for the way we are living our lives should not be based solely on tradition or cultural movements, but on biblical principles. These principles generally unnerve those in any camp because they are often baseline and do not offer exacts in our daily life.  I mean, what do you do with a woman that “looks to the ways of her household” (v.26) and sells real estate (v.16)? A woman that plants a vineyard (v.16), feeds the needy (v. 20), and sells products (v.24)?  I just cannot categorize her, by golly.  

And maybe that is the point.

No other woman that Scriptures highlights does all of these things. Maybe because they are all actual women and it is likely impossible to do all of them when you are an actual woman and not a description. (Phew! Any other women out there breathing a sigh of relief?).  But what we do get is that a woman can be any of these things to varying degrees and probably in different seasons. We all have natural limitations, abilities, and needs both personal and familial. We must discern our own life choices through Scripture and within community that will speak to us honestly, challenging us to use all of ourselves appropriately in each our stage of life, whatever that may be. And we should be gracious to others in their decisions. It is not because all decision are made well, or because everyone is doing what is right for them. I don’t think that everyone I know is necessarily living just as God may have them. Some are trying too hard, some are not fulfilling all the pieces of themselves as called by God, some unwilling to look at themselves out of fear of what may be seen.  But I also do not know the entire picture of everyone’s lives so I best make judgments lightly and keep my most strict judgment for myself.  Charity of soul is rarely refused. What I see is that living into a role of a cultural fad or a roll-back-the-clock, traditional, counter-cultural response may neither be the answer. Listing to God through the lens of Scripture, prayer and community…that is our calling.

My prayer is that we neither push beyond ourselves nor cut ourselves short, ladies. But that we listen to all God has for wherever we are. That we allow Him to be the great Iconoclast, as a professor of mine once said. Every moving us into greater depths of maturity, love, and life-giving service.

So, I leave this second installment with an interesting quote from the New Bible Commentary that I read about that woman we are thinking about.  

“Lemuel’s mother (who, as the queen-mother might exercise very significant political power) encourages the complete woman to make the most of and to push the boundaries of what a woman’s role might mean in a patriarchal society. Men generally need little encouragement to make their mark and achieve; women can be tempted to settle for the demure role in life, which has often been all that such society expects of them, and thus fail to realize their God-given potential for making their own mark. There are, of course, other aspects of Scripture’s vision of womanhood (such as those in the Song of Songs), but this encouragement to womanhood to achieve is an important aspect of that vision as a whole” – New Bible Commentary

This concludes the second of three parts. Blessings on your journey. 

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