It’s mother’s day. A special day that began back in 1908 when a woman named Anna Jarvis missed her mother terribly and took steps to see her mother, and all mothers, honoured and celebrated annually. Over time, we’ve taken that original idea and extended it to include all women of all ages. We take a Sunday in May and recognize the contribution of women to our culture, our lives. It’s a good thing.
Let’s look at some scripture together. We’re going to read part of Proverbs 31.
One of two things just happened to every woman in the room when they heard Proverbs 31 – they either rolled their eyes (oh sure. Mother’s Day. And there isn’t another scripture in the whole of the Bible he could have used besides that one). And if that was you this morning, I don’t blame you.
If you didn’t roll your eyes, you fell into the second category: the women who inwardly cringed. The women whose shoulders pinched together in an involuntary posture of self defense as they readied themselves for a sermon listing out all the ways they fall short. They fail to measure up. If that is you this morning, let me tell you, I don’t blame you. And men – sometimes women’s emotions are on edge because they have run out of reserves in dealing with the pressures and standards we put on them, and they put on themselves. And sometimes the thing you do pushes that button. Now all the men just rolled their eyes and thought, Oh goodie. He’s going to talk about relationships. Relax. I’m not.
Let’s read the passage: Proverbs 31: 10-22.
An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life. She looks for wool and flax and works with her hands in delight. She is like merchant ships; she brings her food from afar. She rises also while it is still night and gives food to her household and portions to her maidens. She considers a field and buys it; from her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She girds herself with strength and makes her arms strong. She senses that her gain is good; her lamp does not go out at night. She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hands grasp the spindle. She extends her hand to the poor, and she stretches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household, for all her household are clothed with scarlet. She makes coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple.
So there it is. An inspiring passage. A love letter. Why on earth does it elicit such fear and frustration for women? I think part of the answer is because of the way we approach the passage. We come at it backwards. We forget whose story this is, and in forgetting, we end up using the passage to do things it wasn’t intended to do.
The Bible is God’s story. It’s not our story—humanity’s story—its God’s. Proverbs 31 is not the king’s story—the man who wrote this proverb—it’s not the story of the woman he’s talking about. This proverb, like the entire Bible, is God’s story – His thoughts and actions about and for humanity. Its purpose is to reveal God’s character. When we forget, we take the passage and apply it to women as a prescription for how she ought to be, making it into a box, a cage even.
Proverbs 31 isn’t a prescription. It’s not a list of all the things you’re supposed to be doing. It isn’t a cookie cutter. Women aren’t supposed to gather the edges of their lives and try to squeeze through this passage in order to look, behave and accomplish life the same way this woman did 3,000 years ago.
If we back up and come at the scripture by asking the question, “How is this God’s story?” the purpose of the scripture becomes clear: it’s not a prescription for women, it’s an invitation – to men, to us all – to celebrate the gifts God has given you.
Here is the King. The first part of the chapter—we didn’t read that part—he remembers stuff his mom taught him. Then, in the part we read this morning, he remembers his mother. The stuff she did. All the work and sacrifice. The responsibility. And in reverence to God, he gives thanks for her. It’s God who opens the King’s eyes to the provision and care God has provided through women. He looks at his mother and says to God, “What a marvel she is. Thank you. Thank you for showing me.”
When we believe God is love, and look for God’s story inside His word, it cracks open the whole thing and exposes a truth, a challenge. This passage is not a prescription for women to swallow, not a laundry list of all the ways they fall short, not an impossible standard that sets them up for failure.
God’s story here comes as an invitation for men to, in reverence for God, look at the women in your life and see God at work in her – her strengths. Not to scrutinize her. Not to see how well she matches up to the things listed in the passage, but what is working, what is good. An invitation to look and see God’s story happening in her, and give thanks to God for His gift. To create a list of attributes unique to her and all she does.
Not what she could do. Not what she should do. Not what she should aspire to, but for who and what she is today.
God’s story here (in part) is: I made you. I am with you. I love you. I call you good.
This is the invitation for you, gentlemen, to look at the women in your life and see God’s story at work in her, and to thank God for her. And women: you need to let him. You need to hear the words of honour.
Instead, we often tell our story to ourselves about all the ways we fall short. We’re so used to that old story telling us the ways we don’t measure up, but we’ve forgotten that God tells us we don’t need to measure up. That in Him, we have everything. That in us, God’s story can be found. And that’s why you need to hear words of honour from the men in your life. Because those words of honour are directed at God. They are praise to Him for what He is doing in and through you. Let’s look for God’s story—not just in scripture but in us, in our lives right now, this minute. I’m going to show you how you can begin to see yourself in a new way. The way God sees you: As part of His story, and that part is good. I’m going to lead you to, personally and individually, the markers in your life, put there by God, that are telling God’s story in your life right now. Today. This morning. Sounds like a magic trick, doesn’t it? Pull a rabbit from a hat! It’s not a trick. It’s four simple questions. Simple, but not easy. I’m not promising you easy. To change your perspective, to change your mind about something takes effort. You will have to try, put forth the effort.
The questions are designed to help you see yourself in a new paradigm, a new angle. I’m not going to ask you to dig around in your past, or put your problems under a microscope. I’m not going to ask you to come up with better ways to fix what’s broken in your life or how to become better at the things you’re not good at.
Instead, just like the way we turned Proverbs 31 around, I’m going to help you discover what you’re good at—not what you think you should be good at—the things you love, that bring you joy, and I’m going to help you see these things for what they are: God’s story speaking in your life.
Let’s start doing that now. Here’s the first question: What inspires me? (Maybe it’s a person, an idea, a goal, a book, a song, a poem, a place. Things that lift your spirits, give you wings, or fill you with hope, spurs you to action). Think about the last time you felt inspired. Daydream about it. What was it that pinged your spirit to life? What was it that made you sit up and say, “Yes!” That thing that came into your life from the outside but made you feel instantly connected—as if it had come from inside of you? That light bulb moment. Take some time with your answer. Really root around in that memory. Explore it. Take your time. Write it down somewhere in some fashion.
Second question: What do you love to do? These are things you look forward to doing. When you get to do them, time passes quickly and you feel “absorbed” in what you’re doing. (These things often take the form of “hobbies”, or “down-time activities”, pure pleasure times. Remember; don’t overlook anything, even if it doesn’t seem like an “important” activity.) For example, I love to daydream and pretend. Seriously. I love it. I asked a friend this question once and she immediately answered, “Crocheting!” Don’t censor yourself. Write what’s in your heart. Remember: There are no wrong answers!
What talents do you have? Talents are often disguised as “things that are easy for me”. For example, some people can read three or four books in one week. You may think, “That’s not a talent! That’s just reading”. But it actually is a talent. The strengths involved in being an avid reader could be: creativity, critical thinking, love of learning, curiosity about the world, or imagination (to name a few). What are you good at? (Things you’re good at are often things you overlook because they’re effortless for you. You can just “do them”. For example, I’m good at remembering lots of little details about people I meet. I can run into someone years later and remember many details about our encounter years before. I don’t have to try, it just happens.) I now understand that the reason I can do this is because of how God has made me: I think in story. And my connection to people’s story is intense and automatic. Knowing this has helped me understand myself and let go of things I’m not good at.
What sorts of things do other people tell you you’re good at? Do you have a friend who is always telling you how much she likes your clothes? Do you often hear from people that you have great taste in music? Has someone mentioned that you take very good care of a pet? Do you get comments about how well you decorate your house? Do your friends and family turn to you with questions about math? Do people seek your advice about certain things? Do you often hear people tell you how friendly you are? (Even criticisms can be comments about your strengths. I can talk a lot, this often isn’t a problem, but for some people, they find me too talkative, especially in a group setting. But it’s a strength of mine, tied to my storytelling and creative abilities. It may rub some folks the wrong way, but it’s still a strength). These are times when people are commenting on your strengths. Think about comments from those around you regarding your strengths. Also, if you’re comfortable doing so, you could ask a few family members, your spouse, or trusted friends what they think some of your strengths are.
These four questions aren’t the total picture of God’s story at work in your life. They are a gateway. A beginning point that invites us deeper into God’s story, the story of His activity in the world today in you, through you.
Proverbs 31 is God’s story. God’s invitation to come close and look at His handiwork, His provision, His blessing and how all of that is packaged together inside of each one of us.
Someone in this room rubs you the wrong way, God says, “Come close. I have good things to show you about that person.”
You’re falling short? God’s invitation is to crack open the goodness He has put in you, to really examine the joy He has set in place inside of you.
I invite you to take these four questions home with you and spend some time with them. Daydream about them, take them apart and fit them back together again. Pray them. Write your answers down somewhere. They are simple questions whose answers will change the way we think. That will bring into focus God’s story in our lives.
The Bible is God’s story. Proverbs 31 is God’s story. You are God’s story.