“A wife of noble character, who can find?”
Recently, as my husband read aloud from Proverbs 31 over the breakfast table, I wondered if maybe that was a rhetorical question. As in, “can anyone find this woman?” She has an extensive list of accomplishments and abilities. She seems to be able to “do it all,” with skill (check out all the details here). Am I really supposed to be like her?
I have this vague notion that the modern Proverbs 31 woman stays at home with her (many!) children, educates them at home, makes all their (organic!) meals from scratch, enthusiastically serves her church community, and, after all that, is still (frequently!) romantically available to her husband. And while there is certainly nothing wrong with any of these endeavors individually, I personally cannot live up to all these expectations at once.
Thankfully, my husband has a firm belief that “nobody does it all.” “Something always gets dropped,” he often tells me. He believes this because he watched his mom choose not to “do it all.” He was never under the impression that one woman could — or should — do it all. His mom did stay at home with her eight children, and homeschool them, but she was not involved in church ministry, nor did she have a home business. The meals she prepared for her family were exceedingly simple. Sometimes it was cereal for supper. Other times it was baked potatoes, with nothing but cottage cheese as a topping. Her home, however, was a place of joy and peace that others felt drawn to.
(Incidentally, when my husband closed the Bible that morning, he sighed, “I don’t think this woman exists. And if she did, I don’t think I’d like her.”)
I have never been one of those women who could juggle several responsibilities at once. In college, I took a mere 12 or 13 hours each semester. With the remainder of my time, I tended to my marriage, and together, we volunteered at our church. A couple times, I tried to extend my summer job into the school year. Each time the attempt ended with me quitting that job.
I recently had an opportunity to admit to myself yet again that I cannot do it all (and retain some semblance of sanity). I decided I should study Khmer during my short summer break. It was so hard, I about had a breakdown. Or . . . maybe I did have a breakdown. Ask my husband. On second thought, don’t ask him! It was he who suggested I quit studying, after noticing that I had absolutely no energy left over for the family. I was adamant that I continue – because a missionary wife should know the local language. It’s, like, a requirement or something.
I know so many missionary wives who do speak Khmer well, and I thought I was such a failure not to be like them. But if I am to listen to my husband’s wisdom, I must accept that I can’t do it all. I must drop something. And at this point in my life, I am choosing to drop further language learning. I’ve got five people in my family who need me – to laugh at their jokes, to care for their troubles, and to be engaged with what’s happening from day to day. I couldn’t do that when I was studying language.
Truth be told, language learning is not the only thing I have dropped. I’ve also dropped ministry outside my home. I used to be active in ministry with my husband, and I loved it. Right now, though, the focus of my ministry is my home – my husband and children. But the truth of the matter is also, that homeschooling all day pretty much takes everything I have to give. I need the help of a lady to do basic cleaning tasks each day, and to cook our noon meal. I have clearly failed in this whole womanhood thing. I mean, wives should cook, and stuff. Right?
But, if I hadn’t dropped the cooking and cleaning, I would have been forced to drop other things. Things I didn’t want to drop. Like adequate school time for my children. And adequate sleep for me (perhaps transforming me into the classic Proverbs 31 woman who wakens early and works late into the night??).
My husband doesn’t want me plus language fluency. He just wants me. My children don’t want me plus gourmet meals. They just want me. My friends don’t want me plus a clean house. They just want me.
The best way for me to stay me is not to pretend I do it all and do it all well. Because I don’t. And I can’t. I very deliberately drop many things in my life, so that I may whole-heartedly embrace the things I haven’t dropped.
I don’t get it all done. I am a Proverbs 31 failure. But my family gets a happier me. A nicer me. A more likeable me.
If I didn’t fail as a Proverbs 31 woman, I am convinced I would be far less successful at loving people. The greatest command of all.