“She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands, she plants a vineyard…She perceives that her merchandise is profitable… She makes bedcoverings for herself, her clothing is fine linen and purple… She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchants.”
Proverbs 31:16, 18a, 22, 24
So here’s the deal.
I could have spent our time together today elaborating on how the noble woman works smart, works well, works fast, and lands herself a great distribution network through a reputation for excellence. But from what I can tell, that’s been adequately covered in all the commentaries I’ve read and the books on Proverbs 31 I’ve encountered.
I want these posts to be helpful without being redundant, so instead of reiterating the points that are self-evident that many of us may be familiar with, I’ll put my neck on the proverbial line and address what could well be the greatest divide amongst women:
To work or not to work.
That is the question. Or at least that seems to be the biggest question we bring to the subject of enterprise. Yet my study of scripture doesn’t leave any ambiguity about the subject. In three out of twenty verses, we see praise for the Super Wife’s ability to be enterprising. That’s a significant percentage of our text devoted to the idea. The clarity and quantity of that message leads to a sound assumption that God finds no fault in his women showing initiative and resourcefulness that result in a family’s financial improvement. So regarding the matter of work, I’d like to suggest that we’re simply asking the wrong question.
Since enterprise is a valid pursuit for this rare and treasured woman but at the same time must be subordinate to the greatest priorities of loving God and loving people (Matt. 22:36-40), the question we could ask ourselves to bring clarity and wisdom to our work decisions would be this:
How much enterprise can I participate in and still fulfill my primary priorities?
This is going to look different for all of us. The truth is, I’ve come to recognize that I don’t have the same capacity that other women do – and that capacity changes in various life seasons. I knew that I could not fulfill my primary priorities, especially when my girls were young, and give a large chunk of time to enterprise. So in light of my capacity and priorities for that season of life, I allowed that pursuit to diminish in importance and have picked it up somewhat in recent years, only as my capacity for it has expanded.
Because life situations, life seasons, family structures, and personal capacities are different for all of us, I’m hesitant to pass any kind of judgement on women and the types or quantities of enterprise they engage in. Lest enterprise be called out as the only potential culprit, let’s not forget that ladies who invest too much time and energy in hobbies, ministry, leisure or schooling efforts can be just as guilty of neglecting primary priorities as women who put in too many hours at the office. The assessments we make should be about ourselves and our ability to fulfill our highest priorities in light of the work we engage in – whatever that work is.
To help us do that, I’ve provided an evaluation tool based on the very passage we are working through in this series. I believe that honestly answering these questions will help us determine the degree to which we should engage in enterprising activities. Any brave takers?
In participating in matters of enterprise to the degree that I do:
- Is my husband’s trust in my management of our home and family intact?
- Is my work doing my husband good and not harm?
- Can I still live prepared and create a peaceful home for my family?
- Am I allowing time to be physically healthy and strong? (As far as it depends on me)
- Do I have some time and emotional resources left over to extend compassion and meet the needs of my community and my church family?
- Do I have time to nurture inner strength through time with the Lord so that I am marked by confidence and stability, not fretful anxiety?
- Do I have time to grow in wisdom?
- Do I have emotional resources left over at the end of the day to speak with kindness?
- Do I have the mental energy needed to be attentive to the hearts and details of the special people in my life?
- Am I wearing myself out? (Prov. 23:4)
A woman’s enterprising spirit is a valued quality in God’s sight, but being one piece of a larger collection, it needs to be viewed in light of the whole. On the one hand, we can’t discard the notion of enterprise all together as some are tempted to do, but on the other hand, we can’t embrace it indiscriminately at the expense of the other noble practices it is meant to keep company with. As we evaluate our work in light of that caveat, instead of pointing fingers at each other and standing in judgement, we should remember that one day we will stand before the loving God who has given us life and breath and years and families. And when we do, we will account for what we have done with them.
Not what she has done with them.