Several years ago, I was able to take a basic biblical counseling class, and one of the sessions focused in on the “Anti-Psalm.” This exercise was a challenge for us to better understand what a text is saying by carefully thinking through the exact opposite meaning.
It can be very insightful to look at the “opposite” of what we say we believe, and see how much we (unfortunately) identify with the very ideas we claim not to believe. It’s also an excellent way to clarify the positive meaning of a text.
Today, I want to do that with the Proverbs 31 woman. You may remember my recent series about this oft-misunderstood gal. Let me remind you of the basic framework we need to properly understand this woman, and this passage:
Proverbs 31 provides a model of what a life well-lived could look like. This is not a snapshot of a young mom “doing it all”/”having it all”. It’s descriptive, rather than prescriptive. This life-in-review chapter describes what a God-fearing woman is and does (over the long-haul) for the family God has given her and the people around her.
Rather than seeing it as a guilt-producing chapter, this could be a clarion call to point to some areas where God can bring about growth in our lives.
With that understanding, then, (not as a guilt-trip, but as something we can use to lay ourselves bare before God and ask Him for direction about where we should be growing), let’s look at this “Opposite of the Proverbs 31 Woman:”
A terrible wife is a dime a dozen.
She is common– easily found.
Her husband feels tense; his heart is never fully at rest around her. She blows through his resources and squanders his contributions. There’s never anything left over, to invest or to give. The tight finances point to a larger reality: he can’t really trust her.
She spends more time and energy tearing him down than building him up. Every day of her whole life is spent making him worse off.
She sits around, aimlessly waiting for opportunities. Her hands are idle, because nothing magically comes her way on its own.
She does the bare minimum necessary to contribute to the nourishment and care of her family (and sometimes, not even that!). She can’t be expected to go to great lengths to bless her household.
She sleeps in, and uses her time poorly. Her household often gets to mealtime without anything planned or prepared.
She buys things on a whim– spending money on possessions rather than purposeful, long-range investments.
She’s weak-willed and weak-bodied, and thus, unwilling and unable to do the things God has put on her plate.
Her efforts are spent unprofitably, on things that don’t bring fruit.
If she’s up late, she’s doing impractical, useless things or spending her free time as “me time.”
Her skills are few, if any, and what she does do is careless and done poorly.
She can’t afford to be generous. The money’s all gone because she’s spent it on other things.
Her heart and hands are turned inward. Whatever her words say, the result of her actions and inaction reveal that her own desires eclipse the needs of others in her heart.
The thought of tragedy or difficulty makes her anxious and fearful because she hasn’t properly prepared her home, her family, and herself for these possibilities.
She doesn’t actively put her mind and creativity to work on improving the basic, everyday things in her home.
Her husband is ridiculed and thought ill of in their community because of how poorly she’s talked about him. Others don’t respect him, because his wife doesn’t either.
She spends her time and energies aimlessly and fruitlessly.
She puts money in the pockets of merchants, rather than the other way around.
Weakness, irresponsibility, and indecency are her clothing.
She churns with anxiety and fear about the future.
Her words are foolish; people around her are negatively influenced by her cynicism and critical attitude. Bitterness and judgments about others regularly spew from her lips.
She’s stressed and concerned about all manner of things, but oblivious to the realities of what’s happening inside her own heart and home. There, her exhaustion and stress boil over into laziness and inaction.
Her children rise up and can’t wait to get away from her. They curse her.
Her husband also, and he can’t find anything good to say.
A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised,
But this woman’s charm is deceitful, and her beauty is in vain.
Her hands are fruitless, and leave her nothing to enjoy or be praised for.
… after writing that, I feel a little exposed, and challenged in a few areas. How about you?
Looking at the opposite of this Proverbs 31 woman causes me to realize some areas where I need to grow.
SHAME VS. CONVICTION
But let’s make sure (at all times, not just now) that we’re operating out of biblical conviction rather than guilt/shame. God hasn’t given me (or you) everything in the whole world to work on, right this minute– every flaw, every fear, every weakness. When we feel a general sense of shame or humiliation, that is not from God.
God doesn’t shame. He convicts.
So let’s not operate out of shame. But as you read through the “anti-Proverbs-31,” there probably is one thing that stands out (or maybe two?).
When God’s Spirit convicts us, there is specificity (rather than a vague, dull sense of embarrassment, pain, or “not measuring up”) and there is hope. He does not leave us to flounder and “produce” growth on our own. His Spirit stands with us, working inside of us, enabling the very obedience He desires.
Colossians 1:29 is one of my favorite verses. It says:
“I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
My husband Doug calls this the “bike pedal” of faith. I push one side, and the Spirit pushes the other. I can’t pedal the bike forward with my one side (without the Spirit’s help), and He won’t magically make the bike go without effort on my part.
But together, with me toiling with His energy, and His energy powerfully working within me, there is forward motion.
THE REALITY OF PROVERBS 31
The good news is this: the opposite of the Proverbs 31 woman is not the final story. If you re-read the anti-Proverbs 31 alongside the real Proverbs 31, you’ll find hope, and perhaps be able to put your finger on a specific area where God may be calling you to grow.
An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant;
she brings her food from afar.
She rises while it is yet night
and provides food for her household
and portions for her maidens.
She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She dresses herself with strength
and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of snow for her household,
for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
She makes bed coverings for herself;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates
when he sits among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them;
she delivers sashes to the merchant.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates.
So if there is conviction rising in your heart, what specific area is God putting His finger on that might need work?
- Perhaps it’s the “getting to mealtime without a plan of action” thing.
- Maybe it’s a habit of buying things on a whim?
- Or perhaps you’ve habitually criticized or teased your husband in public settings.
What one thing could you do, today, in God’s Spirit, differently than you did yesterday, to grow in a Godward direction?