This Sunday my Bishop (yes, David. I have a Bishop!) mentioned in passing that the wife of a certain predominant preacher was at a conference and decreed that the gathering of the saints was for our personal pleasure, not for God’s. He intimated that she intimated that our happiness was of greater import than that of God’s. When you whittle it all the way down, she was saying live to please yourself. Naturally, my Bishop vehemently disagreed with that line of reasoning for lack of foundational scripture to support it.
I don’t know who this woman is and I haven’t bothered to do the heavy lifting to search out the video on the Internet. I mention her because her alleged utterances coincide with a tweet I saw the following day got me to thinking: Does my happiness – as a woman, specifically – matter to God, my children, my husband…anyone? I urge you to read the tweet in question and decipher for yourself what is glaringly obvious according to him and millions of other people who think likewise: That mother’s greatest value is when she is being sacrificial.
(Note the glee with which he recounts how he thwarted her second chance at companionship and love.)
Just about every woman in Christendom has heard about the Proverbs 31 Woman: the noble wife as described by King Lemuel by way of recollections from conversations with his mother. The Proverbs 31 woman has been pandered and paraded to women of faith since their first youth camps. Different denominations have their own interpretations about who this woman was and what functioned she served. Some tout her as the ultimate boss chick; an entrepreneur who runs several businesses and an efficient household. Others explain that she her fundamental duty is to bring glory to her husband so that he can sit at the gate with the elders and boast. (She’s more of an admin not a boss, you understand. No woman is greater than her husband.) Still some see her as the perfect housewife. She can spin wool/cotton, she can sew, she’s the consummate interior decorator! Aaaaand she ALSO has servants, which means she’s rich.
The Proverbs 31 Woman is Every Woman! But was she happy?
My dear e-friend Sefakor revealed an observation about her grandmother that honestly broke my heart. She said:
She never smiled. And NO ONE even noticed. Is this really a life pleasing to God – dutiful drudgery in the service of people who take no note of your physical (or mental) well-being? I highly doubt that. Or at least, I hope it’s not true. I’ll have to ask God when I see Him/Her.
I read Proverbs 31: 10-31 again this morning and instead of feeling that fire of inspiration that I have in the past, I felt nothing but sympathy for this woman. In my 20s, I would read this scripture and get completely amped up! Those were the days when I was convinced of my invincibility and buoyed by my youth, was sure that I could be Dorothy Do-It-All. But today, all I could focus on were the following phrases, which inspired nothing but weariness:
She gets up while it is still night;
She sets about her work vigorously;
Lawd have mercy. Can you imagine 30,40, 50 years (because them Biblical gals married young!) of fetching, stepping and carrying without taking a break for a vacation? Nowhere in here does it mention where she takes time for herself.
No mention of her friends.
No mention of her feelings towards her gate-sitting husband.
No mention of how she feels about her children.
This is honestly very concerning to me, now that I am approaching 40, for I know one day my children will grow up and leave me just as the Proverbs 31 woman’s own surely did. And even though I have nary a servant, I imagine that once her household became smaller, there would be no need for that much staff to cater to. And now my/her husband – now also elderly (and possibly senile) – would have no place at the gate and no reason to praise my name. What then becomes my present function, since I have lived in the service of others for most of my life? Indeed, you rarely hear messages directed at women over 50 in services. Once they’ve crossed “marrying age”, they are no longer a point of focus.
I ask these questions seriously because I truly believe that women have been groomed to see themselves through the eyes of other people, rather than encouraged to commit to self-reflection and introspection. So far as our husband/my children/my boyfriend, my co-workers/my parents think of us as a good and worthy person, then we must be so, right? And like so many women I know today, The Proverbs 31 woman did everything right. In today’s society and economy, she might be a degreed woman who owns/runs several properties or an online business. She may even be a self-made millionaire or an academic. And yet so many women just like this, who seem to have it “all together” or “have it all” are depressed. The number who have revealed their depression to me in private chats is alarming.
I have written in the past about my own bouts with depression as well, despite the fact that I had “nothing to be depressed about” at the time. Like much of the Bible (and just about every publication since) we have been conditioned to look at the lives of women from a male’s perspective and for the purposes of male approval. No doubt this is why we never hear from the dutiful wife herself, even though her characteristics are described from the utterances of another older woman (who was possibly in league with the dark forces of patriarchy!).
MX5 and I are supposed to get together for coffee and dissect this scripture at some point. I’d hoped to share our epiphanies with you prior to this post, but it’s not always easy to stick to a schedule when you’re out here in these streets 31 Proverbing on an day-to-day basis. In the meantime, I’d be interested to hear what you Bible-reading (or not) folk think. Do you think she was she happy – or merely conjured joy in the midst of her decades of labor? Did it matter? Does your happiness matter to your family? Does it matter to yourself?