Whoever said, “Motherhood isn’t for sissies,” got it right!
Today’s moms have modern conveniences their great-grandmothers never imagined. However, along with the microwave, dishwasher, frost-free refrigerators, self-cleaning ovens and permanent press clothing come a host of responsibilities that make moms busier and more stressed than at any other time in history.
Today, many mothers not only have to cook the bacon, but also have to bring it home. Most moms work 40+ hours at the shop or office in addition to managing household and caring for a family. Today’s mother keeps the house, cooks the meals, washes the clothes, and takes care of the children. Even if she has a husband who’s willing to help with such tasks, seldom is it an even split.
The burden doesn’t get any lighter when the typical Mother’s Day church service heaps a big helping of guilt on top of everything else. Proverb 31 is the icing on the cake! You have read the list. The good wife doesn’t just wash the clothes. She buys the wool, weaves the fabric, and makes the fashion-worthy garments with her own two hands—all with a smile on her face. That’s just the beginning. She manages the household, buys, sells, invests, helps the needy, and of course, has dinner ready and waiting for her family. The to-do list never ends. What wife and mother possibly could live up to such a job description?
Yet that’s how the Proverb 31 woman often is portrayed. However, I think that’s a wrong interpretation of the chapter. Proverb 31 never should be read through the eyes of a demanding husband scolding his wife. “See, you should be more like this!” It does not represent the announcement of a foolish young groom complaining, “That’s not the way mom did that,” while his bride tries to approximate the reputation of her mythical always-did-everything-right-mother-in-law. Proverb 31 is not the nightmare of a guilt-ridden overworked mom, ruminating on all the impossible demands life places on her. That’s not what this chapter is about! If it were, it probably wouldn’t belong alongside the counsel of the wise man!
I suggest we read Proverb 31 through the eyes of Ray Barone after his revealing encounter with wife, Deborah. While the hit sitcom’s last episode aired nearly 10 years ago, “Everybody Loves Raymond” reruns still appear somewhere on cable TV almost every night. In one episode (Season 5, Episode 20), Ray, the always-messing-things-up-at-home sports writer is having a money argument with his stay-at-home wife and mother of three, Deborah.
Deborah has discovered that Ray lost a large sum of money in a bone-headed business investment without telling her. Ray defends his actions by insisting he shouldn’t have to explain every financial decision to Deborah. She takes exception. So far so good!
As always, Ray doesn’t know when to keep quiet. “After all,” he says, “I am the one making the money! What do you contribute to this household?”
If that weren’t bad enough, Ray mumbles something about how he probably should start charging her rent. As the words tumble out, Deborah’s eyes get big. If it were a cartoon, you would see steam coming out her ears. The audience gasps. Across the room, Ray’s brother, Robert, has been watching with glee at the unraveling of his brother. At the last comment, Robert heads out the backdoor for cover.
“So I don’t contribute anything! Is that what you think?” Raymond tries to take back the words. Too late! Everything goes downhill from there.
Deborah goes on strike. Finally, she offers to assume her duties again, but only if compensated as hired help. Raymond tries to hide his smile as he agrees to the offer. After all, this can’t add up to much. The next day, Deborah presents him with an estimated bill. Cooking, cleaning, childcare, chauffeuring the kids, bookkeeping and household management top the list. The tally covers three pages of the notebook.
Finally, in exasperation Ray totals the list and the hourly charges. “Why, that’s more than I make!” he protests. Deborah smiles. Ray frowns. Somewhere Robert laughs. Eventually, Ray understands how much Deborah contributes. He apologizes. They kiss. Everybody lives happily ever after.
Raymond discovered what Proverb 31:10-31 really means. Many of us should, as well.
This section of Proverbs is an interesting and easily misunderstood piece of Scripture. It actually forms an acrostic. It doesn’t come out in our English translation, but the 22 verses of this section each begin with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Verse 10 begins with a word beginning with aleph; verse 11, beth; verse 12, gimmel! All the way through until finally verse 31 begins with the 22nd and final letter! For the ancient Hebrews, this was a poetic way of saying, “I am saying it all! This is it—A to Z! When I am done, there will be nothing more to add!”
Rather than a to-do list for an already over-stressed mom, Proverb 31 should be read through the eyes of an appreciative husband and family who recognize how much they owe the one who does life’s most important job. It is a thank-you note from Ray Barrone after he has tallied the list of Deborah’s everyday activities.
The form and content of Proverb 31 underscore the theme. If you tried to put a price tag on the value of good wife and mother, you would conclude with Proverb 31:10, “She is worth far more than rubies.” If you tallied everything in detail a mother does in a day, week or month, it would read similarly to the exhaustive list in Proverb 31. The wise advice after such a discovery would be Proverb 31:28, “Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.” The bottom line would read as Proverb 31:31, “Give her the reward she has earned.”
Christian writer Tony Campolo said in The Power Delusion, “Too many times women are made to feel that they should apologize for being mothers and housewives. In reality, such roles can be noble callings. When I was on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, there were gatherings from time to time to which faculty members brought their spouses. Inevitably, some woman lawyer or sociologist would confront my wife with the question, ‘And what is it that you do, my dear?’
“My wife, who is one of the most brilliantly articulate individuals I know, had a great response: ‘I am socializing two Homo sapiens in the dominant values of the Judeo-Christian tradition in order that they might be instruments for the transformation of the social order into the teleologically prescribed utopia inherent in the eschaton.’ When she followed that with, ‘And what is it that you do?’ they would often blurt out, ‘I’m a doctor,’ or, ‘I’m a lawyer,’ and then wander off with a dazed look in their eyes.”
Mothers do the most important job in the world. Their work is the most valuable imaginable. The same tribute also should extend to ladies who never may have had a child of their own, but have devoted hours and years helping care for and teach the young born by others. Caring for a family and raising children and grandchildren is the noblest calling in the world.
The job description may seem overwhelming, but it never should be underappreciated.
Will Thomas is a retired teacher and freelance writer living in Darien, Illinois.