This study comes from one short verse, verse 13 (NIV): “She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.” At first it makes me jump right on the idea of being industrious. But after looking up a few different translations, I have to take a step back.
Other translations of this scripture say things such as, “(she) works with willing hands” (English Standard); “works with her hands with delight” (New American Standard); “she gladly makes clothes” (Contemporary English); “she is pleased to work with her hands” (New English).
Wool and Flax…?
Let’s back it up even more and look at this task she was taking on. Wool and flax would have been used to make fabric for clothing (flax to make linen).
Now consider what it takes to actually make fabric from these materials. Flax, for example: the plant stalks need to dry out, then the seeds need to be removed from the stalk by crushing them. This is done by crushing the stalks by hand and shaking the seeds free. There’s a sticky goo that needs to be broken down to separate the fibers. (A stinky process!) AND THEN: more drying, more crushing into smaller pieces, and then spinning into yarn.
Wool is another complex process. Assuming the wool is already grown and sheared from sheep, and then graded into different classes, then comes a thorough cleaning, carding the tangles out, and then spinning into yarn.
Honestly? Doesn’t sound like any kind of task I would be eager to do.
So what does the word eager mean? You can see some synonyms in the translation above. Others would include enthusiastic, ardent, motivated, dedicated, wholehearted, or gung-ho.
What do you get eager about? I’m eager for vacation, or a night out, or new clothes that are already made, thank you very much. Usually “work” and “eager” are not two things I associate with each other.
But not always! It pretty much depends on two things: the work, and the reason why. It’s possible that a women back then would be eager to do this kind of work because it’s fun for her. But I would venture to guess that it’s much more because of the people she’s doing it for.
Where have I heard this before?
In Hebrews 12:2b-3 NIV (talking about Jesus), it says, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Wow – for the most excruciating task in history, the Bible says Jesus saw joy ahead, and that’s what got him through. I think this one points in a similar direction, too:
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” – Ephesians 2:3-5 NIV
What It Is, and What It Isn’t
The Proverbs 31 woman gets a bad rap. We of her gender can feel a bit bitter towards her as being some sort of perfect standard that we can’t live up to. But the truth is, she’s not a real person, and we’re not all measured up to her. She’s a group of characteristics that a king encouraged his son to look for in a wife.
When it comes to this scripture, I can envision some sort of annoying Snow White, whistling chipperly while she crushes that flax. I can believe the lie that if I’m not thrilled to take out the trash or clean up my living room, I’m not doing it right.
But that’s not the point. The answer is in her motivation, her joy to serve the family she loves, a satisfaction in her work because it fulfills part of her purpose. It might not be a pretty task, but maybe she can imagine the the dirt that will collect on a pair of pants for her boys as they play in the yard, or the compliments her husband will get on his new shirt.
On Being More Eager
I know for me, lately, it’s been hard to find fulfillment in my current job title of “stay-at-home mom”. I can feel like my running the kids around, or changing diapers isn’t a very important role. But when I think about the joy set before me, the ability to walk with my kids as they grow and set an example for them along the way, it changes my perspective.
That’s not a plug for stay-at-home moms, by the way. Whatever your season – working, staying home, wife, mom, student, etc. – there is joy and fulfillment to be found in it. Maybe it’s taking care of your family, or maybe it’s working towards a goal like graduation or something new.
How can we do it? By finding gratitude for the big and small things in our stages of life, and by figuring out what we’re working towards.
How does being more eager sound to you?