Proverbs 31:13 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants. (NIV)
As much as I would like to think so, I don’t think this portion of this Epilogue is about enabling my slightly unhealthy knitting habit. When I read these verses I think of work…and I don’t want to think of work. Most days my house is a type of moderately organized chaos. I’m picking up after, washing, soothing, cooking, climbing, managing and all sorts of other tasks and at the end of the day, it looks like I’ve accomplished nothing. Anyone else? These verses can be really intimidating. My hands are not always eager, especially with ironing. I don’t want to get my food from afar, across town is far enough, thank you and if it’s a crazy day, I can make a lot out of the pantry in a pinch. I really really really don’t want to get up when it’s still night and providing food for my family can mean meeting my husband at the door holding a crying baby and asking him what he wants for take-out. I’m not even going to get on the topic of servants. Sure wish I had some every once in a while.
I’m not trying to be self-deprecating. I don’t have it so bad, especially right now when my wonderful mother in law is visiting. My husband is away for about 2 weeks and she and my father in law have come to help. I’m learning a lot and this passage is actually quite timely for me. After my daughter, third child, was born, my mom and mother in law both came to help me out. They did laundry, walked with a crying baby, fed my boys, and generally made life really really nice for me. They gave me and my husband such a gift. They gave us their time, their energy, and served us in such a generous way.
I have to admit it’s hard for me to accept these kinds of gifts sometimes. I feel quite guilty about others doing things for me and I’m afraid of putting them out. I’m very ok to help others but accepting this help is tough. What I’m realizing, and these verses are quite timely, is that serving others is a gift. I look at these verses and where I once would have seen a standard I didn’t want to live up to I see a woman who has decided to take the sometimes mundane things in life and use them to serve others.
I am not always cheerfully serving my family. When I step on Lego for the 10th time while trying to vacuum around the toys I picked up just 5 minutes ago, my heart is not filled with the joy of serving. When my kids won’t sit for a meal and my son dumps his milk from his glass onto his plate for the 3rd time, nope, no heart of service. Life and work is not always fun and there are jobs that I admit I really don’t like that are part of my taking care of my family. So, what does it look like for me to be seeking God’s praise in all of the day-to-day?
First of all, I don’t think it means being a virtuously martyred drudge who is cleaning up the ashes while other people party around her. I know some people who get such joy and identity in their martyrdom and I don’t think that allowing yourself to be in that position and receiving your affirmation from that is necessarily healthy. There are times when I feel put upon and under-thanked but those are times I realize that having to do another load of dishes is not really about me. I can grow to resent the people I serve, in my home and church and community if my heart isn’t right. Why am I serving? To be told how self-sacrificing I am? To receive praise from others? Who am I trying to please? Am I grumpy in my serving because I feel unappreciated and overlooked?
God delights when I serve him in my day-to-day life. I believe that when I look at my husband and my children and see how they help me despite the tough things going on in their lives, God is delighted when I don’t blow up at them for leaving a sock on the floor. When I can iron my husband’s shirt so he is free to prep his sermon for Sunday I am giving him a gift and trying to support him in what God is doing in his life. It makes me think of the times when he’s looked after our kids and worked at home for a morning while I got to pursue my teaching. Or how he’s taken care of our vehicles so I can go about my day-to-day life not worrying that my truck will break down.
We have opportunities to serve each other in big and small ways through our everyday life. My opportunities to serve right now tend to focus on things I can do as a stay at home mom. They can be little things that remain unseen but really they aren’t. God sees when I attempt to serve without resentment. He also sees when I try to minister to my children, show them kindness through their difficult transitions in life and their spurts of emotion and independence. Even though it may seem that our services to others is done in secret it’s not. God sees our servant’s hearts and honors us for seeing the needs of others. My husband and children have needs that I can help fulfill. My desire is to realize that in serving others I am worshiping God.
As I strive to be a woman who fears the Lord, I need to focus on what pleases God. He is pleased with my attitude, my gift of service to others. The example of my mother and mother in law has shown me that service to others should be a way of worshipping God and a gift to others. They never asked me for anything in return, never resented when they helped me, never played the martyr with sighs and slumped shoulders. They have shown me that to help others when they need it and when they don’t know they need it is a gift and a ministry. I hope to be a woman like them someday.