Tag Archives: Perfection

A New Take on “The Proverbs 31 Woman”

A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.

Proverbs 31:10 (NIV)

Those who are even occasional readers of my posts know that I often make reference to the Enneagram. We were first introduced the Nine Types by our daughter many years ago. As it’s grown in popularity, we have been asked to introduce it and discuss it with various groups. We are, by no means, experts. We have simply shared our personal experiences of understanding and how the Enneagram has helped our relationship as we have come to understand and appreciate one another in deeper ways.

Over the years we’ve had many, many conversations with individuals, couples, and groups about the Enneagram. Of course, one of the first questions that is asked is, “Do you know what type you are?” Wendy and I quickly began noticing a certain pattern among women who are card-carrying followers of Jesus living primarily in Christian community.

They almost all say they are Type Twos (a.k.a. “The Helper”). Here’s the summary description of Type Two from the Enneagram Institute:

Twos are empathetic, sincere, and warm-hearted. They are friendly, generous, and self-sacrificing, but can also be sentimental, flattering, and people-pleasing. They are well-meaning and driven to be close to others, but can slip into doing things for others in order to be needed. They typically have problems with possessiveness and with acknowledging their own needs. At their Best: unselfish and altruistic, they have unconditional love for others.

Enneagram Institute

The problem, of course, is that it’s not possible for 80-90% of Christian women to be Twos. Either only females who are Twos follow Jesus, or those who do follow Jesus are miraculously transformed into Twos by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As Wendy and I pondered and contemplated this phenomenon, we came to the realization that “Twos” sound eerily similar to the ideal wife and mother described in the epilogue of Proverbs; She is otherwise known as “The Proverbs 31 Woman.” I have come to believe that many women project themselves to be, or truly desire themselves to be, an idealized version that both the church and Christian community have relentlessly told them they should be.

In today’s chapter, the book of ancient wisdom ends with a rather eloquent description of a “wife of noble character.” She’s the picture-perfect supportive spouse who is an asset to her husband’s public image and career. She’s the super-charged industrial homemaker and the perfect mix of Joanna Gaines and Martha Stewart. Her clothes, decor, and children are all Pinterest-worthy. She’s tireless and shrewd. She’s the undisputed CEO of the home which always runs with efficiency, organization, productivity, timeliness, and keeps the household budget always in the black. She is intelligent, spiritual, and practically wise; a combination of Beth Moore and Jen Hatmaker. Her children think she’s the coolest mom in the world, and they all dutifully reflect her Proverbs-Thirty-One-ness in dress, appearance, and behavior. Her husband would never look twice at any of the “wayward” and “adulterous” women that Proverbs has been incessantly mentioning for thirty chapters, and this is because…well…while charm may be deceptive and beauty fleeting, “The Proverbs 31 Woman” actually has those, too! She’s the whole package.

Except, no woman is all these things. In my almost 40 year journey of being an adolescent-to-adult male and a follower of Jesus, I’ve never met a Proverbs 31 Woman. I’ve met women who seem to look like her. They project her image, but it’s never real. She’s just an air-brushed model on a magazine cover painted and lit to look like the ideals of maternal, marital, and spiritual virtue.

I’m probably going to get into trouble writing this, but let me share with you the observation of an old dude who’s spent his entire life surrounded by and in relationship with amazing girls and women.

Unintentionally, the book of Proverbs can easily do a disservice to the women in my life. The ancient sages Solomon, Agur, and Lemuel lived in a brutal, patriarchal society that developed out of a need for a strict social order (as I explored yesterday) to ensure survival. Women are presented in Proverbs in a binary fashion: bad (wayward, adulterous, contentious, quarrelsome) or ideal (The Proverbs 31 Woman). So, lady, what’s it going to be? You want to be good or bad? And, if you want to be good, then you have to be ideal.

I’ve observed along my journey that the women in my life often allow themselves to fall into these binary mental traps: fat or skinny, beautiful or ugly, sexy or lonely, smart or dumb, popular or not, trendy or so-not-with-it, and etc. So, what I’ve observed happening are perpetual cycles of pressure, hopelessness, despair, striving, depression, and never-ending comparison to others hoping “If I’m not ideal then at least I’m better than….”

So, I’m going to wade into dangerous territory this morning and I beg your grace and forgiveness upfront. If this old husband, father, grandfather, son, brother, employer, mentor, colleague, neighbor, and friend were to re-define what Proverbs calls a “woman of noble character” for all the amazing women in my life it would go something like this:

A Becoming Woman

If you find a becoming woman, you are blessed.

She is learning to embrace the individual, in mind, body (all of it), and spirit just as her loving Creator intentionally and uniquely knit her DNA together.

She has made an honest inventory of both her personal strengths and her intimate struggles; She is persevering in her efforts to build on the former while diminishing the latter.

She seeks roles and positions that make the most of her unique gifts and abilities, though they may not fit the dreams she once had, the norms of her community, or the expectations that others have placed on her.

She is learning how to accept God’s grace and forgiveness for all of the mistakes, faults, imperfections, and sins that she knows so well, even when others have not forgiven her; She is learning how to be gracious with herself, letting go of her own desires for perfection. She embraces the knowledge that she’ll still be learning all of these things when she reaches the end of this earthly journey.

She loves her husband and children genuinely, sometimes passionately, though often deficiently. She embraces the journey of becoming that is being a friend, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother. She presses on, neither denying the many faults and mistakes of her past nor becoming complacent in the onward journey of becoming that is always leading her further up and further in.

She is doing her best for her family even though it feels like a thankless task most days. She is struggling constantly against the lie that she is a hopeless failure in her role and responsibilities. She is learning to let it go when all that she has already done is summarily ignored while the incessant demands for more keep building up, seemingly with every moment.

She is realizing that the Creator has lovingly made each of her children as unique as she, herself, is unique. She desires that each of them becomes the individual God has made them to be. She desires that each child discover the unique purposes God has for them, even as she’s learning in fits and starts to let go of her own personal desires and expectations which can feel so instinctual and can be so strong at times.

She is learning to care more about the emotional and spiritual needs of her child than she cares about how her child’s appearance, actions, achievements, failures, words, and/or behaviors might influence how others, especially other women, in the community perceive her and her mothering skills.

She is purposefully mindful of her own needs and is learning that taking care of herself in mind, body, and spirit is necessary to manage every other role and relationship in her life.

She is purposefully mindful of her husband’s needs. She is learning to meet the unique needs that fill his love tank (though it may not fill hers), speak his unique love language (though she may not be fluent), and to be gracious with his unique shortcomings as she needs him to be gracious with hers. She is learning to encourage his own unique gifts, strengths, and purposes even when she realizes that they aren’t what she once thought they were or what she wants them to be.

She has surrounded herself with other good women who know her faults and love her anyway and who speak truth into her even when she doesn’t want to hear it. They are present even when time and/or miles create physical separation. They pick her up when she is down. They cheer her on in her endeavors and celebrate her in her accomplishments. They struggle through and survive relational strife with one another, learn to forgive one another, and graciously walk life’s journey together all the days of their lives.

She is learning, persevering, seeking, letting go, embracing, pressing on, realizing, desiring, purposeful, struggling, endeavoring, loving, giving, caring, forgiving, and she is surrounded.

She is loveable, valuable, and capable.

She is becoming.

A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

<— Click on Solomon for an indexed list of previous chapter-a-day posts from this series from Proverbs!

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

It Was Never About the Rules

The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
Hebrews 7:18-19 (NIV)

When our daughters, Taylor and Madison, were young girls they were subjected to a fairly substantial system of rules. There were moral rules (don’t lie, don’t take what’s not yours, don’t hurt another person, et al). There were rules of health and hygiene (wash your hands before meals, no snacks before meals, cover your mouth when you cough, take a bath regularly, et al). There were rules of the family system (do what mommy or daddy says, put away your toys before bed, say your prayers, et al).

Taylor and Madison were both good kids, though they were certainly not perfect. Let me make two very important points:

First, I love Taylor and Madison dearly, but not because of the perfection with which they obeyed my rules! I love them because they are my daughters. They are God’s uniquely beautiful creations. They are inherently lovable, valuable and capable beings.

Second, the rules that I as a father subjected them to as young children had nothing to do with earning my love. Certainly there was a measure of pride and joy when they were obedient (which they did most of the time), and there was disappointment and even anger if they willfully disobeyed (trust me, I have stories). However, neither their obedience nor disobedience had any effect on my underlying love for them. The rules were about teaching them how to live healthy, productive lives, how to successfully live in relationship with others, and how to contribute meaningfully to the lives of others and the world as a whole.

In today’s chapter, a very similar distinction is being made that is critical to our understanding of both God the Father (God for us) and Jesus, God the Son (God with us). The law of Moses (that would include the Big Ten commandments and the more than 600 other rules) was the guiding force of Hebrew religion. The Hebrew priests, descendants of Aaron, along with the descendants of the tribe of Levi were in charge of these rules and the rule keeping. Rule keeping became the focus of the Jewish people as if being perfectly obedient to the rules put you in right standing with the Father. But no one became a perfect person by religiously adhering to a set of rules.

A priest is a “go-between.” Some one who represents others, intercedes for others, mediates for others, sacrifices for others before God. Jesus perfectly fits the definition of High Priest, but the author of Hebrews continues to make a very important distinction, that Jesus was not a High Priest  in the traditional, Law of Moses prescribed genetic line of Aaron. Jesus was a High Priest in the line of the cosmic, eternal, mysterious figure of Melchizedek.

Why is this important? It tells us that perfection of religious rule keeping was never the point to earning God the Father’s love any more than my love for Taylor and Madison being hinged on the perfection of their keeping the rules of my house. We are loved by God inherently because we are His uniquely beautiful, lovable, valuable, and capable creation. So loved, in fact, that Father God (God for us) made the ultimate sacrifice of sending Jesus (God with us) to free us from our silly religious rule keeping and to show us the deep, abiding, full, limitless, abounding, abundant LOVE that defines God. When conversing with God the Father, Jesus used the word “Abba” which is defined more commonly as we would use “Daddy,” “Papa,” or “Pops.” Jesus came as Priest, Mediator, and Sacrifice so we could understand that kind of loving relationship with Father God.

This morning I’m thinking about the ways that the rule-keeping paradigm keeps sucking me back into its false economy. I’m mindfully pondering how I actively continue my process of understanding “Abba” and digging into my relationship with Him. I’m reminding myself this morning of the reality that I know deeply as a father of Taylor and Madison: It was never about the rules, or the rule keeping. I am loved inherently for who I am as God’s child.

A Good Person is not a Perfect Person

source: bjornstar via Flickr
source: bjornstar via Flickr

“If I have walked with falsehood
    or my foot has hurried after deceit—
let God weigh me in honest scales
    and he will know that I am blameless—”
Job 31:5-6 (NIV)

Wendy, Suzanna and I stood in the kitchen this past Sunday night and had one of those really important conversations about life. It wasn’t chit-chat. It wasn’t casual. We wandered into some deep weeds and talked about why it is we all do things we know we shouldn’t, and why it is we choose out of doing things we know we should. We talked about the process each one of us must go through of figuring these things out so that we can successfully move forward in our life journey.

On Tuesday night and Wednesday we were blessed by a visit from Madison, who came home from Colorado to see the family for Christmas (she’ll be on-call at work next week). Sitting around the dining room table late into Tuesday evening and again in the afternoon on Wednesday, Wendy and I waded once more into deep weeds with our daughter. We had honest conversation about old scars, misperceptions, and miscommunication. We acknowledged the ways we have hurt one another over the years, whom we love deeply.

So, here’s the problem I have with Job. I get that he feels his suffering is unjust. I understand feeling that the scales of justice are out of whack when you do your darnedest to be an alright guy and life takes a dump on you. I’m a good, midwestern protestant boy of hardworking Dutch heritage. I’ve tried hard to serve God and walk the straight and narrow since the days of my youth. Reading today’s chapter, however, leaves me scratching my head at Job’s claims of piety:

  • I haven’t looked lustfully at a woman 
  • I haven’t walked with falsehood
  • I haven’t been enticed by a woman or committed adultery
  • I haven’t been unjust to my servants
  • I haven’t denied the poor or refused to share with the needy
  • I haven’t been greedy
  • I haven’t rejoiced at my enemies misfortune
  • I have no hidden sins

I get that Job is a good guy, but no one is that good. When I go down this list I realize that I (or my wife, daughters, family, friends, neighbors, employees, and etc.) could provide you with specific examples of  ways of committed each of these wrongdoings somewhere along my journey. I’m not proud of this fact. Maybe I’m just a rotten person, but that’s the point. No matter how good we try to be, we all have tragic flaws. We all make mistakes. Each one of us repeatedly finds ourselves choosing to do the things we don’t want to do and refusing to do the things we know we should. Each one of us causes hurt to the ones we love the most.

The ultimate theme of the epic poem of Job are the questions which arise when good people who lead good lives experience tragic and inexplicable suffering. I get from a literary perspective that Job’s lofty claims of righteousness serve to heighten his climactic argument in this cosmic debate just before God breaks His silence. Still, I read the claims and think to myself, “I think you left something off the list, Job: Humility.”

And, I think that’s exactly where God will enter the debate.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 38

from El Caganer via Flicker

For I am waiting for you, O Lord.
    You must answer for me, O Lord my God.
Psalm 38:15 (NLT)

I once worked for a man who had everything going for him in the world. He was a popular, respected man in the community, in the media, and in the local church. His spit-polished, picture perfect life was regularly and subtly trotted out as the ideal for others to aspire. It did not take me long to figure out how much of that was window-dressing.

Sometimes we look back at pieces of our journey and, in hindsight, realize why we needed to know certain people or do certain things. For me, my tenure working for Mr. Perfect was an imortant lesson in who I did not want to be. Everyone has their faults, even those whose lives are decorated for public consumption.

One of the things I love about King David’s songs is his gut wrenching honesty. Today’s psalm is Exhibit A. How many kings are going to write a blues song about their sin, guilt and shame and admit to the consequences of sin in their current troubles? I appreciate David’s genuine honesty and his willingness to be human despite the pressure to appear god-like in his royalty.

Many years ago a close friend who intimately knew my whole story observed that my life was a “slow deconstruction” of the very type of picture perfect image my old boss wore so effortlessly. I see the truth in what he was saying. Keep the wrecking ball going. I’d prefer to be like David with all of the pain and heartache which comes from living genuinely.

Jesus called me to live in such a way that I might be light to those living in darkness. The further I get in life’s journey the more I’ve come to believe that those in darkness are not drawn to a flashy, neon mirage of perfection that seems so foreign to them. I think they are drawn to the subtle flicker of genuine sinners saved by grace.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 15

from emanuele75 via Flickr

Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord?    
     Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?
Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right,    

     speaking the truth from sincere hearts.
Psalm 115:1-2 (NLT)

In my daily vocation I help assess the quality of customer service being delivered on the phone by the individual sales and service agents of our clients. Our methodology is to drive our clients to be the absolute best that they can be. We don’t want them just to appease the customer, but to provide memorable, positive experiences. Therefore, our assessment scales tend to measure against a high standard. It is hard to get 100% on an assessment because it requires most agents to step out of their comfort zone, go the extra mile, break old habits, and develop new service skills that make them stand out in the customer’s mind.

I’ve been surprised over time how much push back we get, not so much from front-line agents who don’t want to change, but also from supervisors and managers who believe in low standards. Many managers start with the premise that everyone should score 100% on every assessment and build their assessments to make that happen.

As I read today’s chapter it read like a Quality Assessment form for life. Who is going to make it onto God’s Holy Hill and into heaven? At first reading it’s easy to think, “Oh yeah, I do that for the most part.” But, thinking back to my post yesterday I realize that you can find plenty of examples of me blowing it on every piece of criteria outlined on Psalm 15’s assessment form. God sets an impossibly high standard – moral perfection, in fact – for entrance to His Holy Hill.

Our customer service QA forms set a high customer service standard, but even we don’t expect perfection. How can I possibly measure up to God’s standard of perfection?

I can’t, and I never will.

That’s one of the biggest misconceptions about God’s Message. It’s not about what we do. It’s about what God did when He sent Jesus to bear the penalty for our shortcomings, to forgive us, and to pay the way for our entrance to God’s Holy Hill. My daily striving to live up to God’s standard continues, not because I’ve got to earn my entrance to heaven, but because I want to please the One who paid the ultimate price for my entry fee with His own blood.

Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 21

via Flickr & gawwdkristen

God spoke to Moses: “Tell Aaron, None of your descendants, in any generation to come, who has a defect of any kind may present as an offering the food of his God.” Leviticus 21:16 (MSG)

One of the tasks of my job is helping companies establish a standard for quality when it comes to serving customers on the phone. My experience is that most companies establish a low standard because they want to make sure that all of their employees can meet the standard with very little effort. Some companies establish a very high standard so that their employees must work very hard to improve their performance and reach their goal. I have never watched a company set such a high standard that a perfect score always meant an exceptionally great service experience. Even with the toughest quality scales, you can listen to calls that received the highest possible score and find opportunities for improvement.

As I read today’s chapter, I couldn’t help but see a parallel. I read the list of rules and expectations for the priests and I felt like I was reading a list of performance management expectations from God’s HR department. And, the scale was unbelievably tough. The smallest defect in person or performance rendered the priest unfit to serve on God’s team.

Once again, I find myself left with a clear picture of a holy God demanding holy perfection. The result is a quality assessment scale which sets the bar so high that no one ever reaches 100. And, that is the point of the scale. When we finally realize that we can never reach the demands of moral and spiritual perfection from holy God, we will be ready to understand God’s priceless gift and sacrifice God made on our behalf.

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