As Mother’s Day approaches, I don’t know about you, but I am bracing myself for 1. lots and lots of chatter about what a mother looks like or should be, and 2. disappointment—in myself and my mothering skills, and/or in the way the day takes shape.
There are so many voices in this world telling us what motherhood should look like, how we should feel about it, and what choices we should make—from whether or not to put socks on an infant’s feet to whether or not we should return to work—that it’s hard to know which ones to heed. It’s absolutely overwhelming and sometimes massively confusing. And the voices come from not just the secular media, but also Christians, friends, family, and complete strangers in the grocery store. Sometimes they don’t even speak. They just look. You know the look I mean.
Then you sit down in Church and you think, “Let’s shut out the voices,” and wham!, someone inserted Proverbs 31:10-31 as a reading for the day even though it’s not one of the appointed readings for the season. And with that beautiful hymn to the faithful woman, comes intruding voices from all around Christian circles. Voices that urge you to be more like her. Voices that want to offer you a 12-step program to mastering being like that woman. Voices that offer yet more “advice” on the right way to do this motherhood gig. To be the perfect woman, obviously, you ought to be able to increase the income your husband brings home, mend all the clothes, cook from scratch, and maintain a spotless home. You ought to burn the candle at both ends night and day, maintaining a perfectly organized and company-ready home. In other words, your list of daily accomplishments should pretty much mirror that of the 22 verses of Proverbs 31:10-31.
But those voices that wish to prescribe us “how-tos” based on this passage miss out on the Voice that really matters. They crowd out the comfort, truth, and grace which that Voice has to tell us. For it is not a list or a 12-step program, but a portrait. As we gaze at this portrait more closely, we see that what emerges is the picture of a faithful woman who serves her neighbors in her vocations by working to provide what is needed. She puts her hand to her work of serving her family, household, and even community, and she opens her mouth with wisdom and the teaching of God’s steadfast loving-faithfulness (see verses 19, 20, and 26). This still sounds overwhelming, and, honestly, it is. This is because we know our own sinfulness and our failures to love our neighbors. Yet, this is who we are declared to be in Christ because of our Baptisms. We are the faithful women who serve our nearest neighbors in our vocations as Christ works in and through us.
This is different for everyone. There’s no prescription for exactly what steps to take for this to “look right.” Every mother is different. Every child is different. Every family is different. As you faithfully consider how best to serve your family and your other vocations, the choices you make will look different from those of your sisters in Christ. There’s no one how-to, no one perfect list. If you hate cleaning and can afford a cleaning service, you’re still serving your family by attending to that need! If you work outside of the home, and that means boxed cupcakes for birthday parties, well, you are serving your family! If, after kid three, you decided to go ahead and throw those “best if you handwash them” stainless steel pots and pans in the dishwasher (ahem, raising my hand here) in order to save your sanity and get it done, well, you have not failed.
And here’s the kicker. Even when you DO fail—when you yell at your kids, or forget that field trip form, or lash out at your husband, or look back and say, “ugh, I should have. . . . "—that’s not the end of the story. You see, ultimately, this Proverbs 31 portrait is a portrait of your Savior, Jesus Christ. And He never fails. He never rests from His labors in serving you and the ones you love. He provides all that is needed for both body and soul. He feeds, clothes, instructs, loves, and is the Wisdom of God in the flesh. All this He does not only for, but in and through you. Where you grow weary, He never tires; where you fail, He completes; where you sin, He forgives; where your voice and the voices of the world tell you that you are not doing enough, He invites you to rest in Him. He gives you willing hands and opens your mouth with the teaching of His kindness on your tongue so that those whom He has entrusted to your care may hear of His mercy. In Him you are the faithful woman.
So this Mother’s Day, when other voices threaten to overwhelm, look again at that beautiful hymn and see there first and foremost an enumeration of all that your Savior is and does for you. He is the one whose voice has called you as His very own child. He has gathered you into His household and clothed you in His righteousness. He sustains and upholds you when you are weary. And look yet again and see also a portrait of who you are in Jesus, a child of the heavenly Father who serves her neighbors in her vocations and repeats the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection for all. This Voice that declares you the faithful woman who fears the Lord is the only voice worth hearing.