“Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” Proverbs 31:30
In the classic film, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey meets his wife Mary as she would have been, if he had never been born. She’s a colorless, timid, doe-eyed, bespectacled librarian dressed in a dowdy suit, and clutching a shapeless purse. In short, she’s an old maid. As a single thirty-something, I hugely enjoyed the irony of attending a friend’s costume party, dressed this way.
Is Mary what you picture when you read this verse? Charm and beauty aren’t positive: I’d better be dowdy and meek. Hang on: let me briefly apply some Hebrew skills, and see what we can come up with.
“Charm” or “gracefulness” can describe a woman’s manner or her looks – not to mention a doe, or a precious stone: all genuinely beautiful creations of God. But as a human trait, it can be deceptive, false, or just disappointing. Once, a European chap thought I looked just like his favorite actress. That’s all he could see about me, which was ultimately disappointing to him, because I was a completely different person than the one he had constructed in his mind.
Meanwhile “beauty” as a human trait is just a vapor or breath of air: it’s so very evanescent. For example, I waited through my teens and twenties to get out of the awkward stage, and just about the time I liked my looks, white hairs started showing up.
A God-fearing woman, however: SHE will shine! Yes, that’s what the Hebrew implies. She’ll be celebrated, commended, renowned, and worthy of praise.
The most hilarious thing about my old-maid Mary costume was how very far from the truth it is. Whether I’m writing freelance articles, editing books, teaching and living abroad, or playing hide-and-seek with the four little neighbor girls, I’m a vibrantly alive and fruitful person. I don’t say that to brag, but because fearing the Lord is the gateway to that fruitfulness. He did it for this once painfully shy and un-ambitious girl.
You know, I think the best way to read Proverbs 31 may be backwards! Because being a God-fearing woman is the gateway to so much more: a whole broad spectrum of things she gets to be and do. She stands tall and strong. She’s wise and kind. She has huge influence. She’s an entrepreneur, an artist, a philanthropist. Single or married, we each have a unique blend of gifts, because God wakens these things in us.
The sweetest thing I see in this chapter is the promise: “she shall be praised.” It’s a promise God has fulfilled for me in very creative and unexpected ways. It might be my boss, my young-mom friends, or an elderly lady on the street. Isn’t this good news when you feel invisible, when there is no husband or children to arise and bless?
The God-fearing woman: she will shine! She’ll be celebrated, commended, renowned, and worthy of praise.
I’m Elisabeth, a thirty-something wanderer who is re-acclimating to the American northeast after several years in Israel. I miss the sun so much, but I’m intensely grateful to be with family, especially my baby nephew. When I’m not talking, reading or trying to grow my Hebrew skills, I’m probably writing, editing, or teaching some college-age girls to cook.