The Proverbs 31 woman is doing me no favors today.
While she was up before the sun, preparing breakfast for her family and organizing her day, I was nestled under cozy covers, recovering from another week of seeking that elusive state of being: The Great Efficiency.
What exactly is it that tugs at the heart of a woman, convincing her that there is no higher goal than to be eternally busy? Are we reading the scriptures correctly when we picture this industrious gem of a woman as she appears in Proverbs chapter 31 – the epitome of relational genius – famed possessor of The Great Efficiency?
We are told that she is trusted completely by her husband because of her goodness and generosity toward him. She is a bargain shopper and finder of treasures, both in the stores and in the real estate market. She is a gardener and homemaker who is never too busy to reach out and help the poor. She is moving from sun-up to sun-down, and apparently even then she’s in no hurry to call it a night. She wakes up ready to roll and burns the midnight oil, and somehow she always manages to face tomorrow with a smile.
Her words are filled with wisdom and her work is always worthwhile. She never doubts her usefulness or her importance in the life of her family. She is predictably kind, perpetually observant and possibly the most elegant woman who ever lived.
When our households – like hers – run like a well-oiled machine and our scheduled lives flow effortlessly from Sabbath to Sabbath, will we have arrived?
Is this how they will know we are Christians – by our smiling faces from behind sewing machines; the click of knitting needles in our nicely manicured hands?
Is this the woman God created ME to be?
Part of me wants to blame Ms. Proverbs 31 for the annoying Marthaic impulse that pulls me down this path. After all, wasn’t it Martha who inadvertently earned poster child status for the cause of The Great Efficiency when she made her famous scene during Jesus’ visit to her home, admonishing her sister Mary for an apparent lack of interest in the ways of the Proverbs 31 woman?
If Martha’s dedication to running an efficient household and making her guests feel at home was actually the best choice, the way to be, then how are we to take Jesus’ response to her temper tantrum?
“‘Martha, Martha’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” Luke 10:41-42
Who told Martha that it was more important to be efficient than attentive?
Who tells us that we can somehow be all and do all, for all (and still have something left over to offer at the feet of the Lord)?
You see, the problem with The Great Efficiency is that we come to see ourselves as capable. And equipped. And completely able, by our own efforts, to meet the needs of those around us.
As we master living efficient lives, the danger is that we will begin to believe that we are the solution to the problems around us. If we just work harder; if we just put in longer hours; if we just set our minds to it, we can not only do it, but we can do it all.
Every day I watch the women around me strive to live efficient lives. I watch them work multiple jobs to put food on the table in single-parent households. I watch them give up carnivals and cable in order to pay the rent and clothe their growing children. I watch them juggle To-Do Lists which, by virtue of their length, are disappointments just waiting to happen. I watch and I listen, and sometimes I hear words like these:
“I had been feeling frustrated and weighed down lately by society’s expectations of me: “Put your son in after school care and go get a job”, “quit needing charity and go get a job”, “work 9 to 5”, etc.
The reality of it is that I have a job. I have many, many jobs. My first job is being a mother. The time and dedication and schedule that I am able to give to my child is not found in a larger paycheck… is not found in fulfilling my parents dreams… is not found by fitting into the box of society’s norm; rather, it is found right here in our home. It is evident in that I am able to put his needs for consistency, structure, schedule, and routine above conveniences and material things… it is evident in his eagerness!
So it IS all a matter of perspective. And it IS difficult to keep appreciating my gifts and joys when society wants to tell me I am poor, when society wants to shame me for having shut-off notices… I have a renewed perspective that each late notice is my reminder that I am staying true to myself and I am meeting my child’s needs.”
Whatever your wake-up call, it’s time to expose the lie of The Great Efficiency and embrace The Great Sufficiency of Christ.
I’m not enough, but HE IS.
I can never do it all, but HE CAN.
My light may go out before the day’s work is done, but even as I put my To-Do List to sleep, “He will quiet (me) with His love.” Zephaniah 3:17
His grace IS ENOUGH for me.