Part 1 of 3 on Being a Woman of Strength & Dignity
(Thoughts from a study I’m co-leading this summer on Proverbs 31 …)
She’s independent, they say.
She’s “capable, confident & secure in her strengths,” they tell us.
She’s powerful, they whisper.
She makes things happen, they remind us.
She stands and she holds her head high, they say.
She’s a strong woman. According to our culture’s definition.
It sounds appealing, right? I mean, who doesn’t want to be powerful and make things happen? Who doesn’t want to be their own person and be admired by all who look their way?
But is that realistic? Is that really attainable? More than that, is this what God is talking about in Proverbs 31:25 when he describes the woman of noble character as – “She is clothed in strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come”?
As I studied this verse over the last week in preps for our college women Bible study, I also interviewed many godly women and mentors in my life to see what they thought. And the more we chatted and the more I studied, the more I began to see how different the strength of a godly woman is from the strength the world tells women to have.
To begin with, our culture places so much emphasis on the “self-made man” or “self-made woman.” Especially with women and the feminist movement that has tried so hard to reverse any kind of dependence on men, there’s a lot of pressure to not show your weaknesses or flaws; to always look put together; and to do it all – work, family, entertainment, education – all in a pair of killer, name-brand shoes.
But wait – might there also be this kind of pressure in Christian circles, too? That in order to be successful, you need to have a clean home, obedient children, the best casserole, the most-involved ministry work, the greatest hospitality skills … I mean, isn’t that what the Proverbs 31 woman reflects?
There is no denying that the Proverbs 31 woman is an ideal to strive for. And yes, I believe our lives should be full and productive and a reflection of a life working for the cause of Christ.
But. I think we do all women everywhere a disservice when we hold these expectations up so high that we’re judging each other when we fail. When we feel inadequate. When our life falls apart, when we feel wounded, when we feel like we just can’t put on a good face. When armor cracks, and life suddenly gets real & messy, why are we standing there with arms crossed and displeased frowns instead of opening arms and shedding tears along with our sisters in Christ?
I think that women need to start being real and honest with each other – and start by admitting their weaknesses and limitations to one another. 2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”
Clay jars. Jars that break if you drop them. Jars that have cracks that have been mended. Jars used for humble purposes.
That is what we are.
And God did that on purpose.
He specifically created us to be fragile humans so that we would have to rely on Him. He knew we would never have the strength to do it all on our own. But He draws us to Himself to provide the strength that we are lacking. And in that dependence, it forms a bond of intimacy between us that makes our relationship even stronger. When we refuse to admit that we are weak, we are refusing His grace and strength.
Another passage brought up by my mother was 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10 – “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
My mom told me that God brings us all to a place where we can’t go on anymore on our own – so that we have to turn to Him and rely on Him to make us stronger. He doesn’t always promise to make the trouble go away – like Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” – but He does promise to always be there with us so that we can endure it.
Our strength comes from submitting our weaknesses to God – and allowing Him to make strengths out of them.
This last year as a first-year teacher, I was humbly brought to my knees every single day, so aware of my weaknesses – and afraid that I just couldn’t make it through. But every morning, I would press into my mind the words of Isaiah 43:1-3 –
“But now, this is what the LORD says – He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel; ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.’”
This is the promise of God. It doesn’t change whether I wake up feeling like the strongest woman in the world or the weakest. And simply repeating it to myself every morning as I got ready for the day supplied me with the deepest kind of strength I needed to face the challenges that came my way.
Finally, in talking to my grandma, she mentioned feeling weak many times in her life due to fear, anxiety, and depression. She mentioned a beautiful poem by Amy Carmichael called, “In Acceptance Lieth Peace.” The last stanza reads –
“He said, ‘I will accept the breaking sorrow
Which God tomorrow will to His Son explain.’
Then did the turmoil deep within him cease.
Not vain the word, not vain;
For in acceptance lieth peace.”
We must accept our limitations – our weaknesses – our sorrows – and our fears. What we can’t explain away or “be strong” through – we must cast on to Christ and accept that He will make beautiful things from the ugly.
The strongest woman is the one who says, “I can’t. But He can. And He will through all my weaknesses.”
He gives grace for every tearful, less-than-perfect moment we face in our lives, and He gently guides our stumbling hearts back to His steady love.
My strength comes alone from the One who holds all my tomorrows in His hand. And that’s not a strength the world can ever give.