It’s who I wanted to be. Excellence – my goal in work, home, marriage, motherhood, friendship – in every circle of life I would be at the top. I would not just do good; I would be good. I would be good at everything.
I sought new tasks and worked willingly: typing, scrubbing, cooking, writing.
I found the best deals and the cheapest groceries and cooked the healthiest meals.
I got up at 5 AM, planned my day, made the list, did the things.
I became a business. I worked out regularly. I dressed myself with as much style and class as I knew how.
Because I had to be excellent.
For years I looked to Proverbs 31 as the measure of my progress. She, the woman who did everything – she had it figured out. If I could just run down the list, check off the things, I would one day be her. I would be excellent.
I did not resent her. To the contrary, I was inspired by her. The very fact she was always a little ahead of me kept me striving for her seeming perfection, and I daily wound my life around her example.
But in tying myself to her example, I stopped seeing her as a form of womanhood; she became the only woman I could be. She was my only model for Christian femininity. So tied was I to who she was, I ceased to be the woman God made me to be. Proverbs 31 became less a blessing and more a burden – one I happily carried because I didn’t know what it was like to be free.
But there came a day when that all changed.
At my kitchen table, its wobbly leg teetering on the uneven linoleum of our little duplex, I clutched a tissue as my pastor’s wife and Bible study leader laid their hands on my shoulders. They had asked to come and pray for me. I’d thought that was a little odd – I’d been a Christian most of my life, even a leader in Christian communities. No one had ever offered to pray for me in my own house. But I invited them to come, and here we were: standing in my meticulously clean kitchen as my sleep-trained baby napped, me wiping a mascara-lined eye with one polished nail. Everything around me said “excellence”, but it was the last thing I felt inside.
They laid their hands on me and they prayed.
They prayed for freedom.
They prayed for healing.
They prayed for a renewed identity.
Then, stopping in the middle of their prayer, my Bible study leader lifted my face to hers and whispered, “Phylicia, you are already the Proverbs 31 woman.”
And I cried, because the weight was gone.
The Proverbs 31 woman is not a checklist. She is not an inhuman example of perfection, a bunch of bubbles to be filled in, or the unalterable measure of Christian womanhood. She is one picture of a life lived in the fear of God. She is one version of what “sold out” looks like when you love Jesus Christ. She didn’t pour herself into her home and family because it was what she was “supposed” to do. Who she was is summed up in verse thirty of her famous chapter: “…a woman who fears the Lord.”
She was not excellent because of what she accomplished.
She accomplished what she did because she was already excellent.
In Christ we are declared righteous. We who were broken are made whole. Because of this love, because of this grace, we rise up as women of strength and gratitude. We are made excellent, and because of this, we are women who fear the Lord.
If the Proverbs 31 woman is a burden to you, you’ve misunderstood who she is. She is not excellent in her own right and way. She is declared excellent because of God – and you, with all your flaws and failings and inadequacies, are declared the same if you are in Christ. You are not bound to a checklist. You are free to be your most excellent self.
But today, I have nothing to prove.
I am already the Proverbs 31 woman, because a Proverbs 31 woman is any woman who lives by the power of Christ.
Read More: How I Let Go of the Woman I Wanted to Be