Monday, January 25, 2010

She Didn't Do It Alone

Lately I’ve been thinking about the Virtuous Woman. People tend to focus on her super-human abilities and her saintly blessedness. I have a talent, though, for seeing the mundane despite the sublime. I know that staying up late to finish a sewing project, for example, doesn’t necessarily feel virtuous. Sometimes it feels a little devious, like if there were anyone awake to tell you to go to bed, then you might do the virtuous thing (sleep) instead of the OCD/fun thing (sew).

In the past, I’ve used this passage in Proverbs as a kind of checklist, not unlike the man who approached Jesus, claiming to have followed the Law his whole life. “What more do I lack?” the man asked, and most preachers argue that he was looking for a pat on the back, someone to say, “Wow. You ARE righteous!” Of course, we know that’s not what he got.

As I’ve worked my way down the list of talents a virtuous woman is supposed to have claim to, I haven’t gotten that pat on the back, either. If anything, the more you can do, the more people give you to do! What I’ve noticed, though, is that there is a longing within for a sense of…completion, perhaps. A sense of having arrived at the place of responsible adulthood....

That feeling is elusive. Whatever I learn to sew or bake or do, there is always so much more evidence of having fallen short. I will never be a good Queen of the Laundry. (And what’s wrong with me that I’d even want that title?) Although my cooking repertoire has expanded beyond ground beef and chicken tenderloins and I have learned to deal with wheat and dairy allergies and even make recipes up as I stand over the stove and sniff, I will simply never be Queen of Great Cooking. (I’m just glad to live two streets over from her!)
Maybe it’s the chaos of the holidays that seems to highlight all of my domestic disabilities. Maybe it’s the increased contact with family and the feeling of being looked at with so many eyes. Maybe it’s just the constant nagging knowledge that perfection is still so far out of reach.
But as I was praying my daily, “Oh, Lord, help me!” prayer the other morning, He showed me something about this Virtuous Woman that I’d only joked about before: she had staff. Not just a maid, but an army of maids. Of course I’ve laughingly told my husband that that’s the tool I lack in my arsenal of virtuous qualities.
But the Lord phrased it a little differently. He pointed out that she did not do it alone. This phrase has haunted me for a week or more. I’ve thought about the bread that was almost ruined Thanksgiving by a sweet one-year-old who thought it would be fun to unplug the bread maker. Not ten minutes later, my neighbor, Queen of Great Cooking, called and told me she’d made way too much of her Altogether Yummy Bread.
There’s a trend lately toward independence: baking our own bread, growing our own food, learning to do everything ourselves. The reasons are noble: to save money, to save the environment, to save our health. For the first time in a long time, though, I’ve had a chance to step back and realize that it’s ok to need help. Whether it be bread from a friend, frozen food instead of scratch, or appliances, gizmos, and maids, these things and people are not signs of weakness or failure. They might even be hints of glory, signs of blessedness shining through the life of a woman whose virtue keeps her family well-clothed, well-fed, well-loved.