Mother’s Day is upon us, and for most of us, it’s an opportunity to reflect on the maternal strengths and blessings of a mother’s love.
But if we can be honest, Mother’s Day is not a day of celebration for everyone. For many, it triggers the painful reality that you can’t pick up the phone to say, “I love you” one more time. For others, it’s a reminder of their struggle to conceive after countless attempts. And some have only the memory of a neglectful or abusive mom.
The Ideal Mother
But I’m thinking of those Moms who have kids and, yet, feel they’ve failed to measure up to some unrealistic idea of perfect motherhood.
Does this speak to you? Is Mother’s Day merely a reminder that you haven’t turned out to be the kind of mother you always dreamed you’d be? Rather than a day of celebration, do you feel frustrated because your illusion of motherhood seems completely unattainable?
Maybe you have regrets or wish you could hit rewind so you can go back and do some things over.
Or, perhaps Mother’s Day is a reminder of how exhausted you feel, and you’re worried you may not have the strength to do it again another year.
Sadly, research seems to indicate that motherhood generally hurts a woman’s self-esteem.
The Beauty Ideal
What makes Mother’s Day even more challenging is the culture where we live.
Not long ago, my wife and I stood in front of a magazine rack in the grocery store. There were a lot of magazines and articles aimed solely at women.
I wrote down some headlines:
- “329 Beauty Secrets”
- “Bombshell Glamour”
- “Flat Abs in Six Minutes”
- “Get Summer Sexy in Seven Steps”
- “Age Defying Secrets”
- “Cosmo Cover Hair”
- “Flaunt Your Best Feature.”
- “Look Hot in a Bikini”
Our culture has an obsession with outward appearance. That seems to be how a woman’s value and worth is determined today. As a result, many women in America feel pressured to look a certain way.
This tension could explain why America’s cosmetics industry is a $7 billion industry. It’s one of the few industries considered recession-proof. If every woman woke up tomorrow morning and liked what they saw in the mirror, our economy would probably collapse.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against cosmetics. In fact, a friend once taught me the old Kentucky proverb: “If the barn needs painting, you paint the barn.”
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be attractive. The problem lies in whether or not we ascribe worth and value because we hold physical beauty as the ideal.
The Proverbs 31 Ideal
The Bible holds up a very different ideal for women in Proverbs 31.
If you’ve been around the church for awhile, you may be aware of Proverbs 31. It describes a woman who might remind you of a Stepford wife meets Denise Austin meets Martha Stewart meets Oprah.
Reading about the Proverbs 31 woman can be discouraging if we aren’t aware of its intended genre in literature. Often this text is taught as if it’s a job description: “If you want to be a godly mother, do all these things.” The message this sends is, “You’re not cutting it.”
But that’s not the intent of Proverbs 31. It’s supposed to read as poetry, almost like a Mother’s Day card.
A Mother’s Day card honors what’s most cherished in a mother; it highlights what is valued. The same is true of Proverbs 31. It’s poetry. In fact, it’s written as an acrostic, with each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet corresponding to a value in a godly woman.
Perhaps you could come up with an acrostic for Mother’s Day using the English alphabet. One tip I discovered though: make it encouraging. Don’t say, “A is for the attitude problem you have early in the morning.” “B is for the boxes you still haven’t put away.”
Proverbs 31 highlights the values of a godly woman, and they are very different from the values esteemed in our culture. This is not meant to be a mom assessment that heaps pressure and guilt on women. It’s poetry, intended to encourage women to see and share God’s values.
The Fashion Ideal
Unlike the magazines that line grocery aisles and newsstands, Proverbs 31 doesn’t prioritize physical beauty. Instead, it reminds us, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting” (Proverbs 31:30).
Our culture focuses on women wearing fashionable clothing. There’s nothing wrong with fashion but Proverbs 31 says, “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come” (Proverbs 31:25). The value is a strong woman with a joyful heart.
Other values found in Proverbs 31 include wisdom and faithfulness, “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue” (Proverbs 31:26).
So many women today worry about what others think, but Proverbs 31 tells us it’s only God’s opinion we should care about, “A woman who fears the LORD is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30).
The Ideal Comparison
Our culture tends to use others as a comparison to evaluate how we’re doing. As a result, many mothers compare themselves to the attributes in others, leading to unnecessary pressure and insecurity.
So, a mom might look at a friend who’s exceptionally organized and think, “If only I were able to be organized like that.” Or, she might look at a friend who’s patient and fun-loving and think, “If only I could be that kind of mother.”
Instead of using others as a comparison, Proverbs 31 teaches women to serve others. “She rises also while it is still night and gives food to her household and portions to her maidens.” (Proverbs 31:15)
It’s important to keep in mind that this is poetry. Don’t be thinking, “See, this is what I was afraid of. Now my husband and children won’t think I’m a godly woman because I don’t get up before the sun rises.” That’s not the point.
It’s merely a poetic way of expressing the more profound truth that a woman who works hard and serves others should be valued and honored.
Also, bear in mind, this was written before electricity and during a time when people would people would go to bed right after the sunset. If you went to bed at 7:00 PM, you’d probably get up before the sun rises, too.
The Vanity Ideal
The bottom line is that God places a high value on serving others. Proverbs 31:15 mentioned serving family members. Proverbs 31:20 says, “She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.” That emphasizes compassion for the hurting and a desire to help others.
These qualities stand in stark contrast to the magazines, which prioritize putting self and vanity first. In fact, one of the magazines my wife and I noticed was called “Self.” Our culture is all about making yourself the center of the universe.
When we compare the Cosmo woman to the woman of Proverbs 31, we end up with two entirely different gospels.
One gospel says it’s all about you – look your best, be better than others, make sure your needs get met. The other says it’s all about loving and serving God and others.
Which gospel will you choose?
What the Ideal Reveals
Proverbs 31 gives us wisdom for what a godly mom values, and what others should value in a woman. It gives us knowledge, but more importantly, it points to our need for a Savior.
While we want to live up to God’s values, when we read Proverbs 31, we realize that we’re falling short. It’s a reminder that we can never do this on our own. We need help.
So, don’t get discouraged or lose heart. Allow yourself to acknowledge your weaknesses. Turn to Jesus and hold on tight to him where you will find strength, acceptance, and value.
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