Tucked at the end of the book of Proverbs is the profile of a remarkable, heartlifting woman.
Known through the centuries as the Proverbs 31 woman, she has often gotten a bad rap.
She is perfect. I could never be as good as her. Model Christian. Gourmet chef. Real estate tycoon. Emotional rock. Social activist. Seamstress extraordinaire. Parented honor students. Married well. Pillar in the community. Yep, absolute perfection. Not for me.
I’ll admit, she is a little intimidating if — and this is a big if — you forget this woman is not real! The mother of a king jotted this “inspired utterance” as a standard of excellence by which her son, Lemuel, should look for a queen (Proverbs 31:10-31). We might call this proverbial woman a standard-bearer or a role model in today’s vernacular. Someone to look up to and aspire to be like.
I call her a bridge.
The proverbial woman, fiction or not, showed up in my life at just the right time. Isn’t it funny how that happens? I believe I am where I am today because of her. While moseying around one of my favorite retail therapy stores, I turned down one long aisle, and there it was, shining like a masterpiece in an art gallery — an 18-by-24-inch chocolate-brown canvas with this proverbial wisdom beautifully scripted in ivory font:
“Clothed in strength and dignity, with nothing to fear, she smiles when she thinks about the future”
(Proverbs 31:25 VOICE).
I had a moment. Maybe two. I stood there as if I were in Paris, looking at the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. The mesmerizing words became a deep, life-giving, even prophetic footing for the rest of my life, reauthoring an old, negative narrative into a new, hope-filled positive one. Today, I am clothed in strength and dignity. Today, I have nothing to fear. Today, I smile when I think of the future.
Crossing an Emotional Bridge
Sheryl is a proverbial woman who smiles and often laughs at the future. At a time when I needed her most, she became an emotional bridge in my life.
One Sunday morning, as I moved through the crowded corridor at church, my arm brushed hers. I looked up to see Sheryl’s smiling face. We’d spoken here and there, but never at any great length. In a big church, Sunday mornings are often just pass-by hellos and simple exchanges of “How are you?” and “I hope you have a great week.”
“Janell! Hi! I am so glad I bumped into you. I’ve been wanting to ask you something,” Sheryl said. Without taking a breath, she continued. “Would you be interested in going to Kenya to do a women’s retreat for the mamas of The Joy Village? We’ve never done anything like this before, but we’re thinking it is the right time. I can’t think of anyone better to lead our first Mamas Retreat than you. What do you think?”
A bit stunned yet over-the-moon happy, I immediately exclaimed, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” And then I collected myself and said I’d definitely have to talk to my husband about it.”
“Ok,” she said. “But I believe I hear Kenya calling.”
Bridges Help Us Become Our Best
Sheryl’s invitation invited me to journey toward becoming my best, God-breathed self. Author Tim Duncan writes:
“Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Until good is better and your better is best.” The apostle Paul says it this way: “Earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31 NKJV).
The word “best” is translated from the Greek, kreitton. It means, “more useful, more serviceable, more advantageous, and more excellent. The root word for kreitton, kratos, means “force, strength, and mighty in power.”
When Paul urges us to “desire the best gifts,” he is asking that we pray for gifts that are “more useful, more serviceable, more advantageous and more excellent.” And in doing so, we will be exceedingly blessed with the strength to do mighty deeds with power.
Understanding Paul’s exhortation has helped me see that it isn’t important to be the best, but to become my personal best.
Living in this profound truth alleviates the need to compete with other women, to strive for perfection, or to climb any ladder of success. Instead, it compels me to be a healthy emotional bridge for others to cross on their life journey.