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Any woman who’s spent fifteen seconds or longer around evangelical culture has most definitely heard of the Proverbs 31 woman. She’s usually spoken of in a reverential, if slightly judgey, sort of way.

If her name is being hallowed by high school or college girls – then she is a heroine to whom we should aspire.

To slightly older women, she becomes the impeccable wife-mother combo, exemplifying everything we have not been able to obtain thus far in our journey to perfect womanhood.

She is respected for all of the plates she is said to have kept spinning. She is hated because somehow word has gotten out to the boys that they should expect nothing less of their sisters, girlfriends, and wives than the fantasticness that is the Proverbs 31 woman. After we first hear about this poetic woman, the rest of the female world is destined to a sense of failure as they read the last chapter in the book of wisdom.

It’s a shocking relief to us guilt-ridden women that “in Jewish culture it is not the women who memorize Proverbs 31, but the men. Husbands commit each line of the poem to memory, so they can recite it to their wives at the Sabbath meal, usually in a song” (A Year of Biblical Womanhood, 88). This is most biblical, since “The only instructive language [the poem] contains is directed toward men, with the admonition that a thankful husband honor his wife ‘for all that her hands have done’ (Proverbs 31:31)” (76).

The Proverbs 31 is called eshet chayil in the poem, which means “valorous woman”. Military connotations are appropriate because “the structure and dictation employed in the poem closely resembles that of a heroic poem celebrating the exploits of a warrior” (75). The poem we have turned into a job description was actually intended as a celebration of all that a wise woman does. The poem is meant as a blessing.

And so, this morning, I want to celebrate the exploits of an eshet chayil – the valorous woman who raised me. Today is my mom’s birthday and to her, I say…

For questioning and learning and growing in your faith so that my sister and I were encouraged to do the same – thank you. Happy birthday, eshet chayil.

For making sure that my sister and I were always hearing Scripture, always reading about heroes of the faith, always prayed for – thank you. Happy birthday, eshet chayil.

For all of the sermons and prayer meetings and Bible studies you couldn’t pay attention in because you were making sure we learned how to sit still and pay attention in church – thank you. Happy birthday, eshet chayil.

For all of the opportunities you missed, the time spent teaching us, for the tears you cried when your stubborn daughters just wouldn’t listen – thank you. Happy birthday, eshet chayil.

For all of the meals cooked, the pots scrubbed, the boo-boos kissed – thank you. Happy birthday, eshet chayil.

For all of the moments of grace, your unending forgiveness, the ways you have embodied wisdom to your family and to those around you – thank you.

Happy birthday, eshet chayil.

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Is there a woman of valor in your life you should call and bless with the celebratory title eshet chayil?

Check out Rachel Held Evans’ blog for more poems and prose in praise of valorous women.

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