The Virtuous Homeschooling Mom ~ applying Proverbs 31
“Who can find a virtuous woman, for her price is far above rubies.” Proverbs 31:10
Virtuous homeschooling moms learn wisdom and persuasiveness
A few years ago, in part as a result of President Clinton’s classic statement “it depends on what the meaning of “is” is”, the topic of character became widespread. Homeschoolers stressed character training in their homes and some public schools jumped on the bandwagon and talked about character development, implementing programs that would teach students principles for living. Many civic groups promoted the value of character training and even entire communities would name a character quality of the week to be studied, using curriculum designed just for the task.
But what about character training for moms, specifically homeschooling moms? My contention is that God, in His sovereignty and through His calling on our lives as homeschooling moms, has chosen the means of homeschooling itself to mold us into women of character. Our curriculum is the Word of God, as it applies to our daily lives. The Holy Spirit is our instructor, guiding us into truth and applying it to each of us individually. And training our children is the test ground, the place where we are most apt to demonstrate what we have learned in the process.
Today I am going to begin a series of blog entries that discuss the character qualities that the Lord teaches homeschooling moms through the day to day living we each experience. I want to begin by using the Proverbs 31 woman as our pattern and will also be including various other women from the Bible who have amazing insights for us as homeschooling moms. We should start by looking at exactly who wrote this passage of Scripture.
King Lemuel’s Mom, as I like to call her, wrote some instructions for life to her son which we find in Proverbs 31. Scholars and historians know next to nothing about King Lemuel. They know even less about his mother who penned this wonderful passage. (Many older scholars believe that Lemuel was actually King Solomon, an interesting thought to ponder since that would make the mother in question Bathsheba.)
To many people, Proverbs 31 is the key passage that depicts the ideal role model for today’s Christian woman and how many interpretations I have heard on this passage, especially for the homeschooling mother! For me, it is both inspirational and overwhelming. And it is well-worth reading, studying, and memorizing. It is, I believe, a passage that is meant to describe the various tasks in a woman’s life, not simultaneously in one season, but rather, in the various seasons of life. After all, even Wonder Woman couldn’t do everything listed in this passage all at once and still be a healthy, sane woman.
King Lemuel’s Mom recognized the valuable contributions a woman makes throughout her life and the various changes that each season brings, ultimately bringing honor to a husband who was older, experienced, and a leader in his community. She saw the opportunities for ministry and commerce that would come at various stages of life and told her son to look for a woman who was a hard worker and one who wouldn’t shun her duties in the early years of marriage or until she too, would become an older woman. This is what she hoped for in a daughter-in law and she made her desires known to her son, which is what any good mom would do! Lemuel’s Mom then goes on to list all the qualities that she believes are important in searching for a wife, giving us the familiar icon known as the “Proverb’s 31 Woman.”
In Proverbs 31:1, we read “The sayings of King Lemuel–an oracle his mother taught him.” An oracle is defined as wise, spiritual counsel, especially as it gives a warning for the future. The Word of God does not report this list in Proverbs 31 merely as an account of what one woman told her son. Instead, it recognizes that this was a godly woman, a woman who maintained wisdom and that her warnings about choosing a godly woman as a wife were to be followed. What a blessing for us to have King Lemuel’s mother both as an instructor to us and also as an example of what we are to teach our own sons, both by what we say, and by how we set an example! And this is the first great character quality we learn from King Lemuel’s Mom, that of wisdom, or the ability to look at all of life through God’s eyes, seeing the big picture and applying His word to every aspect of it.
The second character quality we learn from her can be found in verse 2 where she pleads “: “O my son, O son of my womb, O son of my vows” as she begins speaking to him. This verse makes me smile. How many times have we thought, or even said something like, “Do you know I carried you for 9 months, endured sleepless nights and heartburn, spent 32 hours laboring in excruciating pain and eventually you were born, all 11 pounds of you. Do you realize that is roughly the size of that watermelon we bought this afternoon? And this is the thanks I get?” I think this is what King Lemuel’s Mom is trying to convey to her son, that she labored over him during pregnancy and childbirth and now she is laboring over his choices as a young man; she is pleading with him to hear what she says because of her commitment to him, through both giving him life and raising him. She is demonstrating persuasiveness in its finest hour!
Persuasiveness, or the act of presenting vital, Biblical truth, even if it might be resisted, is one of the most essential tools in the homeschooling mom’s toolbox. It is tenacious, but does not nag. Like Winston Churchill, it never, never, never gives up, but it is sometimes weary. The persuasive homeschooling mom knows her own children well enough that she can anticipate the objections or arguments they may make and addresses them in her original presentation! Combined with wisdom, it is a powerful commodity.
Moms, we are called to be wise women, women with a message that is based on God’s unchanging Word. And we are called to be persuasive, as we lead our children to the same wisdom we have been given, remembering that both knowledge and goodness precede the right to admonish.
Virtuous homeschooling moms practice discretion and compassion
In a recent presentation at my Toastmaster’s Club, the speaker gave an educational speech, instructing us as to what sorts of jokes are appropriate to tell and what ones are not. He opened the floor for discussion and, as is usually the case, I came away having learned a great deal about the topic and about those who commented.
But what struck me the most about the conversation was that there was such a desire on the part of our club members to be careful in what they say to others so as not to offend and cause unnecessary pain. They talked about the importance of avoiding ethnic jokes or telling stories that could make an audience feel uncomfortable and the discourse ended with the presenter making this statement “Remember, when you tell a joke, you are really telling something about yourself.”
In reality, what I was hearing is that there is a need for two distinct character traits for a speaker when it comes to including humor in a presentation: discretion and compassion. In looking at the warnings that King Lemuel’s Mom gave to him in Proverbs 31:4-9, it appears that she is also, in her wisdom and presumably from her own experience, admonishing her son to possess these two character traits. She is telling him that he must have them in order to be a leader.
Now, isn’t it interesting that King Lemuel’s Mom wanted him to be a leader? She does not begin her instruction by suggesting that he is just an average Joe Shmoe, but rather, she wants him to look at her words from the standpoint that he IS a leader. This is what she says: “It is not for kings, O Lemuel– not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights. Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more. Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
In these statements, King Lemuel’s Mom is giving us a fine example of her wisdom in action; she is establishing the fact that she has expectations for greatness for her son. She uses what is known in sales as the “assumptive close, “ that is, she is assuming something to be true, thus anticipating that she can influence her son according to those assumptions.
As moms, we have tremendous potential to do this with our children. The wise mother approaches her children as though she truly believes what the Bible teaches about them, that they are chosen by God and precious to Him, a holy priesthood, living stones being built into a spiritual house, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God (1 Peter 2), and that they, themselves,have an anointing from the Holy One (1 John 2:20). If we truly believe God’s word, we have no other means of approach.
King Lemuel’s Mom then continues to tell her son that, as a leader, he needs to avoid using alcohol because it has the potential to prohibit his discernment and that, as a leader, if he is to genuinely lead, he must possess this quality. I continue to be amazed that, even within very conservative groups of Christianity today, including church and homeschooling leaders, alcohol use is not only acceptable but expected. Everyone knows, including King Lemuel’s Mom, that alcohol, even taken in small amounts, has the potential to cloud judgment, thus allowing someone’s discernment to be impaired. Based on the fact that we have already established that she is a wise woman, the only conclusion I can have, according to this passage, is that the standard for leaders is abstinence and those that don’t teach this to their children are not expecting leadership from them.
However, as we continue through these verses, we get to the heart of the matter, the real reason that discernment is so important. You see, discernment is necessary if compassion is our goal. This godly, wise mother made the case for her son that leaders must show compassion and not indifference, they must remember God’s word and apply it to their dealings with everyone, not depriving them of their rights. She recognizes the fact that leaders, when not demonstrating discernment, have the potential to trample over others and she tells her son that his duty as a leader is just the opposite. He is to stand up for the rights of the oppressed and needy and is to speak up for those under his care. He is to be a man of compassion. He is to demonstrate that he embraces what Jesus repeatedly stated “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” (Matthew 9:13 and 12:7) A godly leader places his mercy and grace to others above all other things, including his other priestly duties.
If we are to be able to instruct our children in discernment and compassion, we must experience it first ourselves. We show mercy when we realize how great a recipient of mercy we have been through what Jesus did for us on the cross. As we live lives of mercy and compassion toward our children, they, in turn, will see it as a priority and will, if they have discernment, show it to others.
Virtuous homeschooling moms maintain attentiveness and alertness
A while back, one of my sons was telling me about a friend of his who is dating a girl who is not a Christian. This friend has been a Christian for most of his life, was raised in a Christian home, was homeschooled by godly parents, and faithfully attends a Bible-teaching church. But he met a girl who is not a believer, they hit it off, and now he is very involved with a woman that the Word of God has forbidden him to marry. I cringed as my son relayed this story but then he told me that he had talked to his friend and ended their conversation by asking him “What would your mom say?” My son knew to ask that question because he knew what his own mom would say!
In Proverbs 31:3, King Lemuel’s Mom has a stern warning for her son regarding relationships with women who do not seek after God with their whole hearts. She says in verse 3, “Do not spend your strength on women, your vigor on those who ruin kings.” In other words, she is telling him to stay away from women who entice a young man sexually, thus bringing him to ruin. She is warning him of the dangers of having a relationship with a woman who is not a Christian (Deut. 7:3, Ezra 9:1-2, Nehemiah 13:23). She is even talking about women who might profess to be Christians but who are double minded, which makes them unstable in all their ways (James 1:8). All of these scenarios have the potential to ruin a young man and the leadership potential of his life.
Being the mother of 5 sons, ranging in age from 16 to 29, I have had my share of just such conversations. I have been even more specific and have also named names! I have come to believe that two of the most important character traits that a homeschooling mom needs to develop, particularly as it relates to her children, and especially as they approach maturity, are alertness and attentiveness.
Being alert means that we are paying special attention to things that are going on around us, being on the watch for anything that could harm us or our children, whether it be physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. Being attentive means that we are in touch with the unique needs of our children and are listening for and watching what is going on in their lives. The combination of these two qualities best prepares us to minister to our children in the specific ways that will most benefit them.
Homeschooling moms must be aware of two particular things that can interfere with developing these two character qualities. The first of these is time. We are busy. Typically, homeschooling families are larger than the average family and that means that we have more laundry, larger meals, a greater amount of school preparation to do, etc. Little ones in the family take a lot of energy and often the older children, who in many ways have greater needs than their younger siblings, get the least amount of attention. That is why it is crucial to consciously make a lot of room in your schedule for time with older children. Though you have spent hours and hours teaching and training them, it is during the late teen years to the early twenties that they are making so many important life decisions….what they will do to support themselves, if they will attend college and where, who they will marry, what car or home to purchase, etc.
Your children know your expectations, whether they are valid ones or not, and they know what will disappoint you. Your children need to know that you have a listening ear for even what might seem to you, the craziest of ideas. Sometimes they just need to talk through their goals out loud. They need to know that you believe God has a unique calling on their lives that might not be what you would chose for them. Achieving the sort of relationship where these types of discussions are possible will take years of time spent listening to them.
The second thing that can interfere with being alert and attentive to children, is setting up a false paradigm in your life that defines what you believe is acceptable for your child. I have spent a lot of time on this blog writing about this subject but it is worth mentioning again. Many of the leaders in the homeschooling movement promote a very narrow view of acceptable lifestyles for homeschoolers. Many of those views are not even Biblical. It is easy to get trapped inside one of these paradigms without even knowing it because they sound and look so appealing. After all, who wouldn’t want a sure fire guarantee for raising children?
King Lemuel’s Mom knew how important it was for her son to be alert and attentive to those things that would be roadblocks in his walk with the Lord. And so it is with our children. As we develop the ability to be alert and attentive and as we practice these qualities with our children, they will learn from us. God, in His sovereignty, gave you the unique and precious children He did for a purpose. By being attentive to the special gifts and abilities of each child and by being alert to those things that threaten to waste those gifts and abilities, we will be able to complete the task that has been set before us, by God’s grace alone.
Virtuous homeschooling moms obtain loyalty and integrity
“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.” Proverbs 31:10-11
One summer, my dad hired our two older boys, Clayton and Sam, to do yard work. Diligently they mowed, trimmed, raked, and weeded the nearly one acre piece of ground. In return, they were paid both with lemonade and money.
That same summer, Clay and I were remodeling their bedroom, removing old blue floral wallpaper that came with the house and were replacing it with a sports theme paper. We scraped and scraped, filling garbage bags and sweeping all the scraps to the side so they could sleep in their beds at night.
One evening Sam came running in to us in great distress. He couldn’t find the $20.00 bill he had earned at Grandpa’s house. So we all began the process of going through the whole room, looking inside the trash bags full of wet wallpaper strips that hadn’t gone out to the curb. Finally, after going through even the bags that were already placed in cans, we concluded that the money was just gone, a hard lesson to be sure for a 7 year old boy. Though they searched and searched, the money was just gone.
Months later, while raking our yard on the side of the house under their bedroom window, Clay looked down and, in disbelief, there, crumpled and stuck in the corner of the sidewalk under a pile of leaves, was a twenty dollar bill! The treasure had been found!
Perhaps this is the picture King Lemuel’s Mom had in mind when she told her son that a virtuous woman, a woman of character, is a great treasure. Knowing that these sorts of women were rare, she knew that searching for her would be a difficult task, but worth all the effort, perhaps even surprising her son when he found her!
The word “virtuous” in the Hebrew is the same word as “valor,” the word that is used to describe King David’s mighty men. It implies a strength of character that stands out above all others in comparison. And this woman of valor is priced far above rubies. Rubies, in comparing them according to price and weight, are more valuable than diamonds. Right now, the typical ruby might cost around $2000.00 for half a carat. However, not long ago, an extremely rare ruby that was over 8 carats in size, sold for $425,000 per carat!
Several other passages of Scripture refer to the value of rubies, Job 28:18, Proverbs 3:15, and 8:11. But rather than speaking of finding a woman, they are referring to wisdom. Isn’t it interesting that finding a virtuous woman is equated with finding wisdom? It tells me the great significance God places on being a woman of virtue.
As I read through Proverbs 31:10-12, it appears that are four facets of the character of a virtuous woman that make her stand out, qualities that place a woman in the same category as having wisdom.
First, Lemuel was instructed to look for a woman whom he could trust, placing full confidence in her. This is a woman who is loyal. She is a woman who keeps her word, remains faithful to her husband and her children, as well as others who depend on her. She is a woman of integrity, she is pure and possesses a strong sense of morality. She is able to keep her husband’s secrets and he knows she will not let him down. She is her husband’s number one fan and he knows it.
While we pour out our lives to our children as homeschooling moms, we must remember that our husbands are our top priority. Our loyalty to a husband takes precedence over loyalty to anyone else. This is sometime difficult to remember when we are so consumed with meeting the needs of children all day long every day.
A while back, a friend of mine mentioned that, as the homeschooling population grows older, she is seeing more and more couples who, once the last child has graduated, find that they have little in common other than children and eventually they separate and divorce. What a sad observation!
This is why it is so important to set aside time every single day, even if just over a cup of coffee, to chat with your husband and plan things for the two of you to enjoy that you can also look forward to enjoying together when the children are grown. As Clay and I are entering into this season of life, we are finding more and more time together to pursue interests and to talk about meaningful things without the interruption of small voices! I believe we are able to do this now because we have spent so much time over the years investing in our relationship and looking forward to this time!
Tomorrow, I will continue with the other two qualities King Lemuel’s Mom told her son are required in a woman of valor….courage and endurance.
Virtuous homeschooling moms have courage and endurance
“ Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.” Proverbs 31:11
King Lemuel’s mom told her son that a virtuous woman would bring him good and not harm. The Hebrew rendering of this verse implies that a man with a virtuous wife does not lack profit or gain, especially the gain obtained by war. I believe this paints a picture for us of a woman who is resourceful and courageous, even in the midst of difficult times, a woman who realizes how hard her husband works to provide for the household.
In the early years of our marriage, my husband was in the military and was stationed overseas. Money was pretty tight and as each baby arrived, we were challenged to be creative and resourceful. My children find it hard to believe that we didn’t own a car (insurance and gas were outrageously priced), we used public transportation everywhere we went, we had no television or telephone, my entire wardrobe consisted of blue jeans, t-shirts, and one dress for Sunday. Weekend entertainment included hiking to the train station and riding as far as our change would take us, sightseeing and eating the lunch we packed, and coming home. We ate a lot of macaroni and cheese and I learned to do amazing things with ramen or tuna fish. But in those simpler times, God was gracious and provided for every need we had. Willingness to do without and being thankful for what our husbands are able to provide is, I believe , one thing King Lemuel’s Moms is talking about.
Verse 12 ends, then, with this wonderful phrase “all the days of her life.” A virtuous woman is in it for the long haul, she doesn’t give up; she is a woman of endurance.
My son was just telling me about a man he met in Alaska. This fit and trim man was preparing for a marathon, but not just any marathon. This one would take him for a couple dozen miles through rough terrain, mountains, and perhaps even past grizzly bears, though my son and I decided that the only runner who needs to worry about being eaten by a bear is the last one in the line! This man had run in marathon races before so he knew what he was up against and how to wisely prepare. He had a special backpack, ready to go, and had spent months preparing for the race. As is true with most marathon runners, this man probably wasn’t really concerned about placing first, he was, however, planning to finish the race.
When we run the homeschooling mom race, we are not in competition with others, we are running to complete the race, to savor the fact that we made it! Each year that we homeschool marks one more year of victory and, by God’s grace, He will see us through each year, one at a time, over the mountainous terrain and even past the grizzly bears that threaten to devour us. And each year shows us what endurance looks like and gives us confidence for the years still to come.
The virtuous woman also welcomes the passing of time, as we head into new experiences and new challenges with changing family situations, elderly parents who need our help, adult children who have many choices to make, our own aging, and facing the “golden years” with our husbands. The woman of strong character not only prepares for the last lap of the race, but welcomes it knowing, with confidence, that her eternal rest, the very best part, is still to come. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1
Virtuous homeschooling moms are responsible and diligent
Humorist Erma Bombeck tells the story of discovering a desire to organize her home:
“It happens every November. I don’t know why. I suffer an attack of domesticity. I want to bustle about in a starched apron, bake bread, iron sheets, and make my own soap. I want to beat mattresses, mend cleaning rags, wax the driveway, and can green beans.
Last November’s seizure was a doozie! When I returned to my slovenly ways I discovered I had rearranged the furniture, giving it all the personality of a bus station restroom. Ignoring the advice of experts, I washed the draperies, causing the lining to sag like a toddler’s underwear….I have found that a cold shower shocks me back to my slovenly ways. I know I am slovenly because I gave myself one of those magazine quizzes once to find out if I was “children-geared,” “husband-geared,” or “home-geared.”
The “child-geared” mother often referred to her husband as what’s-his-name and took a tape recorder to the labor room to record her suffering so she could play it at her children’s weddings. I wasn’t that. A “husband-geared” woman fed her husband steak and the kids hamburger. I wasn’t that. A “home-geared” woman fixed up the basement for the family to live in and cried whenever someone splashed water on her kitchen tiles. I wasn’t that. According to my score, I wasn’t crazy about any one of the three. In fact, in homemaking I only scored five out of a possible hundred points. (I changed the paper in my birdcage with some regularity.” (from At Wit’s End.)
Running a household is a challenge, that is for sure. Many young women are not prepared to do so when they marry, though I think most of them really are excited at the prospect of having their own homes. The sale of cookbooks and all manner of kitchen supplies has never been more in command. Books like Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook: The Essential Guide to Caring for Everything in Your Home and Cheryl Mendelson’s Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House remain best sellers.
Cable TV shows featuring cooks like Rachel Ray, Paula Dean, and the Barefoot Contessa are popular and inspire tremendous sales in the cookbooks. Every county home extension office and community college, as well as many kitchen stores offer speciality cooking classes and even craft stores make cake and cookie decorating a simple task with their often-free courses. And, of course, the internet is a wealth of suggestions, instructions, and recipes for caring for any aspect of meal preparation and housekeeping.
When I first married, I didn’t know much about cooking. But I did know that if I could read and follow directions, delicious meals were only a cookbook away. My mother had always cooked “from scratch” and that is what I intended to do, too, so I purchased the basic Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook and asked my mom to write down her best recipes. After a year or so, I also subscribed to a Farm Journal Cookbook club and learned how to cook and bake using the same ingredients used by county fair winners! That was the fun part of homemaking, to me. The cleaning was another story!
Though a young woman might not know much about keeping house, there are many good resources available. But my contention is that the true need for women who run their homes is not really the training as much as it is the character that it takes to make it all happen. You may know how to do any number of things in a home, but if you aren’t motivated by the desire to do them and to do them well, which is equally important, it won’t matter what you know.
Proverbs 31:13-28 list for us many of the tasks that a homemaker is responsible to do: purchase and prepare meals, provide clothing for the family, reaching out to the poor, managing household chores, overseeing those who are hired to help the family, and maintaining the household part of the family budget, whether it is by bringing in her own earnings or making wise purchases.
In reading this passage, I see a variety of character qualities that are necessary in order for a woman to pull it all off. Today I am looking at two of these traits that I believe we need, especially as homeschooling moms, to do our jobs well: responsibility and diligence.
Demonstrating responsibility is accomplished when you are able to do things that need to be done without having to be reminded to do them. I have often described this quality to my children by telling them that it is an inward nagging sense that there is something you must do and you do not feel comfortable resting until it is accomplished.
Diligence comes from the root word that means “to love earnestly”, and it is defined as the steady application in business of any kind, the constant effort to accomplish what is undertaken. In other words, using all your energy to accomplish your goals, knowing that, as Christians, we are to do all things as unto the Lord.
As homeschooling moms, a huge part of what we do during the day is running the household. To the list of responsibilities of the Proverbs 31 woman, we also add educating our children. Because we “earnestly love” our families, we desire to meet their needs, whether they are physical, emotional, or educational. But we will only be able to do so as we remember that we are homeschooling our children for one reason alone, to bring glory to the Lord. Exceptional educational opportunities, children who get big scholarships, avoidance of peer pressure and influence, and any number of other reasons to teach our children at home may be part of our goals. But we will only genuinely be motivated to persevere if we remember that we must be doing them as unto the Lord.
If I think about 32.5 years of marriage, times the number of loads of laundry I have done for 2 parents, 6 children and 1 grandma, I am amazed to know that I have washed, dried, folded, (sometimes ironed) and put away roughly 25,560 loads of laundry. That is over 200,000 socks! Or, in that same amount of time, provided 35,587 meals for a family and sometimes guests. Or that I have overseen nearly 20,000 hours of education of one sort or another during that time. Just thinking of those numbers takes my breath away.
Moms, as we consider the character that is necessary to meet our responsibilities with diligence, we have to remember that character comes by God’s grace, by looking into his word and trusting these words “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:29-30)
(This article was originally published as a series of blog entries in July 2007. )