Q: I had a query in relation to the concept of biblical womanhood. I am a doctor (graduated from medical school just over a year ago) and work fairly long hours in an ER. I find that I have to be fairly assertive at work and was wondering how does someone who is not married
and in a career be a biblical woman?
A: It’s interesting that you’ve just asked this because I was with a group of single women meeting with Janelle on Sunday at Covenant Life Church and discussing this very topic. Janelle has responsibility for developing the single women’s discipleship course at Covenant Life, and
this is a common question from the women who’ve completed the course in the past.
First, I think we all need to acknowledge that on the job we may be more easily influenced by the world’s values than initially we may be aware. Our mainstream culture assumes that career is the priority and that advancement is everyone’s goal. And some around us assume that single adults are going to be more devoted to the Siren call of success than even their married colleagues would be. But if we look at Scripture, we see a different definition of success. The most concise portrait is the Proverbs 31 epilogue. You may object, because that’s about a married woman. Yes, it is. But it has everything to do with a single woman because it is the wisdom of King Lemuel, based upon what his mother taught him—presumably as a young boy. What’s not clear to us in the English translation is that these 22 verses are a Hebrew acrostic (“a” is for apple, “b” is for boy—that kind of thing). So while this mother was teaching her son his Hebrew alphabet, she was also teaching him the virtues of an excellent wife, or a wife of noble character (depending on your translation). The Hebrew word that is translated there as “wife” actually means “woman,” but it can be understood in terms of a role, too. When his mother was teaching him, King Lemuel was obviously not married. But he was learning by heart the qualities he should be looking for in a godly single woman.
I find this so refreshing because it means that there is not a separate path for single women in the Kingdom. The Proverbs 31 woman shows us a seamless portrait of biblical womanhood that is applicable for every season of life. The Proverbs 31 woman is a savvy investor, a charming hostess, a loving wife, a hard worker, an entrepreneur, a gracious speaker, and a fruitful mother. We see that she is not lopsided. She is capable of making a profit, but she has a purpose in it: to be a blessing in her many relationships. We see that she has in mind her
family, her household, the poor and needy around her, and most importantly, her Lord.
As single women, we have the same reasons for working hard, too. We want to be able to provide for ourselves and our household—including the household of faith, our church—as well as the poor and needy. While we’re not married, the Lord has given us many relationships in which to invest, including the various children in our lives. It’s tempting to work long hours and not maintain our homes or make time to serve others, but that’s not the well-rounded portrait we find in Proverbs 31. Her model helps us to evaluate our career decisions and
the stewardship of our time through the lens of biblical wisdom and what will really matter most in light of eternity.
There’s one particular verse, however, that I think is immediately helpful on the job and addresses one of your specific questions. It is verse 26: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” This is where I’m most challenged at work.
Under the pressure of deadlines and other expectations, I can so easily forget the impact of women’s words on men. Whether they are our bosses, peers, or subordinates, we still want to model godliness and Christian womanhood to all men, not just in the the pecking order of the world. Working in an emergency room, you have the added pressure of REAL life-or-death decisions. You are being paid to be assertive about triage care. But wouldn’t you say that those truly dramatic moments don’t make up the bulk of your speech at work? I’m just guessing. Though I’ve spent some time in the emergency room myself, I’ve never observed it to be like television dramas portray. It doesn’t appear that people are barking life-or-death orders to each other every minute.
So for all of us, we have to consider where we are making room on the job for the natural leadership of the men around us. I’ve learned the hard way that sentences that start with, “No, I think…” are probably not helpful or signaling respect to them. It’s not that having a differing opinion is wrong. It’s just that if we speak graciously and offer input in the form of questions, it models the overarching role of women to be counselors and helpers and leaves room for the men to consider our advice and make a decision. This is especially important in relating to men who aren’t our superiors at work: “That’s a good idea. I see where you are going with it. But what would you think if we approached it in such-and-such a way?” Going back to the Proverbs 31 woman, I realize that this is a collection of virtues and not a real woman, but if we put her into the context of her times, she would have traded widely and no doubt interacted with men of varying stations in life. Yet she is characterized by godly wisdom and kind speech. By God’s grace, we can all strive to grow in her example.