Apr 082013

“The most revolutionary thing you can do is introduce people to each other.”  – anonymous

This Monday morning we begin our Momastory series. After much deliberation and shock on the part of the Carry On, Warrior marketing team…I decided that the best way to serve YOU, MY PEOPLE, while I’m gone on tour would be to introduce you to some of my favorite writers. Writers –  more than all the therapists and doctors and maybe even friends – have saved me. By making me think, by encouraging to look at myself and others through a new set of eyes, by insisting that I walk a mile in another’s shoes. They’ve made me kinder and braver – and that is all I’ve ever wanted to be.

This morning we begin with a brilliant woman whom I’ve come to know, love, and admire. Monkees, meet- Rachel Held Evans.


Dear Monkees,

I don’t know about you, but I can’t make heads or tails out of my faith until someone puts it into poetry.

All the theology, doctrine, creeds, and confessions in the world can never explain it like Emily does. It’s “the thing with feathers / that perches in the soul / and sings the tune without the words, / and never stops at all.”

Yep. That sounds about right.

And so I shouldn’t have been surprised that when I was struggling the most to feel like a worthy woman, when I was tired and frustrated and crying out for faith, this recovering fundamentalist bumped into the Hebrew equivalent of “Carry On, Warrior,” in a 3,000-year-old poem I used to secretly hate.

I found it in Proverbs 31.

The subject of a twenty-two line acrostic poem found in the last chapter of the book of Proverbs in the Bible, the “woman of noble character,” or “P31 Woman,” is cited at nearly every Christian women’s conference as the ideal to which all godly women must strive.

The bad news for the domestically-challenged among us is that the life of the Proverbs 31 woman is like a Pinterest board come to life: She rises before dawn each day, provides exotic food for her children, runs a profitable textile business, invests in real estate, cares for the poor, spends hours at the loom making clothes and coverings for her bed, and crafts holiday wreaths out of coffee filters. (Okay, so that last one was straight from Pinterest, but you get the idea.)

Growing up in the Church, I sat through many a sermon explaining how domestic exploits like these represented the essence of true womanhood, and over time, I began to see myself as less-than, once again falling short of some idealized notion of womanhood each time I turned to Sara Lee for dessert, used duct tape to “hem” my pants, or was reminded for the millionth time by well-meaning deaconesses who didn’t know the half of it that maybe, just maybe, God could still use me, “even though you aren’t a mother…yet.”

So when I decided to commit one year of my life to following all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible as part of a somewhat ill-advised book project, I knew I’d have to come face-to-face with the Proverbs 31 Woman in a way I hadn’t before.

I started by attempting to turn the poem into a to-do list, which should never be done, and which resulted in a 16-item list that included everything from lifting weights each morning (“she girds herself with strength and makes her arms strong”), to making a purple dress to wear (“she makes coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple”), to knitting scarves for my husband (“when it snows, she has no fear for her household, for all of them are clothed in scarlet”), to making a homemade sign and literally praising my husband at the city gate (“her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land”).

I had a bit of fun with that last one, but the rest proved exhausting. Within a few weeks, I’d started and unraveled at least two scarves, broken the old second-hand sewing machine I’d dug out of my closet, cursed at the picture of Martha Stewart smiling glibly from the cover of my cookbook, and embarrassed myself at Hobby Lobby by crying in the fabric aisle.

Finally, I consulted Ahava, an Orthodox Jewish woman from Israel I had befriended during the project. The woman taught me to make homemade challah, so we were to be forever friends.

“So do Jewish women struggle with this passage as much as Christian women?” I asked.

Ahava seemed a bit bewildered.

“Not at all!” she said. “In my culture, Proverbs 31 is a blessing.”

Ahava repeated what I’d discovered in my research, that the first line of the Proverbs 31 poem—“a virtuous woman who can find?”—is best translated, “a woman of valor who can find?” And in fact, the structure and diction employed in the poem more closely resembles that of a heroic poem celebrating the exploits of a warrior than a domestic to-do list. Like all good poems, it was intended to highlight the glory of the everyday; it was never meant to be used prescriptively as a to-do list or a command.

“Every week at the Sabbath table, my husband sings the Proverbs 31 poem to me,” Ahava explained. “It’s special because I know that no matter what I do or don’t do, he praises me for blessing the family with my energy and creativity. All women can do that in their own way. I bet you do as well.”

In addition, she said, “eshet chayil”—woman of valor!—is invoked as a sort of spontaneous blessing in Jewish culture, Ahava said.  Think of it as the Hebrew equivalent of “you go girl,” or perhaps even better, “Carry on, Warrior.”

Friends cheer one another on with the blessing, celebrating everything from promotions, to pregnancies, to acts of mercy and justice, and honoring everything from battles with cancer, to brave acts of vulnerability, to difficult choices, with a hearty “eshet chayil!”—woman of valor.

So I set aside my to-do list and began using Proverbs 31 as it was meant to be used—not as yet another impossible standard by which to measure our perceived failures, but as a celebration of what we’ve already accomplished as women of valor.

When my friend Tiffany’s pharmacy aced its accreditation, I congratulated her with “eshet chayil!” When my mom finished her final treatment for breast cancer, I made a card that said “eshet chayil” on the front.  When I learned that three women had won the Nobel Peace Prize, I shared the new with my readers in a blog post entitled, “Meet Three Women of Valor.” When I read an early review copy of Glennon’s brave and beautiful book, Carry on Warrior, I cried a little and then hammered out an exclamation-point-ridden email declaring “ESHET CHAYIL – WOMAN OF VALOR!”

And I realized:

We women are brave in so many ways.

We are brave in ways worthy of poetry.

We are Proverbs 31 Women, not because of what we do, but how we do it—with guts, with vulnerability, with love.

Now, each morning, my inbox is stuffed with stories and pictures from men and women celebrating the daily acts of valor in one another’s lives.

I heard from a pair of best friends who, having both recently navigated some scary spaces in their lives, decided to overcome their fear of heights by repelling down a sheer cliff together. They went out and got matching “eshet chayil” tattoos afterwards.

I heard from a husband who was looking for the correct pronunciation of “eshet chayil” so he could surprise his wife at their anniversary dinner by singing this ancient blessing.

I heard from the mom who tweeted this: “I got a special power in Mario Kart and my five year old turn to me and proclaimed, ‘Woman of Valor!’”

I heard from a woman who had survived sexual abuse, depression, divorce, and the rejection of her church. Standing tall in her words she told me, “I know I am a woman of valor.”

So to all the monkees who are tired, who think those daily acts of faithfulness at work or at home or in relationships go unnoticed—you are women of valor. Eshet chayil!

To all the monkees who do hard things, who dream up Love Projects, and who belong to each other—you are women of valor. Eshet chayil!

To all the monkees who are feeding sweet babies, or longing to feed sweet babies, or going to meetings, or staring at medical bills, or turning in tardy slips, or making macaroni and cheese for the third time this week, or jumping back into the dating scene, or learning to waltz just for the hell of it, or knitting to keep your hands busy, or hammering out that first draft, or starting all over again—you are women of valor. Eshet chayil!

Carry on, warriors.

Your life is worthy of poetry.



Rachel Held Evans is a popular blogger and the author of A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Find her at rachelheldevans.com.

Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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  74 Responses to ““Eshet Chayil,” Woman of Valor! (Or, How I Learned the Hebrew Equivalent of “Carry On, Warrior”)”

  1. […] Held-Evans wrote a piece on this passage from Proverbs, and I want to share a few selections with you. In her […]

  2. […] talked to you before about this idea of eshet chayil, woman of valor. That is you. Carry on warrior, because I’m a warrior following in your […]

  3. […] taken from writings by Rachel Evans Held, here and […]

  4. […] and children once sang about the women in their lives – thanks for clearing that up, chapter 4 of Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood – and that whole Proverbs 31 topic is for another blog on another day, okay?). Anyway, the phrase […]

  5. […] bright and hot in our souls.  No! When I read Rachel’s book,  God showed me He made her to be a hard question asker who creates room at the table for all Jesus seekers.  He also made the spicy Jen Hatmaker, the poetic Jesus Feminist Sarah Bessey, the in […]

  6. […] am indebted to the writing of Rachel Held Evans for my understanding of Eshet Chayil, alongside the poetic and beautiful writings of her warrior […]

  7. […] times. I reached out to twitter, and everyone was amazing and supportive. Just so you know, hearing eshet chayil gets me RIGHT IN THE […]

  8. […] times. I reached out to twitter, and everyone was amazing and supportive. Just so you know, hearing eshet chayil gets me RIGHT IN THE […]

  9. […] I want to be an excellent mom. A mom worthy of the praise-phrase eshet chayil! (Link is to a guest post by Rachel on another […]

  10. I think there’s more to the Proverbs 31 woman than people initially realize when just reading the passage. I’ve incidentally been reading a new book by Dr. Tony Evans and his daughter, Chrystal Evans Hurst called “Kingdom Woman” that has really been resonating with me and giving me new insights. Right off the bat they talk about the Proverbs 31 woman being the hallmark of kingdom women, “But the Proverbs 31 woman is not the model of a perfect woman. Neither is a kingdom woman called to perfection. Women, you can be a Proverbs 31 woman and more – but that doesn’t mean you do it all at the same time.” They talk about life flowing through seasons and about getting help, not trying to do it all. It’s really interesting. Thank you for your perspective in your article. If you’re interested in Dr. Evan’s book, they have free downloads at kingdomwomanbook.com.

  11. And let us not forget to add that she was a “working” wife and mom! She sold real estate, had her textile business, etc…… but I do wish I had a few “handmaidens” — I think I could handle those!!

  12. […] road. I want to tell them that I learned something just this year that made me laugh until I cried. I found out that the Jewish men bless their wives with Proverbs 31, singing it over them at Sabbath… It’s not some standard or check list. It’s just a song, a thanks for being you […]

  13. I started reading Momastery after my sister-in-law went on about it. I must sa the first Blog i read captured me. I am not yet a mom or a mother but some of the things that are penned down touch me, move me and have brought tears to my eyes. Eshet Chayil has captured my attention to the extent that am about to get it inked on my wrist. So thank you! Thank you for reminding me to smile and keep hugging and loving people!


  15. […] eldest out of school eight years ago, when there were even fewer models for doing so in Argentina. Eshet chayil, […]

  16. Wow, wow, wow. I loooove this post and I am looking forward to a new book.

  17. Just beautiful! Thankyou:)

  18. While I do appreciate this post, I think we all take this “woman” out of context. If one reads the entire chapter, she will see the author begins speaking of the church, puts some fluff in between, and then speaks of this “woman.” The “woman” is the church!

  19. Finally found the time to read this post and boy, does it rock! Thanks for throwing it our way, Glennon. I love the idea of finding glory and honor in the daily tasks of life. Yay!

  20. You have CHANGED MY LIFE!! I love the Bible…you have no idea, it’s seriously saved my life…but I’ve wanted to rip that chapter out. To know that it’s shouting out courage changes everything.

  21. I needed something new to read!! Thanks so much for letting me know about this. Books are my therapy!

  22. Thank you Glennon for sharing your spot light and introducing us to brilliant and inspiring women we may not have found on our own.

    Also, thank you for inspiring me to start writing my own honest blog (http://denvermommy.wordpress.com). Writing has brought a new sense of clarity and energy to my routine, and I am feeling grateful. I finally found the courage to post my work online and it has been equally terrifying and rewarding. Your honesty and clarity was a jump start out of my status quo. I look forward to hearing you speak in Denver.

    Rachel, thank you, your post was a nice pat on the back and reminder that we all are uniquely beautiful, courageous, and worthy of praise. I will check out your blog and book.

  23. Love your post, Rachel. I wish I would hear this in my household. So I have to tell myself!

    • “eshet chayil!”—woman of valor.

      You sure can tell yourself- but I’m telling you too as one woman to another!:)

      I’m gonna tell myself as well:)


  24. Love this post!! Thank you for sharing your beautfiul words with us.

  25. Last night I started to tell my husband about this post he asked me to read the scripture to him first. I hadn’t even told him yet about how we as “good” Christian women beat ourselves senseless with this piece, but when I finished he said, “I think that describes you perfectly!” So! Not only did I get the benefit of reading this and feeling more at peace with the meaning and intent behind it…I also got the extreme blessing of knowing that my husband doesn’t want me to be beaten down by it. Instead he wants to lift me up with it.

    Multiple blessings from this yesterday!

  26. Oh my. Today has been the hardest in a long time, mental health wise. This read like a love letter to my soul. I have been feeling empty, alone-in-a-crowd. Now…not quite so empty. Thank you.

  27. Great post! We are warriors and will shine! You are an inspiration to me! ~Cynthia

  28. Dang it, y’all, you made me cry again. As I sit here at 11:30 at night, trying to do a document for my meeting tomorrow morning at 8:15 am, after a full day’s work, two meetings for my kids’ sports’ dinner and finally FINALLY getting those dang whack a moles into their holes, I am at my wit’s end. And yet, here you go again, making me realize that I can do this, I can do hard things, and just your own version of “Carry on warrior” makes me feel as if I can do this, and grateful for all God has given me.

    Thank you.

  29. Rachel, you are truly a woman of valor. A great woman who is speaking of love and truth.
    Thank you for all that you do.

  30. Just read this post while doing financial paperwork and TAXES. Went from hating my life to feeling like a Woman of Valour! Thank you, Rachel.

  31. Rachel — For freeing me to wrestle with big questions and providing a beautiful example of how to do that while still relentlessly pursuing Jesus. For persevering in your search for Truth while some around you call you “heretic.” For diving into difficult subjects. For opening up your beautiful heart and mind and sharing your insights and doubts. Eshet Chayil!

    Glennon — For giving me the nudge to live out loud and for all the blessings that have followed. For teaching me to listen for everyone’s story and to pursue connections with people. For your strength in the face of heartbreak. For keeping your eyes on Jesus when some seek to tear you down. Eshet Chayil!

  32. A piece I recently wrote about the “Proverbs 31 woman”:

  33. I have that book on my kindle and LOVE it. I also follow RHE on fb and her blog. It is so refreshing…to see that I’m not alone in my faith (without the fundamentalism I used to know).

  34. I so needed to read this today! This Monday has been kicking my butt! I had the thought earlier while I was mopping the kitchen floor that no one would notice and it would just be dirty again by bedtime. Then, I came over and read this post. I won’t ever forget again that I am a woman of valor. I can do hard things. And I do, every day. :)

  35. Thank you, Rachel! I love your blog and am so grateful to read your words today.

  36. As I read this, I kept of thinking of the song Carry On Wayward Son by Kansas and I am still trying to figure out how there is the connection

  37. Beautiful essay. I never thought of looking at that passage that way…and I will likely never view it any other way, thanks to you. I love finding ways to look at things with a new perspective…a perspective that empowers you instead of discourages. You’ve done that brilliantly. Thank you, Rachel! And thank you, Glennon, for introducing some of us (like me) who hadn’t heard of Rachel or her book.

  38. Love the turnabout on the “proverbial” Proverbs 31 woman – that it is a cheer for all those things that we do to serve and bless our families, instead of a cudgel over our heads to “inspire” us to hardworking virtuosity. Thanks, and “Eshet Chayil” on your book!

  39. Two of my favorites on one blog! Love seeing Rachel Held Evans and Glennon together. Brava, and Eshet Chayil to you both!

  40. Thanks for that message. Soothing balm to my harried heart today.

  41. In any language this encouragement is a balm to my heart.

  42. I really needed this today. I am struggling with my worth at work, and feel as if I’m fighting all the time to be deemed “valuable.” I suffered a huge blow this morning, and have been praying for anything from the Lord to get me through this day. I have a presentation in 30 minutes that might very well determine my job future, and after this morning’s discouragements from the person who holds my job in their hands, I have been struggling with keeping my head up. I felt like this was the Lord’s reminder for me to “Carry On, Warrior!” and so I will. I am thankful for opportunities to allow Him to strengthen me through these times. I will persevere, and continue to look for opportunities to build others up all the while. You monkees are a very real part of my daily walk, and I thank you for the encouragement I receive just by observing you.

  43. Two of my favourite writers and women collide. Love it.

  44. Love, love, love Rachel Held Evans and this book! A must read, if you haven’t already!!

  45. I’ll confess, the minute I saw the title of this post, I thought, “Oh, no – guilt trip!” But, happily, it wasn’t at all. Thanks for the new spin on a dreaded proverb!

  46. Oh my!!! I can’t wait to read your book. I so needed this today…so needed this…Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! LOVE.

  47. Love it! Eshet Chayil!!!
    In the midst of your book G, it’s a gem. Thank you for so openingly sharing your life. Praying for you daily on your book tour journey.

  48. THANK THE GODDESS fora redemption of the Proverbs 31 woman. Now I can stop hating her. However, I do want to continue the conversation. In my experience, this passage was definitely used by the patriarchal powers that be as prescriptive, in order to keep women in line. Reading the Bible with new eyes (i.e., not literally) allows for such movement from fierce rigidity to bountiful abundance.
    So my self messages can now change from “You lazy slob. MOP THE DAMN FLOOR” to “Good lord, woman, the way you just empowered your kid to feel her big feelings in a constructive way was fucking brilliant!!”

    This is the marrow of the spirit of the law bringing freedom, and the letter–well the letter of the law just drives us all batshit crazy, drives us to drink and judge each other, and, worse, breaks Grace’s knees when we most need her.

    Thanks so much, Rachel.

    • love this. thanks.

    • AGREED!

      I love the attempt to reclaim this as a list of Some Awesome Things Some Women Were Doing, rather than Some Awesome Things All Women Should Be Doing, or, worse, The Only Awesome Things Women Should Be Doing. If we were writing hymns of praise to women now, many of these would be there, and so would many new and wonderful things. Yay to that…

      I’m probably always going to struggle with how this chapter is employed, but I like feeling that on its own terms (rather than thoughtlessly or judgmentally invoked by others) it has much to recommend it.

  49. Thank you, Rachel. Although he hasn’t used those words, and although I have a difficult time believing them, “You are a woman of valor,” is essentially what my husband tells me every time I sink into the pit of “But I haven’t really DONE anything with my life.” We’re in the midst of selling our house and he told me that any profit we make is because of me – what I’ve done myself and what I had the forethought to have done. Hey, maybe that covers the “invests in real estate” part of the verse! :)

  50. Reading this during a mid-morning coffee break, this really hit home. That verse was read at my (Jewish) grandma’s funeral a few years ago, and I can’t help but think of her whenever I hear it. I love that “Eshet Chayil” could be the new “you go girl!”

  51. Wonderful! So glad you found this an amazing and powerful way to see your life as a woman and mother. At the beginning of the post, I was shuddering (for what you were trying to do and the feedback people were giving you.) At the end, I was cheering!

  52. As I change my gagillionth diaper, ask my two year old what she wants for lunch and end up making Mac and cheese yet again, and make yet another bottle for my two and a half month old I will make myself remember that I too am a woman of valor. I thank you!!

  53. Beautiful. I’d love to participate, if you had an opening. If not, I’ll read and read away.


  54. Brilliant, Glennon! I have read some of Rachel Held Evans’ blog posts before and this book was already on my Amazon wish list. Now I want to read it even more than before… that Proverbs 31 woman is being seen in a new light!

  55. Eshet chayil. Sorry.

  56. I love this and would also really like to know the correct pronunciation of esher chayil. Thanks!

  57. as I got up today I was a bit nervous. After almost a year of having my husband at home, helping out with kids, cooking and house chores, I was wondering how I would be able to do it all by myself again as he starts his new job and spend most of his week out of state.
    I have done it before, played the role of single parent, when husband had to live in a different state all week. This time I have a full time job and three kids and I was thinking about how to find the strength to do it with grace.

    As always I get the sign I need when I need it the most.
    There is always a guiding hand and all the beautiful mom warriours out there to remind me that I am never alone.

    Thank you

    • Go you, Jeanette, for seeing the signs. I also get the signs when I most need them. Carry on! (:

  58. I love reading Rachel’s writing and her challenge of the historical assumptions and beliefs that color our religion so pervasively. I love finding her here at momastery after having known her for so long.

    You know how you have two friends – maybe a personal friend and someone you bump into occassionally at work events and you just KNOW they would both be great friends if they ever meet. Then one day they do and it is just like you thought – instant connection.

    That’s what finding out Rachel and G are friends is like…

    Have a great day, Monkees!


  59. LOVE this post!! I have always struggled mightily with the Proverbs 31 Woman. I would start out reading the verse, determined to be the woman/wife/mother God wanted me to be, only to grow discouraged with every passing word. She rises before dawn? That one was enough to make me forget the whole thing. What a beautiful, new perspective you have given me on this chapter in the Bible! Thank you.

  60. I just finished Rachel’s book and loved it! It greatly influenced a Bible study curriculum I was writing entitled, “Feminine Identity.” The church has really botched feminine identity and Rachel is helping to right that wrong! Woman of Valor!

  61. What an ingenious idea—enlarge the circle AND expand our minds. Pure genius, G.


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