She makes linen garments and sells the, and delivers girdles for the merchants.

Proverbs 31:21

It is easy to get caught up in this verse and focus on her creativity and her business skills. We may not have those skills, or we may not have the opportunity to walk in them – at this stage in our life. When I read the Bible I believe the principles that are being taught there are applicable regardless of our circumstances – so what can we learn from this woman, in this verse even if I can’t weave linen, and I can’t sell my products and I have no merchants wanting to buy from me.

She makes fine linen:

She doesn’t just make linen but she makes quality. As we read through Proverbs 31 there is a sense of excellence in all that she does. She not only has the skill for these things but she has a mark of excellence. There are two questions we can ask ourselves

  1. Do I have the skills I need to have?
  2. Do I aim for excellence in all that I do?

It doesn’t matter if I am making bread, sweeping the floor or ironing clothes I can do this with excellence in mind or I can have an attitude that just gets it done. Now excellence isn’t perfection. Excellence is that little extra effort that polishes off the job as well done. Excellence is to do it with the quality that makes our inner self pleased. Excellence needs to be an intrinsic grade not an extrinsic grade; that is, we need to have the standard in our heart, not performing to someone else’s standard of excellence – which is external. When we perform to someone else’s standard we will fall short and feel judged and condemned. When we know in our heart what is excellent, then we can work towards it.

Take our children for example. When I teach my children chores I have a standard in my mind – that is the standard I can work at. But my 5yo cannot yet achieve that level of excellence but he can still do an excellent job – by working to his fullest ability, by going the extra mile, by working with a happy heart and focusing on what he is doing – he will complete that chore with excellence. As he grows older, stronger and more experienced his own level of excellence will grow with him.

So if we are learning a new skill our level of excellence will look different than someone else’s standard of excellence. This is why our standards need to be in our heart – have we done our tasks to a standard that makes our own heart pleased (and the heart of our heavenly Father).

She sells her linen:

We have learnt from previous verses how she collects and gathers the raw materials she needs to provide the needs for her family. It is said that her family is clothed well – she has looked after their needs and now it seems that she is selling the surplus.

I was reminded of a book that I have read called “Margins”. In a book or document the margins are the white space around the page, this white space doesn’t appear to be very useful – maybe even a waste of space – and yet that white space holds everything together and makes that page easier to read. We need white space in our lives. Instead, we tend to fill up the page, we fill up our lives with commitments and activities – we have nothing left over, we have no margins. We need left overs, we need margins.

We need left over time

We need left over money

We need left over energy

We need left over space

We need left over spiritual gifts

If we live fully and have no margins we find ourselves in a place where we can’t give to the surprises in life. We can’t give time to the family down the road who are in need because every moment of our day is already taken up. We can’t give money to a concern God lays on our heart, we can’t give energy to our child who is having a bad day, we can’t have an overnight guest because there is stuff stacked on the guest bed, we can’t give time in prayer because we are just too tired.

I was reminded of all this when I read this verse in Proverbs 31 – this lady had extra on her hands – she had margin. She gathered what her family needed, and more. And the more was then able to bless her family coffers (by her selling them).

We need to look after ourselves to ensure that we have extra so that we can benefit our family and others. It takes great management to get extra in our lives. I am on this journey myself. The thing that helps me is to know my priority for this stage of my life. Things that are consistent with that priority are the things that should fill my days (fill my page if you like). It is when I take on other things beyond my priority that I lose my margins – it is as if the type gets pushed to the very edge of my page.

She delivers:

Not only does this lady set up shop (I imagine a market stall) but she delivers as well. (To be honest I don’t know if this is what was done way back in the days of King Lemmuel but it is the picture that was painted in my mind.) Delivering to your customers is going the extra mile. The question for me is –

  • Do I go the extra mile for my family?
  • Do I go the extra mile for the people I meet along the way?
  • Do I go the extra mile in my business dealings?

Going the extra mile means

  • I have a heart to serve and not to be repaid in kind
  • that my attitude is free of resentment and bitterness
  • that I am available and enthusiastic.

She deals with Merchants:

This word was the surprise factor as I studied this verse. It seems as if the word “merchant” described people from Canaan (and from Egypt or Persia) who sold things. So this lady did business, and don’t forget she also did deliveries so she served these people as well. Canaanites were outside her family boundaries. She served them with her creativity, excellence and willingness.

There are other verses in Proverbs 31 that says she looked after the poor and needy but I think it would be fair to say that merchants buying fine linen weren’t struggling financially. So she was involved with people of all different social standings and even nationalities.

Do we?

It isn’t about having a business where we can sell to merchants from afar – it is about our heart – is our heart one willing to serve people in our community – wether they are poor and needy in a physical sense or whether they have their physical needs already met but may be poor and needy in spirit. Do we step outside of our comfortable family boundaries and look for people to serve?

How can we use our creativity, our excellence and our willingness to bless others? The problem is we often look to grand examples and feel we can’t possibly do anything like that – but really it doesn’t take big efforts to bless other people.

I have been blessed by people who have

  • written me a little note
  • cooked me a meal
  • been a listening ear
  • taken the time to sit with me
  • given me a little gift of chocolate or flowers

As I go forward this week I want to remember these three words: Creativity, Excellence and Willingness and look for ways to serve in my family and beyond.

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 Every week I'll email an encouragement to stay intentional and relational in all your family life.  But for now, download your set of reminder posters - posters which I've used over the years to remind me to keep my eyes and heart on what is important.

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