What a loaded word, huh?
For those of us who grew up in the Church, the word virtue likely summons visions of white dresses, prim, quiet women, and perhaps even a crochet needle or two. Many of us, having long since memorized the description of the Proverbs 31 Woman, find ourselves falling painfully short on a daily basis. Some of my friends have shared their frustration in feeling like they want to be it all, do it all, and, most importantly, wear a smile the whole time…only to discover, over and over again, that it’s simply impossible to be a woman – to be a human – and never fall short.
That’s because virtue is not meant to be a chain shackled to your feet; it’s a gift offered to you on your brightest days, in your darkest hours, and in every moment in between.
I spent most of my adolescent years terrified of having sex or fooling around with my boyfriends because I, like so many young women, attributed my virtue solely to my virginity. But, like my favorite blogger, Jamie the Very Worst Missionary, says about her teenage sons, “I refuse to tie their value as a human being to their junk like a shiny red balloon.”
Please note I’m not saying that virtue is not connected to your sexuality. Or that you have to be a Christian to be virtuous. I’m just saying that virtue, like everything else in our lives, is both incredibly complex and stunningly simple. It requires introspection as well as a simple “Yes” or “No”. It gives us something to strive for while also making itself known in quiet moments, the kind when we stop to think about someone other than ourselves.
We are in between a rock and a hard place here, my friends. Because the Church (and by the Church I mean religious leadership and, often, the people who represent it) tells women we should, as I mentioned before, “be it all and do it all” like the Proverbs 31 Woman. And, ironically, popular culture tells us the exact same thing! The difference is that what the Church wants us to be and do and what popular culture wants us to be and do are often polar opposites. And somewhere on the middle of the spectrum there’s me. And there’s you. And we’re both paralyzed into believing we can never succeed…so what’s the point in trying?
My little sister is going to college next year and, over the weekend, we talked a lot about this kind of stuff, about how choices like what to wear, how to speak, how to think, who to date, or what to like often give us so much pause. And then, like the brilliant teenager she is (but I’m not biased), my sister said something I just have to share with you:
“I don’t think God gave us rules so He could stand back and watch as we try to jump through hoops. He gave us rules because, if we obey them, our lives will be filled with good things. And that’s what He wants for His children.”
Can I get an “Amen”?
Whatever your beliefs about God are, and wherever you stand on the spectrum of trying to do it all and be it all, know that anything you do that adds value to your life and to the lives of others is a virtue. Virtue thrives when you love your neighbor, when you fill your body with good stuff, and when you treat yourself like the beautiful creation you are. But it doesn’t stop there, beloved! It also thrives when you are sobbing into a puddle on your bathroom floor and you choose to get up again. When you don’t think you can go on, but you do anyway. When you realize, for just long enough to respond, that your life – your very existence – is, indeed, a good thing.
Allow me to go back, for a final time, to the Proverbs 31 Woman and share some thoughts on who I think she really is:
She brings good and not harm. She works hard at what she does, no matter how big or small. Sound like a mama you might know?
She is generous. Like the CEO of a non-profit or that girl in the Starbucks line who pays for the customer behind her.
She’s a smart business woman who takes risks and is eager to learn. Without her, The Simply Beloved would not exist.
She is compassionate towards others. Like an elementary school teacher, a nurse, a babysitter, or a soup kitchen volunteer.
She likes to decorate. Like every other woman on the planet.
She’s a saleswoman. Maybe has her own Etsy shop.
She is wise and thinks before she speaks. Like a friend sharing coffee with her broken-hearted bestie. Or the graduate interviewing for her very first job.
She is blessed. She is loved.
She is you and she is me.