The Secret of Looking Well
by Gina L.
from Virtuous Daughters, April/May 2018~Volume 18, Number 1
"Panning for Gold" Proverbs 31 Study Series Part 18
The other night we were having a discussion about something our pastor mentioned recently. It was quite shocking. He was talking about people being thirsty for the Lord and got into a topic about paying attention in church. It turns out he was once at a church where--and this is a true story, believe it or not--a lady got out her nail clippers during church and began to clip not her fingernails, but actually her toenails during the service! Can you imagine that? It got our family later into a discussion about how hard it must be to preach when people don't even look at you and are noticeably distracted. It plays out this way: the pastor is preaching about God's wonderful grace and he looks out and people are checking their phones and their watches, looking around the room, putting on lip balm, fumbling for a piece of gum or a mint in their purses, yawning, or even reading the commentary notes in their Bibles from a passage he isn't even preaching on. I think you can often tell a lot by watching where a person is looking, where they fix their eyes, and not just in a church setting, but in life in general. Now obviously, one can pretend to look somewhere with their eyes while their heart is looking somewhere altogether different, but God sees where we look with both our heart and our eyes and it is a telling picture.
Today there are many places that women can look. The world has a large assortment of dazzling ornaments ready to grab the eye. Some look on social media with an almost religious devotion of time, checking it incessantly as if a treasure was soon to be revealed there. Others look to fashion and clothing and clearance sales for items they need about as much as a dolphin needs a new set of flippers. (Unfortunately, I have bought my share of clearance “flippers”!) Still others look to entertaining books, music, TV, movies, decorating websites, etc. Some are just constantly looking at their phones and texting friends far and near to exchange the latest news....a sort of modern way to go “from house to house.” Yes, you can be in your own house physically, but out of it mentally and emotionally. Other women are not so “narrow minded,” and they are looking to the world's wisdom, desiring to acquire the knowledge to understand lofty philosophies and “new” ideas, ever learning but never knowing truth. Some well-meaning women look for fulfilling experiences to show their great devotion, trying to get behind every cause and join every group, ever looking outward. But a great majority of women, in reality, are looking inward—at themselves—at their opportunities, their accomplishments, their ideas, their feelings, even their own holiness or lack of it. But where do we find the Virtuous Woman looking? She is shown rejecting idleness and self-absorption and looking instead to the needs of her family.
Proverbs 31:27 says that the Virtuous Woman looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.
We have seen the Virtuous Woman using her hands, arms, mind, and even mouth wisely. Now we see her using her eyes wisely as she looks well to the ways of her own household. In looking well to her household, she must certainly care for her family and meet their physical needs of food, warmth, clothing, and order. This is an important part of looking well and a difficult task for sure. We have already seen how successfully she does this in Proverbs 31, even while running a business and caring for the poor. Sometimes we stand in awe of this “Virtuous Woman” we seek to emulate, wondering how she has the energy and strength to go from rising early to extinguishing her candle after dark, working willingly all the while. One thing we see is that she is woman of God, fearing the Lord, and therefore has learned to rely on His strength and not her own in the demands of looking well to her household. We must go about our days in His strength too if we desire to look well to the ways of our household, but is caring for the outward needs of our family all that is entailed in “looking well”?
The Hebrew word for “looking well” is tsaphah, meaning to lean forward, i.e. to peer into the distance; by implication, to observe, await. I believe that meeting the outward needs of our family is a part of this “looking well,” but not the only part. Mankind does not just consist of a body only, but rather a body, soul, and spirit. Therefore besides caring for the outward needs of the members of her household, the Virtuous Woman must also look well to the inward needs of of her family.
Meeting the physical needs of a large or even small family can take quite a bit of work, effort, and time, and a mother can almost feel that she has completed her duty when this is attended to, for it is a noble accomplishment. But in looking well to the ways of our households, we must seek the wisdom of looking deeper, praying for insight into the emotional and spiritual needs of the individuals in our families. This will never happen if our eyes are directed constantly outward, looking for every opportunity of fulfillment outside our homes. We will also never acquire this insight and wisdom by looking inward, focusing on ourselves or our own aspirations or greatness or even our own failings. Looking upward is the only way to look well to the needs of our families, for God is the source of all wisdom and will direct our paths if we don't attempt to do it alone. He reminds us to trust Him and not ourselves; to lean on His understanding not our own; to acknowledge Him and not our peers in all our ways. Many may save the “trusting God” concept for the big things in life, but it is the little things that really make up our lives, and if we can't trust Him in the little things, we will never trust Him in the big things either. Some women are quite adept and capable and may feel they don't really need His “help” in the daily small things, but this is a recipe for failure, producing, like over-proofed bread, a certain fall.
There is no place for resting on your laurels if you desire to be a Virtuous Woman and look well to the ways of your household. Perhaps you are a great cook, organizer, house cleaner, homeschool teacher, help meet, coupon clipper and more. Great! But we are all in complete need of the Lord to see and meet the real needs of those around us on a daily basis. We can hear and listen to what a child says, but we need God to help us look behind and beyond the actual words to the heart, discovering why they are voicing this or maybe rather why they are so quiet. We must lovingly direct and wisely counsel, but we must also remember that we are not the Holy Spirit and that God's ways are higher than ours and His timing differs from ours too. I learned much from studying Jesus' words in the upper room to His disciples right before He went to the cross for us. He told them that He had much to say, but they weren't able to bear it now, but that when the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, is come, He will guide them into all truth (John 16:12-13). Sometimes I have had much to say to my children, but unlike Jesus, I tried to say it all right at the moment, giving no thought as to whether they were ready to bear it or not. Often they were not, and my “wise words” were neither wise nor fruitful. But I learned a great deal from Jesus' example and I now try to seek His wisdom in knowing what to speak and when to speak. This wisdom does not come from without or within but rather from Him alone, and it is ours for the asking. Join me in asking for this priceless treasure of wisdom daily. Looking well to the needs of our family can be wearying if we do it alone, but we will have rest if we rest in the Lord and not on our laurels.
The effort required in feeding our families each day is certainly substantial. We never would think of not feeding a hungry body, and yet I wonder if we are just as diligent with feeding them spiritually. Jesus is called the Bread of Life, and He is the meat that sustains. It is interesting to note too what Jesus told Peter before His ascension. Jesus told him three times, “Feed My sheep.” Now even though Peter had been a fisherman, we know that Jesus was not talking about feeding folks fish or physical food. In fact, Jesus already told Peter that he was to become a “fisher of men”! So Jesus' last concern was for the disciples to spiritually feed Jesus' sheep. The meat they were to serve was the Word of God and the Bread of Life was the Shepherd, Jesus himself. He was the bread that came down from heaven that giveth Life to the world. And whoever eats of that bread will live forever, unlike the children of Israel who ate manna in the wilderness and died. Let's face it....that manna must have been quite amazing bread. It did come down from God, an angel food of sorts. It did sustain them in good health for 40 years. As good as your homemade, freshly milled, organic, sprouted wheat bread may be, this was far superior. Yet they ate it and died. We are likewise foolish to only look to the physical needs of our families and feed them physical bread—no matter how good it is—and neglect to give the same care in feeding them the true Bread. This is not looking well to the needs of our family because man doesn't live by physical bread alone.
Interestingly, the second half of Proverbs 31:27 talks about bread too, when it states that the Virtuous Woman looks well to the ways of her household and eats not the bread of idleness. Time and again we have seen the hard-working example of this woman, which contrasts starkly to idleness or slothfulness. Her bread is not an effortless endeavor. Her days are not set on cruise control. Conversely, they are spent surrendering to and serving the True Bread while serving her household, working willingly. Her eyes are not focused inward or outward, but upward. She has meat to eat that most know not of. Her meat is to do God's will and God's work and look well to the ways of her household. This is not a task for idle women who wander about from house to house with their feet, or with their fingers wandering through the lives of others online.
Young women, girls, and single adults can practice “looking well” as they seek to serve those God places around them. Often there are opportunities in their own homes and other times God will bring outside people into their lives with opportunities where they can learn to serve. Just as your domestic skills can be honed with practice, you can also improve your ability to observe and meet the many-faceted needs of others, growing gracefully in “looking well.”
But ultimately, the real “looking well” involves looking at someone. And when people say, “looks can kill,” they aren't all wrong. A look can save too. Looking on the brass serpent in the wilderness after they were snake-bitten and dying saved the children of Israel. They literally just had to look to live. Maybe it took some faith to look. Not much perhaps, but some to drag themselves out of their tent of trouble and pain and gaze toward the brass serpent on the pole, or just to lift up their weary head from the dust and look. Some maybe didn't even look, thinking it silly, and died in their trouble and pain. A look also can kill. Yes, just one look. Lot's wife looked back once at Sodom and that was the last look she took. The angels had warned her to “look not behind thee,” but really is it that important where you look? She became a pillar of salt for that one look. Isaiah tells us “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” We indeed ought to fix our gaze one place and that is on the Lord. “Therefore I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me.” We look unto a God who sees and listens and loves us. This is the ultimate “looking well.” (Numbers 21:9; Genesis 19:17, 26; Isaiah 45:22; Micah 7:7)
Life has many seasons. Some require learning a new subject, skill, instrument, language, discipline, business, attitude, culture, or practice. There are seasons of serving too, where the focus can change from serving within the family to without, or vice versa. Through all the seasons, looking well is found in looking to Him every moment and obeying His call for your season.
Let us look well to the ways of our households and eat not the bread of idleness, serving the Bread of Life while fixing our eyes on Christ, for such does the Virtuous Woman.
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