There was a commercial for a perfume, Enjoli, that I remember seeing a lot when I was growing up. It had a memorable jingle. As a beautiful woman walked towards the camera, she morphed from being dressed in a business suit to everyday shirt with a skillet to slinky dress.

All this happened while a woman sang, “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never ever let you forget you’re a man… Cuz’ I’m a woman. Enjoli!” The song is a riff on I’m a Woman, sung by many and various performers (including the Muppets, so I’ve read).

But it came to me on Sunday, September 23, when we had a reading from the Book of Proverbs (31:10-31). The writer is extolling the activities and virtues of a good wife. Well, actually a capable wife. Here is a selection of verses from the reading:

A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. | The heart of her husband trusts in her,  and he will have no lack of gain. | She rises while it is still night  and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant girls. | She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. | She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong. | She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy. | She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchant with sashes. | Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land. | She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. | She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. | Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her: | "Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all." | Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. | Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.

In some ways, this is a 2500 year old text taking up the same kinds of questions about women and women’s work that we see in today’s world. This capable wife of Proverbs is like the superwoman ideal of the 1970’s and 1980’s (as celebrated in the Enjoli commercial). She works to care for her family, She is not afraid for her household when it snows, for all her household are clothed in crimson (verse 21). She is an entrepreneur, She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night (verse 18). She is praised as being tireless in her care for her family, her business, and herself, She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant girls, (verse 15) and Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her (verse 28). And I am sure that her makeup is perfect too!

For me, I get tired and cranky just reading this. I am thankful that we Episcopalians read the Bible as the inspired Word of God, not the literal Word of God. While that doesn’t mean that I can throw out this portion of Proverbs, it does help me read it with a few shakes of salt. This capable wife is an image that is too high, too much on the pedestal, too perfect. It is set out as an ideal, but perhaps this is an ideal that is not helpful. There are women all over the world, in developed and developing countries, that are held to this ideal. On the days that I feel stretched thin and running to meet the demands of being a full-time priest, full-time mom, and full-time spouse, I am grateful that I don’t need to draw water from the well, grind my own grain, gather firewood, and put the cows out to pasture, all before the kids are awake.

I do feel the pull and pressure to do those different roles that I have – priest, mom, wife – fully and well. It is a balancing act and some days I feel that I am well balanced. And on other days, well... something drops. I know there are days that no one in my family calls me happy, when the laundry isn’t done, and the library books don’t get returned. I know that I am not in this alone, nor the only person who feels this way. I am grateful that David, my husband, is doing the balancing act in his different roles of priest/professor/administrator, dad, and husband. The two of us do our family’s balancing act together. And then there is God – calling us into our vocations as priests/teachers, parents, and partners, helping us to stay balanced, and catching us when we fall.

Almighty God, giver of life and love, bless all families.  Grant them wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their common life, that each may be to the other a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity, a comfort in sorrow, and a companion in joy.  And so knit their wills together in your will and their spirits in your Spirit, that they may live together in love and peace all the days of their life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.