Can You Be Woke and Happy? ‘She Laughs, Without Fear of the Future’
King Solomon and I have a long-standing beef. The fact that this philanderer who kept 1,000 women at his beck and call wrote the impossible “Virtuous Woman” standard of womanhood that Christian women are still measured against today, grinds my gears. Hypocrisy and nerve aside, however, Proverbs 31:25 still speaks to me.
“She laughs, without fear of the future.”
The Virtuous Woman has joy and no fear. As a Christian, that’s supposed to be me.
On the one hand, I’ve been laughing quite a bit lately. With all the violence and injustice clogging my newsfeed every day, I’ve retreated into watching comedies on Netflix as a coping mechanism. Even the amazing drama Queen Sugar can be difficult for me to watch in real time. I just want to laugh!
Because I’m terrified.
I’m terrified because North Korea just launched a test missile. And Black lives continue not to matter to state agents with guns, to the justice system and to healthcare and housing and employment gatekeepers. Because men who profess to “love” women can’t fathom us as equal humans who deserve respect, agency and safety and therefore are the leading cause of violent death for women. I’m terrified because people are cruel and dehumanizing for their own benefit. On a micro level, I’m terrified that I’m not on the right track. I’m terrified that I am on the right track and my whole life is about to change and I’m not spiritually ready.
So much fear and terror. It’s crippling.
But this ideal woman in Proverbs 31:25–in the midst of a misogynistic culture where dudes like Solomon get to own 1,000 women while writing canonized warning letters to their sons about how women are either 1 idealistic standard or plotting the downfall of men–is thriving, and purpose-driven and laughing! Without fear of the future!
My laughter is a distraction. It’s temporary self-care. It’s punctuated with an asterisk and the footnotes are there to detail every fear and terror the laughter is masking at that moment.
But her laughter is light.
Is she not paying attention?! Is she out of touch with the suffering of people who do not have what this wealthy, married, business owner and mother has? Or is she making a conscious choice to have joy despite the systemic injustice surrounding her in Israel? Or is a man like Solomon who owns 1,000 women unable to create a character like the Virtuous Woman with some agency?
What I do know is that, on my 32nd birthday, I’d say my life is pretty great. I interviewed Oprah! My debut novel Book of Addis: Cradled Embers is award-winning! Two times over! I just got a raise at work! I just had a fantastic vacation in my favorite place with my favorite people! I’m so loved. I’m so blessed. So why do I let terror steal my joy?
I know that’s the intent of terror, to imprison. Thanks to a reminder from my friend Lawrence in his recent sermon, I’m aware that joy and freedom can’t co-exist with fear. Neither can love. And love, joy and freedom are the point of life. Fear is a thief. So, if I have to choose, lovejoyfreedom or fear, the answer ought to be simple!
It isn’t because the fear of choosing lovejoyfreedom for me is that I’d leave behind those who can’t or haven’t come with me yet. That in my happiness, I’d stop fighting for the love, joy and freedom of others. That ignorance is indeed bliss, so, joyful, loving, free folk must also be sleep. You can’t, I fear, be joyful and woke.
While it does happen like that sometimes, it doesn’t have to be the case for me. I can show my love by fighting for others. I can maintain my joy by standing with those who struggle. In fact, as Alice Walker wrote, the secret of joy is resistance. I can find my freedom in demanding freedom for others.
Fear may very well be warranted. Trump is a disaster. The U.S. government’s imperialist chickens are coming home to roost. North Korea aint playing. I’m making avoidable mistakes and I could be doing a lot more than what I’m doing… Fear has its place. But if it’s not moving me forward because it’s weighing me down? It has to go.
When I think of the Virtuous Woman with her light laughter, I think of another whose burden is light. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,” Jesus says in Matthew 11:29. “[A]nd you will find rest for your souls.”
Jesus calls Christians to a life of social justice action, but also says, “fear not.” In other words, “Stay woke, but don’t be crippled by fear; I got you.”
“22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it.30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Even though Luke 12:22-34 came loooong after the Virtuous Woman, this has to be her secret. Through conflicts, great and small, this should be my refrain: “Nevertheless, will I trust God.”
Even spiritual humans who trust in God are not impervious to pain and fear; those things come with the territory, and we don’t have to feel like lesser humans for not living up to biblical ideals. When fear creeps up, the question I can ask myself is, “Have I done all I can do?”
If not, I can keep working. If so, it’s no longer my problem to solve. I can turn it over to God to handle, whose shoulders are much broader than mine. And then, when something’s funny, I can laugh, unburdened, knowing God’s will will be done and the future isn’t any of my business, just yet.