May She Be Beautiful and Strong
Lessons from Mothering Daughters
Every fall I replace the foliage in the two planters on my front porch. My first step is to scour the Internet looking for my favorite planter design. When I find one I like, I study the picture carefully, noting the variety, size, color, and placement of the plants, as well as the overall effect. Then I purchase my plants and flowers and try to arrange them in a similar manner. The finished product rarely looks as good as the picture (not even close sometimes!), but the planters do look better than if I had designed them without the inspiration of a picture.
To guide and inspire us in our parenting, God has graciously given us two vibrant pictures of youthful maturity in Psalm 144:12:
May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace.
The psalmist portrays the beautiful complexity of the creation design by representing sons as “plants full grown” and daughters as “corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace.” Together, these two distinct images reveal a single, underlying assumption: sons and daughters are different. Children are not all plants, or all pillars, or whichever they feel like being. They were created by God to be masculine or feminine.
Taking a closer look at the daughter of this verse, how can this image of “corner pillars” guide and inspire our mothering of daughters? What does the image of a pillar mean? And what does it look like, in the everyday, practical aspects of mothering, to raise a feminine child into the young woman the psalmist describes?
A Picture of Beauty
These are no ordinary pillars. They are palace pillars; ornately carved and lovely to look at. In a word, beautiful. We can seek to replicate this picture by raising our daughters to be beautiful in character and appearance. As Christian mothers we are not to oppose our daughters’ desires for beauty; rather we are to cultivate their God-given inclinations to make themselves, and everything around them, more beautiful.
Of course, true beauty begins with a gentle and quiet spirit, the strong character of a woman who trusts in God and does good (1 Peter 3:3–6, 1 Timothy 2:9–10). And we can train our children to do good. We can pursue ways for them to serve in their families, churches, and communities. Ask moms with young children if your daughter can be a mother’s helper; check with your local church or community outreach program to see if your daughter can volunteer; or create “good work” opportunities in your home. By teaching our daughters to serve others we are also helping them to grow more beautiful.
True beauty may start with a humble and godly heart, but it is also reflected in a modest and lovely appearance (1 Timothy 2:9). Instead of holding our daughters to an arbitrary standard of beauty or our own style preferences, we want to cultivate our daughters’ tastes for beauty in a way that is consistent with the word of God. This involves teaching, of course, but also, practically helping them to dress in a godly manner. It isn’t always easy to be stylish and modest, and sometimes my three daughters and I shopped for hours with only a blouse to show for our trouble. However, the extra effort is worth it to please the Lord and to serve others.
Finally, we want to encourage our daughters to make their surroundings beautiful. We should pass on whatever skills we possess in the arts and homemaking, and wherever we lack talent (as I do in many areas), we can tap gifted friends to teach our daughters. No matter our skill level, we want to raise our daughters to be beautiful makers of beauty.
A Picture of Support
These pillars are not merely attractive. They are corner pillars: load-bearing beams that support the very structure of the palace. We teach our daughters to be corner pillars by training them to shoulder responsibility, work hard with creativity and ingenuity, serve without recognition, and bear up under pressure and persecution in a world hostile to biblical femininity.
Well-meaning parents may try to remove obstacles and smooth the way for the fulfillment of their daughters’ dreams. But this approach will often create weak women who are unable to handle the heavy responsibilities of adulthood and family life or resist cultural pressures. As Christian mothers, we aim to raise daughters who are strong sustainers of home, church, and society — the ones who hold it up and keep it together. The woman in Proverbs 31 is a picture of this type of woman, but with an expanded view. To be a “corner pillar” requires great strength of character that comes from habits of discipline and determination, best developed at a young age.
One way we can raise our daughters to be hardworking, load-bearing young women is by teaching them how to run a home. As soon as my daughters were old enough, I began giving them lessons in the various aspects of homemaking: meal planning, cleaning, shopping, washing and ironing, and organization.
Then, when I felt they were ready, I put them each in charge of running our home for an entire week. They were all surprised at how tricky and taxing managing a home can be. Since then, each of them have commented on how this trial-week helped prepare them for the often heavy burdens of motherhood and homemaking. No matter our daughter’s future responsibilities, our end goal is to train them up to be load-bearers — physically, intellectually, and emotionally — in the home and in the church.
A Picture of Connection
Finally, corner pillars are connectors. They not only beautify and support; they also join the palace walls together. In a similar way, we want our daughters to be people-connectors, drawing and holding people together (Romans 12:9–13, Ephesians 4:3).
What makes a young woman a good connector? An outward focus in her relationships with others. Instead of being self-focused and withdrawn or, at the other extreme, attention-getting and vain, she is oriented toward loving others in a way that draws them together in Christ. Warmth and friendliness, skill in asking questions, and attentiveness to the needs and feelings of others make her a young woman who brings and binds people together.
One way we can help our daughters grow into strong connectors is by curating their friendships. Instead of allowing them to hang out with whomever they want, we should encourage them to reach out to the lonely, to include the new girl, and to stay close to friends who provoke them to godliness. My daughters always knew that whenever they went to a social gathering, I was going to send them out with reminders to “serve, reach out to others, and ask good questions!” and follow up later to ask, “who did you talk to and who were you able to serve?” When we instruct our daughters on how to resist the temptations of self-focus (so strong in these early years!) we can help them to become God-honoring, people-connecting corner pillars.
A Mother’s Prayer
To raise daughters who become “like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace” is not merely difficult; it is utterly impossible in our own strength. We can easily feel demoralized by this image and its varied applications, but this verse is as encouraging as it is challenging. Not only is it a picture to imitate; it is a prayer to recite: a prayer to our sovereign, loving, all-powerful God who delights to answer a mother’s prayers.
This prayer should fill us with hope and confidence. Not only is God calling us to faithfully mother our daughters according to his word; he is also inviting us to bring all our mothering concerns and desires to him. Let us pray that he will do what only he can do — that by the power of the Holy Spirit he will cause our daughters to be beautiful, supportive, people-connectors for the glory of Christ.