“Her Candle Does Not Go Out”: Thoughts on Time Management and Virtuous Womanhood

I started out yesterday, trying to write an up-beat post about using time wisely and what that looks like in the life of a virtuous woman. I started out, but as I wrote about all the things I would like to do and be with my time, I became bogged down in something other than pure revelation, and then an alert came through on my phone that they urgently needed help on night shift. I looked at it, and the anxiety rose inside me slightly, and I pushed it away. Sometimes you just can’t solve their problems, I thought, although it’s hard to know when those times are for sure… I was supposed to be working dayshift the next day (today) so I really couldn’t help, could I?

Actually, I could. The phone rang and my manager asked if I could please switch from day shift and help them out on night shift? I considered and talked to Ben and decided I could. Then my lap-top died, and I felt disgruntled and did not want to plug it in or to finish writing about using time wisely. So I closed it, and put it aside, and wove a rug and made supper instead.

After all, was writing a blog post a good use of my time when there were other things to be done?

Later on in the afternoon, I tried to take a nap in preparation for my nightshift. I didn’t really sleep, though. About the time I decided to get up, my phone buzzed again. They probably wouldn’t need me on nightshift after all, they said, but were going to keep me on call, just in case.

As it happens, I did not get called in to work, and now I have off today. Ben left early this morning to go hunting in the woods, his mood rather exhilarated compared to how he usually leaves home in the morning. And I, Alison, sit at home thinking moodily about an assortment of things, and looking up Bible verses about the use of time, and irritably noting that I don’t really want to do anything with my time today—maybe not even write a blog post—and surely that mood is not redeeming the ticking clock?

Usually, though, I do want to do things with my time. I want to do All The Things.  I want to be a virtuous Christian woman, and be a good nurse, and write my blog posts, and spend time with my family two hours away, and be a good housekeeper. I want to do all of those things, and I look at other people and I wonder why it feels like I get so much less accomplished than they do when we all have 24 hours in our day and 7 days in our week?

Many of my coworkers work full time, and a lot of them have children and homes to keep after, and I wonder why I feel busy when I only have one little house, one husband, and one part time job? I look at the Mennonite women I want to be like, and many of them have large families of active children, hobbies, big gardens, and still seem to have time to do things like making meals for people, and running sewing circles, and, through it all, they still seem to be able to smile and make time for more.

Last week, one night, I went to bed feeling guilty that I had not washed the dishes–we had had evening plans, and I had to get up early the next morning for work, and I wanted to get some sleep before then. As we got ready for bed, I asked Ben if I could pick up another day at work next week?

“This doesn’t make sense,” he said. “You complain about not having time to do your housework, and then the next minute you want to work more days? How does that make sense?”

“But they’re both true!” I said. “I feel them both! I want to do better with my housework, but I also want to work more. I should be able to. I should be more efficient.”

And this is my life—a constant desire to be more and achieve more. Yesterday, I heard on a podcast that we should not compare ourselves to others and expect our productivity and efficiency to be the same as everyone else’s. God made us all different, and we need to find our own sweet spots and know in our hearts what we can do and what we can’t.

But that is where the difficulty lies. Because sometimes I selfishly think that I can’t help out for another day at work, or switch to night shift, or whatever it may be, when in reality, I just don’t want to. Sometimes I feel that going to bed with dishes unwashed is my right, but in reality, I could just wash the dishes quick and lose those 20 minutes of sleep. Ben and I could say no to the multitude of evening plans that work themselves into our weeks and sit high and dry in our little castle on Poplar Street, all alone, going to bed early, without prayer meeting, and Bible studies, and Discipleship classes, but those things should be priority, not Our Alone Time, and we find so much blessing when we do those things, even if we are sometimes tired the next day…

So here is my question, for all of those people balancing jobs, and houses, and church stuff, and families… How do you do it? How do you prioritize and stay sane and feel rested all at the same time? Do you just sacrifice the feeling calm and rested part? Many times the verse about the woman in Proverbs 31 comes back to haunt me—

“Her candle goeth not out by night…”


I’m sorry if the previous section sounds depressed and selfish. In reality, I love all the things we do with our time. I’m still adjusting to married life and having more than one person’s schedule to consider and being responsible for all the housework. It is a shock of reality when one is used to running off to work and coming home to find clean towels in the bathroom (or at least in the dryer) and a plate of food sitting on the table waiting for you. It’s a good shock, though, and one I have rather enjoyed for the most part.

Still, I am looking for wisdom about this act of balancing time. I want there to be margin in my life for studying and worshipping God. I want there to be enough margin that I can help other people when they need help, when things come up unexpectedly. But I don’t want to be lazy and waste time either…

I would love to hear other people’s input about this all important topic. Also, though, I would like to consider God’s input, the input from the Bible—which, after all, is where I should be looking, rather than at my coworkers and church friends.

So I googled Bible verses about time. The first one that popped up was from Ephesians 5 about redeeming time, or making the best use of time, because the days are evil. I wasn’t really sure what the days being evil meant, but I read in a commentary that it meant that the people of Ephesus were living in an evil society and judgement could come soon. Our society, we know, is also very evil—whether or not Jesus comes back soon. We know that the people around us will be judged, and perhaps could die very soon… From that verse I get a priority for time management—the things that bring people closer to Jesus, or help people learn about Jesus, should be our priority. We should have time to talk to people, time to pray for people, and time to truly care when we see people with needs. In this way, we can redeem the time.

And then there’s the verse about the ant in Proverbs—“Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise…How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber…”

Very picturesque, that, a warning to me when I think about how nice it would be if I didn’t ever have to go to work early in the morning or get up before 8. Perhaps sleeping in is not a valuable priority, certainly one I should not demand on a regular basis…

And then again, there are two verses that I have often felt opposed the one about the ants—”It is vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”

And the other, “Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.”

I have decided that these verses do not oppose each other. I have determined that there must be a balance somewhere between selfishly demanding that we shouldn’t have to work hard or put undue effort into anything, and the other extreme where we work like crazy, anxiously trying to solve the problems of the world, cramming so much into our lives that we don’t sleep or have rest in our minds. I recognize the second verse as a question about what we are working for? Are we working so we have all the things that we want? The beautiful, well-decorated home, a following on social media, an appreciative boss, and well-designed clothes? Or are we grateful for the things that we have, and able to live quietly and calmly without striving to always have more? As Paul said, we should live in a state of quiet contentment if we have even food and clothing…

And then, of course, we have Proverbs 31. Beauty and favor we see to be deceitful. Hardworking women are the ones who do their husbands good. The virtuous woman in this chapter has time management figured out for sure—she creates clothing from wool, makes food, and gets up early when necessary. She is a wise businesswoman, the things she makes are good quality, and she has time to help those who are in need. She is the personification of strength, wisdom, laughter, and kindness.

Again I see priorities for time management: being willing to work hard, taking responsibility for the needs of those who live in your house and the needs of those around you, doing what you do well, not sloppily, and keeping a healthy sense of humor through it all…

My question about this chapter always comes when I read verse 18—“Her candle goeth not out by night.”

I think about all the things she apparently accomplishes and think that perhaps she doesn’t have time to sleep, but then I think that she must be superhuman, because when I stop sleeping my productivity and laughter and good mood tend to go flying far, far away… Virtuous womanhood, I then conclude, is something I will only yearn after all my life. By God’s grace I can still stay gracious when I’m tired, but to stop making sleep a bit of a priority always seemed a little irresponsible.

I looked in some commentaries and found that not everyone thinks this verse means that she doesn’t ever rest. Some people think it means a figurative candle—the candle of hope in her heart. Some people think it denotes that she is never weary in well-doing and she is always ready and watchful for whatever may come.

Maybe when the virtuous woman goes to bed she makes sure her lamp is full of oil and will burn in the window all night, so she can take it to go to her children if they need her, or go help someone who needs help. Maybe sometimes she works the night shift when it is needed, but maybe she doesn’t do that every night?

Does anyone else have thoughts on this verse or any other thoughts on virtuous time management? I would love to hear thoughts from each one of you on this fascinating and super practical topic, because I still feel like I have many questions and few answers.

P.S. Was my two hours writing this a good use of my time on this cold, blustery November morning off work? 🙂

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