Once there was a man who owned a rich, fertile piece of land, with hills to climb and lakes to swim and forests to explore. The landowner was known throughout the countryside for handling his affairs with fairness and truth. He had one daughter, and he loved her supremely. The daughter grew up knowing her father was good and one day all that was his would be given to her.
When the daughter had reached a certain age, her father said, “It is time for you to learn to manage the affairs of my property, so you may be well prepared at the time of my death.” Then the landowner set out into the countryside with a few belongings and left his daughter to oversee all that was his.
The daughter found herself alone and needing instruction, so she visited a neighbor, an older woman. She knocked on the woman’s door and asked, “Do you know how to tend the crops so that they are plentiful at the time of harvest?” But her neighbor said, “It is not right for a daughter to manage the affairs of a household alone. You must have a man to help you. Go find a man first.” Then the neighbor shut the door.
Indeed, the daughter imagined the work of sowing and planting and harvesting would be easier with the partnership of a man. But she knew of no suitable man, and she did not want to starve, so she began doing the work herself. It was strenuous at first, but over time she learned how to use the tools properly and tend the livestock and set up an irrigation system. Though she was sometimes lonely, she began to enjoy the work and believed her father would be happy with her labors.
After some time, the daughter began to imagine ways to expand the borders of her father’s land. There was an elderly man nearby who was selling his property. By selling some of her crops, the daughter reasoned, she could purchase the land and build a new barn, mend the fences, and perhaps try her hand at growing new crops.
But soon some of the neighbors, having become prone to gossip due to pride, heard of the daughter’s plans. And they said to her, “No man will want to help you now that you’re purchasing land alone. You’re too reliant on yourself. Why didn’t you find a man to help you?”
Indeed, the daughter wondered if her planning and dreaming was too fanciful for her own good. And she still believed the work of developing the purchased land would be easier with a man. But she had not found a man to work alongside her, and it came to pass that she was able to purchase the nearby land at a very good price. So she set to work building the new barn and mending the fences and planting new crops. She was happy with her ingenuity and believed her father would be as well.
Many years later, a great famine fell upon the countryside and destroyed many houses and killed many people in the land, including the parents of many children. Grief-stricken and full of compassion, the daughter surveyed her father’s property, which had been spared and was in fact bountiful. She thought, Surely my father would want me to share what’s here. She began to gather the children who were now without parents to her home and to care for them in their distress.
But when some of the neighbors, having grown bitter due to their recent misfortune, learned of the daughter’s plans, they scoffed. They said, “Now you have done yourself in. No man will want to join you now that you are caring for children alone, as he will find himself superfluous in your affairs. Why didn’t you find a man to help you?”
Indeed, the daughter feared that her largesse was too much for her to manage. And more than ever, she longed for a man to join her in caring for the children and the household and the land. But she had not found a suitable man willing to work alongside her. And she did not want her father to return finding her misusing the land he had entrusted to her. So she went about her affairs, raising crops and tending the home and caring for the children.
Then one summer day, the landowner returned to his property after many years of absence. The daughter saw him far off, walking up the hill to the house, and immediately her heart filled with joy. But she was also struck with fear: Had she dishonored her father since she had not found a man to help her manage the affairs of the property? Had she not looked hard enough for a man to help her? She froze at the thought of her father’s judgment that she had mismanaged what he had given her.
When the father reached the house, he beamed as he surveyed his land. He saw fields of green and gardens overflowing with vegetables and children running in the dirt. He ran toward his daughter and said, “Well done, my dutiful daughter! You were faithful with what I entrusted to you. Now come and enjoy the fruits of your labor.”
But the daughter said, “Father, I am glad for your return. But the neighbors said that I should not have done the work without a man. I longed for one and still he did not come. Have I dishonored you?”
The father replied, “Woe to those who spoke judgment against the work of your hands. And woe to the man who did not see the goodness of your labors. For greater is the lone woman who is faithful than the woman joined by a man who is idle. Now let’s have a feast to celebrate.”
Then the father set out to find the neighbors so he could ask why they hadn’t sent a suitable man to his virtuous and hardworking daughter.
Katelyn Beaty is the author of A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World (Howard / Simon & Schuster), which includes a chapter on singleness and living with purpose.