“I though it wouldn’t happen to me,” my friend Jenny said. This was her answer to my simple question, “How are you?”
She recently had lost her husband, and she could not understand being deserted by former friends. Those who once regularly visited her and her husband, especially married couples, no longer came after her husband’s death. This is a frequent complaint from widows.
As I listened to Jenny, I felt more pity for the people who had deserted her than for Jenny. Despite her sorrow she had learned again to find her way through life, and because of this she undoubtedly had more to share with others than before-if only they would give her the chance.
I don’t know why people desert widows. Perhaps it’s because they are poorly adjusted to life themselves and simply don’t know how to cope with the sorrow of others. Are they fleeing from something by ignoring someone who is left alone?
“I wouldn’t know what to say to her.” We often hear this excuse, but someone who has suffered a great loss doesn’t necessarily need words. A sympathetic look or a squeeze of the hand are often quite sufficient.
The continued friendship of married couples is especially needed by the widow, for she suddenly misses the male influence of her husband in her life. But in this area many widows are unnecessarily wounded by the misunderstanding or negligence of others.
In Alone—A Widow’s Search for Joy, American author Katie F. Wiebe writes, “Like most widows, I found the fact that I was now an incomplete social unit one of the first difficult adjustments…. When I was invited to the homes of women my own age, it was usually when their husbands were away for business trips or other reasons.”
In reacting to this kind of treatment, the widow may withdraw and become completely secluded in her sorrow-which is certainly not what she needs.
It is important for widows to admit to themselves and others their sorrow and the extent of it. We often think it more noble to cover up sorrow, but not facing up to it can retard the process of healing. We should call sorrow what it is, without any guilt.
So how do we carry on in such sorrow without collapsing?
The Bible tells us that sorrow and trouble belong to this life. “Dear friends,” the apostle Peter wrote, “do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). Even Jesus Christ was known in prophecy as a “man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3). Sorrow is not an end in itself, but God allows it in our lives to open to us a new stage of living. He closes one door to open another.
When Job lost his ten children and suffered other losses as well, his wife refused to see the open door. She told Job he should curse God and die. But Job refused to give up. He faced his struggle openly, and gained a much deeper perspective of God and of his own life through what he suffered. He did not understand all that was happening to him, but he did not let this defeat him. The cost was high and the way seemed impossible, but he was a much richer person because of what he went through.
Through the story of Job we see that even though the worst occurs, God is still there. He helps and cares, and carries us through. In his infinite goodness he can give the most brokenhearted person a fresh beginning.
In such great sorrow our desire usually is to creep away and quietly sit in a corner, shutting out the world. As a widow I was tempted in this way, but God showed me it was wrong.
My attempted escape from the world ended one day when I was particularly hungry for contact with my husband, who no longer was there. Something drove me to his writing desk, just to be near where he had spent so much time. As I rummaged through his papers, I found his diary, a book in which no entry would ever be made again.
It fell open of its own accord to where my husband had flattened the pages to make it easier to write. There in his on handwriting was a Bible verse.
Had he read it one morning and wanted to remember it? I shall never know. I do know, however, that it had a special message for me.
The verse was Luke 9:62-“No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” These were words Jesus had spoken to someone struggling with the same problem I now had-longing for a loved one who has died.
My thoughts flew back to when I said yes to Jesus Christ as a twelve-year-old on a late summer evening years before. A small, insignificant human being, I had made an alliance with the everlasting God. And yet it wasn’t presumptuous. I was answering his invitation: “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). In answer to that knocking I had opened the door of my heart to him in my own childlike way. All had not gone smoothly in the years since, but I remained convinced that I was a child of God.
My yes to God had been renewed at our marriage. We decided before God that we wanted to serve him together-“with our lives, with our home, with everything you give us.”
Had I put my hand to the plow? Yes, beyond any doubt. And now, through this passage in my husband’s diary, the Lord was asking me if I was looking back, or if I was willing to continue along the road I had chosen to travel for His sake.
But could I dare travel it now—alone?
To go on meant I must courageously believe God had a future for me. It was a big challenge. Giving way to sorrow and living on memories would be much easier, but I knew it was wrong to feel my life was now over at age twenty-five. And, as the verse in the diary showed me, turning my back on the future meant being unfit for God’s kingdom. This thought—that I might be of no value for God—was unbearable.
I then thought of 2 Corinthians 5:15—”Those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” So I made my decision: I will live for him. I chose to look at new possibilities. On that day I again said yes to God, to life, to myself.
The widow who makes this commitment nevertheless faces an inevitable struggle. Her personal identity suffers because her life had been so closely bound up with her husband’s. “Who am I?” the widow asks.
She can’t always be expected to understand this immediately, but the answer to her question is that even these sad days fit into God’s perfect plan for her. This truth can slowly become real to her wounded heart. God’s words to Judah in Jeremiah 29:11 can apply also to her: “I know the plans that I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” But with this promise is a condition: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
God is deeply concerned for widows. In James 1:27 we read, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” Psalm 68:5 describes him as “a defender of widows.”
No task facing the widow is so large that it cannot be tackled with God’s help. A widow in the time of Elisha the prophet (2 Kings 4:1-7) fell into enormous debt when her husband died. Because she couldn’t pay, the creditor asked that her two sons become his slaves. All she had left in her home was a small amount of oil.
She went to Elisha for help, and he told her to get as many empty jars from her neighbors as she could. This she did. Then, pouring from her tiny portion of oil, she miraculously filled all the jars. By selling all this oil she paid off the debt, and she and her sons lived on what was left. God showed his care for the widow who has faith in him.
The Lord sustains the widow (Psalm 146:9), and he often does this by using other people. Widows must learn the proper balance between right and wrong dependency-knowing when to share their needs with others and when to simply rely on God instead.
This balance isn’t learned all at once, but gradually. It is learned by testing our experiences with God’s word and allowing his word to be our guide.
In the Scriptures we see widows as a part of Jesus Christ’s life on earth at both its beginning and its end. When he was presented to God in the temple after his birth, one of those who saw him was Anna, who had long been a widow after a marriage of only seven years (Luke 2:36-38). She had been continually in the temple worshiping God and praying, and now saw the Messiah for whom Israel had been waiting, and publicly thanked God for him.
Finally, as Jesus was dying on the cross, he gave over his widowed mother Mary to the care of the disciple John (John 19:26-27). Mary is later listed among the disciples meeting together for prayer (Acts 1:14). She had a new purpose in life-that of devoting herself in service to God.
Widows of today can also find this kind of service to be their deepest joy. Some remarry and some find jobs, but whatever any widow undertakes will be meaningful and significant if she is accomplishing God’s plan, serving him and moving forward under his guidance step by step. God will lead her to a future in which she grows in feeling secure and in discovering her identity.