How to Love the Widows Among You
Four of my closest friends are widows. Jennifer, a pastor’s wife, lost her godly spouse after his long, grueling bout with brain cancer. My friend Eileen walked into her bedroom to find her husband dead in his bed. Lance, 45, died of sleep apnea. Eileen just thought he was sleeping late. Debby lost her husband and almost lost 18-year-old son to COVID in the same week. Katy found her missionary husband on the kitchen floor, dead from a massive heart attack. Katy’s children reeled from the shock.
I have watched all of these women process the painful loss of their spouses. What do I say to them? How can I comfort them? I just chatted with Jennifer about life without Jerry. At first, she was relieved his agonizing fight was over. Then Easter Sunday came. Easter was Jerry’s busiest time at church. The ache of loss seemed overwhelming.
The world is full of widows. India, currently center stage during the COVID pandemic, has 41 million widows. According to one news outlet, “…most of us imagine an American woman in her 80s or 90s, but according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average age of widows is 59 years old, but many are much younger. In fact, almost 2,800 women in the U.S. become widowed every day.”
We must come alongside our grieving friends with comfort, companionship and financial aid when they need it.
The Bible has some amazing promises about God’s love and protection for widows:
“A Father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” KJV
“For your Maker is your husband – the Lord Almighty is His name” KJV
“Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.” KJV
God has a special place in His Heart for widows.
A Widow needs to know she has her family’s support.
My friend Debby didn’t have time to grieve. Her husband died suddenly of COVID. She was in the hospital recovering from the debilitating disease herself. Her precious son was seriously ill as well. But the extended family didn’t rally around her. Instead, they called Debby incessantly asking if she had made funeral arrangements for her husband! Debby didn’t receive the comfort and support from her relatives. Instead, she felt isolated and abandoned.
Even in death Jesus cared for His widowed mother. The Bible tells us, “Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother, His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleopas and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw His mother there, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:25-30). KJV
Paul affirmed this principle in 1 Timothy 5:3-8
“If a widow has family members to take care of her, let them learn that religion begins at their own doorstep and that they should pay back with gratitude some of what they have received. This pleases God immensely. Tell these things to the people so that they will do the right thing in their extended family. Anyone who neglects to care for family members in need repudiates the faith. That’s worse than refusing to believe in the first place.” LB
Many cultures in our world routinely have widows move in with family members. But in our highly mobile, affluent culture, we frequently leave the isolated, grieving widow to fend for herself.
A widow needs emotional support.
My friend Eileen confided that losing her husband made her feel like she had lost a limb. Only part of her remained. It took a couple of years to discover who she was apart from Lance. All of her friends were couples. They felt awkward including her in their dinners and holiday celebrations. So, they left her alone. If it hadn’t been for her Sunday School friends and widow support group, she would have grieved so much longer.
The sweetest example of emotional support is expressed in the book of Ruth. Ruth recently lost her husband. But her mother-in-law Naomi had lost both her husband and sons. Instead of returning back to her home in Moab, Ruth chose to stay at Naomi’s side. Naomi instructed to go home to her own people.
“But Ruth replied, “Don’t make me leave you, for I want to go wherever you go and to live wherever you live; your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God; 17 I want to die where you die and be buried there. May the Lord do terrible things to me if I allow anything but death to separate us.” Ruth 1:16-17 LB
These verses are often used as marriage vows. Ruth made this precious vow to her mother-in-law!
A widow needs to know that God loves her and that her loving friends and family are lifting her up in prayer.
Most psychologists agree that there are six stages of grief: Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.
Every one of these stages challenges a widow’s faith. Why did a good God let this happen? Didn’t He want to answer my prayers for healing? What kind of God would abandon me after I loved Him so faithfully? Will He ever answer my prayers again?
Jennifer grew up in a pastor’s home. She served in her father’s church for as long as she could remember. Then she married a minister. The couple laid down their lives sharing their faith with others and ministering in the same church for forty years. I love both of them. And yet, even though Jennifer stands firm in her faith, most widows falter in believing God after suffering such a cruel blow.
Jesus looked upon the grieving widow of Nain and felt deep compassion for her. He raised her son from the dead and returned him to his mother (Luke 7:11-17)
“Not long after that, Jesus went to the village Nain. His disciples were with him, along with quite a large crowd. As they approached the village gate, they met a funeral procession—a woman’s only son was being carried out for burial. And the mother was a widow. When Jesus saw her, his heart broke. He said to her, “Don’t cry.” Then he went over and touched the coffin. The pallbearers stopped. He said, “Young man, I tell you: Get up.” The dead son sat up and began talking. Jesus presented him to his mother.” LB
I’m sure this widowed mother had renewed faith in a miraculous God.
A WIDOW NEEDS TO KNOW HER LIFE IS NOT OVER. GOD CAN STILL USE HER IN SPECIAL WAYS.
When we pray for the beautiful women who have to re-build their lives after the loss of a spouse, we must pray for them to have intimacy with God as never before. We also must ask God to reveal how He can use them in this new phase of life.
My favorite passage about a widow who grew in her faith after her husband’s passing is the prophetess Anna, who recognized Baby Jesus as Messiah:
“Anna, a prophetess, was also there in the Temple that day…She was very old, for she had been a widow for eighty-four years following seven years of marriage. She never left the Temple but stayed there night and day, worshiping God by praying and often fasting.
She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she also began thanking God and telling everyone in Jerusalem who had been awaiting the coming of the Savior that the Messiah had finally arrived.” Luke 2:36-38 NIV
Even though there are only a few short verses about Anna, I must believe that she had family and fellow believers who prayed for her in her tragedy. Katy, my missionary friend, could have given up her calling when her husband died. No one would blame her. She had serious, debilitating health problems. But she also had mighty prayer warriors who came alongside of her. Katy now leads Bible studies for diplomat’s wives at the United Nations in New York. She had seen countless women from around the world come to Christ. Just like Anna, Katy’s husband left “too soon.” But God opened doors for this faithful widow. Her ministry is miraculous.
I have been inspired and blessed by my precious friends who have lost their husbands. Mary, Ruth, Anna and the widow of Nain remind me that God deeply loves and protects widows. I want to comfort, pray and support them in every way. Look around. They are among you. They need you, too!