"Ye shall not afflict any widow…. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry."
Exodus 22: 22, 23
King James Version
"The Wants of Widowhood"
"The final lesson of learning to be independent – widowhood; is the hardest lesson of all."
Anne Marrow Lindbergth
Have I lost someone I loved?
In what way have I wished for others' care and concern?
How can "we" reach out to those who are alone and feeling the loss of someone they love?
"To everyone else, the death of that being you love for his own sake, for her own sake, is an event that occurs on a certain day. For you, the death only begins that day. It is not an event: it is only the first moment in a process that lives in you, springing up into the present, engulfing you for years, decades, later, as though it were the first moment again."
"The longed-for ships come empty home or founder on the deep, and eyes first lose their tears and then their sleep."
This weekend, those of us living in the United States, celebrated Father's Day. For 22 years this day has been bittersweet for me. Since the sudden death of my father from a massive heart attack at the age of only 57, this day serves as a poignant reminder of how much I miss my dad.
But as much as I will always suffer a pang of sorrow when I recall his untimely death, no one has felt the consequence of my dad's death more than my mom. Having been childhood friends from the age of twelve, my parents were truly "soul-mates." While this term is used very freely in this day and age to describe so-called pairings by celebrities, it is a phrase that applies to my parents.
After my dad's death, my mother made it clear, she would not remarry. Period. And 22 years later, she has not, choosing to live alone with her happy memories and now with her crazy little Pug dog, Fred, who loves my mom with undying devotion for she rescued him from a life of terrible abuse.
Since my dad died, I've had plenty of time to watch, up-close and in real-life, what the wants of widowhood can be and often are.
All through the Bible, God has given us repeated instructions concerning the treatment of widows. What's more, His warnings leave no question as to His opinion of those who mistreat women whose husbands have died. In Isaiah Chapter 1, God's prophet informs the kings of Judah that God wanted them to learn to do well by, "Pleading for the widow," yet just a few verses over, he reprimands the kings because, "Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them" Isaiah 1: 23,(K.J.V.).
Here we see that the princes of Judah, the rulers, were so busy accepting money from the wealthy, they didn't have time or take time to hear the cause of the most needy, the widows and fatherless. This infuriated the God of heaven.
We would do well to take note and pay attention to these words because they sound as though they were written this past week describing what is going on in our world as the rich gain access to power through greedy means, using their money to fill their pockets fuller and fuller while the "least of these" get only crumbs or nothing at all.
Our responsibility to care for those whose lives have been shattered by grief and loneliness is laid out clearly by God and there should be no misunderstanding of His intent that we care for the physical needs of all His needy children.
But I'd also like to suggest, that in our rush-about society, while it's easy to hand someone a bag of food and hop in our car, patting ourselves on the back and gloating that we've done our part for individuals who are alone. Having had the inopportune hand of death snatch away a loved one, our responsibility in helping to meet the emotional needs of these dear ones can be as critical as meeting the physical needs.
After watching the grief my mother endured after my father died, in addition to meeting the physical needs of those who are alone, I'd like to suggest three things we can all do, that will encourage them during a time of severe emotional upheaval:
1.) Provide Comfort. In Scripture, the word "comforter" means, "one who comes along to stand beside." In her memoir, Glückel of Hameln wrote: "The talkings and comfortings lasted two or three weeks; after that no one knew me; after the first 30 days of mourning, no brother, no sister, no relative came to ask: 'How are you? And how are things?'" I can attest to the truth of this statement. Once a funeral is over, and everybody heads back to their own lives, it is easy to get too busy to drop a card in the mail or pick up the phone and call someone who longs to hear a kind and compassionate voice. I like the words of Anne Ellis in her book, The Life of an Ordinary Woman: "Give me a well-cooked, well-served meal, a bouquet, and a sunset and I can do more for a person's soul than all the cant ever preached."
2.) Provide Companionship. One of the greatest blessings of my mother's life since Daddy died is a group of friends, Mary, Jean, Judy, Beverly and Eloise who have formed a bond of love and unity that has lifted my mother's spirit in good times and bad. These terrific people go to concerts together, take short trips and are a volunteer army for some of Phoenix's most prominent and worthy charities. Three of the fabulous girls have, like my mother, lost husbands, too, but that hasn't stopped them from providing the gift of companionship.
3.) Provide Community. The English pastor and author John Donne wrote these famous words: "No man (and woman, too!) is an island. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main." We need to ask our Heavenly Father to help us understand this truth. For often in our quest to "take care of me," I can forget that if anyone in the community suffers, it will eventually touch each of us. And this certainly applies to the "Christian community." It can become way too easy in a church environment to think like Noah and the ark – everybody has to be in pairs. When you aren't, you're left to feel like the odd-one-out! May we never forget that God's banquet table isn't a tea-for-two. It's a table set for all of us, together!
Comfort, companionship and community! These are the emotional gifts we can give to those who are facing a terrible loss in their lives.
We can, in the words of Marjorie Rawlings, "share the sorrow," and by doing so, spread another person's grief by helping to thin it.
In the autumn, around our home, the leaves fall from the trees. Josephine Miles, in her poem "Autumnal" describes the scene this way: "We have lost so many leaves, in loss, loss, loss, out of the sky, what shall we do for shelter to live by?"
You and I can answer that question by opening ourselves with compassion to meet the needs of those who are alone and lonely,
"Truly, it is in darkness that one finds the light, so when we are in sorrow, then this light is nearest of all to us."
"I pray You
take this weeping heart
and all the broken thing
that lies within Your hand
distil the agony until from all its hurt
a single drop of sweetness
changing the substance
of this death in earth
to make all new –
a rising sap
to bring the transformation
of the spring."
Dorothy Valcárcel, Author
When A Woman Meets Jesus