Q: Who are we?
A: We seem to be the invisible among you.
According to statistics I believe came from the Pew Research Center: Widows are one of the fastest-growing demographics in the United States as baby boomers age. They lose 75 percent of their friendship network when they become one. Sixty percent experience health issues in the first year. One third of them meet the criteria for clinical depression in the first month after a spouse’s death, and half of them remain clinically depressed a year later. And most of them experience financial decline.
If someone had described this scenario to me, even a year ago, I would have stated emphatically, “It can’t be so! In the community of believers we support each other. We walk together on the journey. Right?”
I look back at my own responses to women who have become widows and realize, with the exception of my mother-in-law, how little I’ve understood, how little I’ve empathized, and how seldom I’ve walked beside them. Many, in fact, became invisible to me, whether in small group participation, or social events. And of those who left the church they attended with their spouse, I’ve now learned that only a few reconnect to a place that is able to match their needs.
Based on what I’ve learned from them, let me try and help you understand widows by describing some of their personal experiences. Becoming a widow means nothing is the same. When a husband exits to Heaven every iota of a wife’s existence changes: their calendar, checkbook, what’s in the frig, the wake-up alarm time, the thermostat, and restaurants she goes to. She uses makeup less often, and she becomes familiar with the smell of car oil as she sits in the Lube Shop next to the overdone coffee wondering what her husband did when he waited there (based on a recent experience).
There are other changes so private and personal that most widows won’t even share them. However, loneliness and solitude are words that are not descriptive enough of the space that becomes the cocoon of the widow. I’ve learned that their journeys are very different and find it difficult to fit the mold. However they have an incredibly strong connecting bond that links them to each other, because of their shared experience.
One thing they are especially concerned about is their finances — most experience financial decline. In my decades as a churchgoer, I have vary rarely heard a message on 1 Timothy 5:8 (a passage which admonishes believers to provide for their family). In biblical times God’s people were told to take care of the widows and orphans among them. Today most people assume that the government through Social Security and other programs will care for the invisible among us, which isn’t working that well at all.
Widows’ perspective on Scripture — especially 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 — is so relevant to them. No one can comfort a widow like another widow. They study Scripture references to widows to find whether they are invisible to God, as well as those around them. With gratitude they discover they are not only close to God’s heart, but he measures everyone by how they treat widows (James 1:27). This is both a comforting and sobering insight. Widows and orphans — the voiceless — God chooses to speak on their behalf. In fact, he instructs that their needs be met through the church’s tithes if necessary (Deuteronomy 24:17; 14:29; 26:12).
The conversation with the widow at the Lube Shop, a widow my wife and I have come to know recently, and the following prayer, prayed by a widow in a story I’ve recently read, have inspired me to share what I have:
“Lord, who am I now that there’s only one plate at the table, one glass, one knife, fork and spoon, one napkin? There’s only one pillow on my bed with a head dent, one damp towel after a shower. There’s only one toothbrush in the holder. And the toilet seat is not left up any more. And even though I can still write Mrs. In front of my name, there’s only me. Lord, I’m so lonely without my other half.”
Church leadership, members of congregations, and those of you who know widows, I would like to encourage you to reach out to the widows in your life. Make time to get to know them and what their needs are. And then do what you can to address those needs.