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Sustaining the Brokenhearted

From the bottom of my heart I thank the brothers and sisters who sat with my father and permitted him to have a heart-to-heart chat. While there is only one who can change lives, and that is our Lord, our role is to support one another, to love, and to listen.
By DAVE JENNINGS
Read Time: 6 minutes

“I don’t know why I’m alive.”

I doubt there is a counterpart to the helplessness one experiences with the decline of health and death of a loved one. Those who lose a spouse, lose the person who has known them as no other. They shared trust and love through all the ups and downs of life. Their spouse knew them intimately and loved them, despite their weaknesses. Their most consistent support is no longer available to them for the rest of their life. Their companion is gone.

A PERSONAL BEREAVEMENT

My father endured the progression of losing my mom over a three-year battle with cancer. It took an incalculable physical and emotional toll on him. When Mom slowly slipped away in January 2013, part of him died that rainy morning. His identity changed. The one he shared almost all his adult life with was now gone. Facing the world without her was a new and frightening experience. As a couple, they had done almost everything together for nearly 60 years. She was the social one, the one who engaged others.

I doubt there is a counterpart to the helplessness one experiences with the decline of health and death of a loved one

I’ve grown even closer to my dad since Mom fell asleep in the Lord. We have talked about things we never discussed before. He is newly transparent about his feelings in ways I would not have predicted. So, when one day he groaned, “I don’t know why I am alive,” I felt a terrible sadness for him. What he didn’t need from me were platitudes about how thankful I am he is still here, or that he still has a lot to live for.

Those empty reassurances were unwanted at that moment. Rather, I just tried to listen to him express how hollow he felt and how life had lost much of its meaning for him. When life is irrevocably changed, our goals and expectations are dashed. We’re left with a deep sense of loneliness. It manifests as a silence we may have never known before.

As time has gone on, the answer to my dad’s question has become clearer. Our merciful God had a plan and purpose for him he could not have known previously. As his son, I treasure the time with my dad, who turned 92 last month. He is a connection to my past and a constant reminder of the husband and brother in Christ I aspire to be. I love him, his companionship, and his humor.

A COMMON PLIGHT

What is it about the needs of the fatherless and widows that is so important to God?

My dad’s story is far from unique. Across our community, there are so many who have lost spouses. The person God gave them, the one Divinely matched for their unique needs, is now gone.

James wrote,

“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” (Jas 1:27).

What is it about the needs of the fatherless and widows that is so important to God? How does this, along with keeping ourselves unspotted from the world, provoke us to a pure religion?

There are so many other things we might have listed well before the needs of the fatherless and widows to describe our religion. But it is how we care for those most in need, those deeply bruised, that allows us to really know our love is sincere. If our love is not “pure,” the awkwardness and emotion of caring for those who have lost a spouse will overcome us.

When one loses their spouse, it is probably the most destitute time in life. Each story is different, and the pain and shock vary. There is an intense need for loving and accepting people to share time with and care about them. This is where a devoted community of believers comes in.

While others may treat you differently and some may even forsake you, your brothers and sisters will not. We are the ones, of all those in the world, who will love you throughout your entire life, in your best times, and in your darkest.

A DO AND DON’T LIST

Widows and widowers are generally not looking for anyone to solve their problems or perform the impossible. In fact, sometimes attempts to do so can be unhelpful. What is most appreciated is when someone gives them undivided attention and allows them to express just how sad they are feeling.

From the bottom of my heart I thank the brothers and sisters who sat with my father and permitted him to have a heart-to-heart chat. While there is only one who can change lives, and that is our Lord, our role is to support one another, to love, and to listen.

A dear sister shared a few thoughts with me about how to support those who have lost a spouse, she having being widowed at a young age. Soon after the loss occurs, instead of saying, “Call me if you need something,” she recommended you plan to call the person yourself. The conversation might just be for a few minutes, once a week or so. Focus on practical issues, such as shopping for food or supplies.

Help them to feel loved. Help them to not feel alone. Pray for them and with them.

If the issues being faced are too significant out to others or your ecclesia. Do not quote platitudes like “We don’t sorrow as others sorrow.” They know these passages well and it leaves them feeling guilty for being sad—an emotion they do not need. If you don’t know what to say or feel self-conscious, just say so. They will understand. Remember, listening is much more important than what you say.

American poet Maya Angelou once wrote, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Help them to feel loved. Help them to not feel alone. Pray for them and with them.

As time passes, how can we meet the needs of widows and widowers within the ecclesia? There are some simple actions. Notice them when they come into the room. Greet them with a kind smile and warm embrace. Arrange to bring them along with you if they are willing, whether sitting in the ecclesial hall, during a potluck, or other social events. If you are a married couple, both should express how welcome they are.

A MUTUAL BENEFIT

This is an “equal opportunity” service for each of us, old and young. We need to close any divisive age gaps in our ecclesias. Young people who genuinely care for their seniors and take the time to visit and speak with them will seldom be disappointed.

When I was 18 years old, I often visited a sister in a convalescent home near our ecclesial hall. At first, I hated it. I disliked the strong smells of rubbing alcohol (or worse), and I did not know what I would talk about with this widowed sister, in her 90s. But good mentors I had in the Truth encouraged me to go.

Once I started doing the readings with her, I could hear her quoting the verses from memory right along with me. It struck me about the value of a life-long habit of regularly reading and memorizing the Scriptures. This she had done for decades with her late husband. She talked about what I just read to her, and she asked me insightful questions. Eventually, I learned how she had come to America and some of the details of her life. I suppose it must have been helpful for her to have company from a young person, but I know the benefit was all mine.

A TIME OF NEED

Life does not follow the script we would always like. We are all such fragile creatures, and we need to appreciate every day we have with our God-given spouses. Those who have lost spouses will remind us of that.

When we engage in care for those in need, it invokes an important perspective we always need set before our eyes. We are reminded that everything we have (and often take for granted), is only temporary. Our marriage, our health, and eventually our life, is all like the grass that withers and blows away. It also can remind us how the expectations we have in this life can be shattered in a moment.

God always has a purpose for us.

The only sure thing is our God. While we may be the servant today to our brother or sister, there is a time coming when we will be the one bruised, and we too will be able to lean on the love of our brothers and sisters.

Upon reflection, I think my dad’s question is probably pertinent many times throughout our lives. What now? What does the Lord want me to do? The wonder of our God is that He makes all things plain in His time. None of us have empty or pointless lives. Each of us has been specially redeemed and earmarked for work to be done (Eph 2:10). God always has a purpose for us.

A LOVING GOD

Our God is such a loving God. His eyes never turn away from those in need. He is the defender of the widows (Psa 68:5 NIV). He relieves the widow (Psa 146:9). He commands us to plead the cause of the widows (Isa 1:17).

We have been given a noble and glorious opportunity to care for those who are sad and lonely, those who most need our reassurance. It also applies to any of our brothers and sisters who have suffered the loss of a family member. When nothing else may make sense, it is the love of the brethren that will serve as a warm blanket on a chilly day. Our religion and our community are inextricably tied to how we treat each other, especially those in greatest need. Ultimately, it is our opportunity to serve alongside our Lord, who we know will never leave us or forsake us.

Dave Jennings
With special thanks to Sis. Jane Tunnell
(San Diego, CA) for her important
insights into this topic.

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