Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Care of widows

The bible speaks a lot about widows. It speaks of orphans and the poor and oppressed, too, but this blog entry is about widows. (Left, LeMoyne engravings, Mourning Widows, 1500s)

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is a compassionate, loving, detail oriented God. "For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him." (2 Chronicles 16:9a). He knows each person on earth, and loves His believers fiercely.

In His book, the Holy Bible, there are so many verses which speak to how we are to treat those who are the vulnerable of society. In the Old Testament there are 56 verses about widows, and 26 verses in the New Testament. His care and attention to widows is tremendously beautiful.That is because widows had a rough, rough time.
"Words that occur in the general semantic field of the term "widow" in the Bible shed light on both her personal experience and social plight. Weeping (Job 27:15 ; Psalm 78:64), mourning (2 Sam 14:2), and desolation (Lam 1:1) describe her personal experience after the loss of her spouse. Poverty (Ruth 1:21 ; 1 Kings 17:7-12 ; Job 22:9) and indebtedness (2 Kings 4:1) were all too often descriptive of her financial situation, when the main source of her economic support, her husband, had perished. Indeed, she was frequently placed alongside the orphan and the landless immigrant (Exod 22:21-22 ; Deuteronomy 24:17 Deuteronomy 24:19 Deuteronomy 24:20-21) as representative of the poorest of the poor (Job 24:4 ; 29:12 ; 31:16 ; Isa 10:2) in the social structure of ancient Israel, as well as in the ancient Near East. With minimal, if any, inheritance rights, she was often in a "no-man's land." She had left her family, and with her husband's death the bond between her and his family was tenuous."

Huebner, Mourning Widow
"[T]the loss of a husband in ancient Israel was normally a social and economic tragedy. In a generally patriarchal culture, the death of a husband usually meant a type of cultural death as well. Although the denotation of widow referred to a woman whose husband had died, because of the social context the word quickly acquired the connotation of a person living a marginal existence in extreme poverty. The widow reacted with grief to her plight, and probably wore a distinct garb as a sign of her status (Genesis 38:14 Genesis 38:19; 2 Sam 14:2; cf. Judith 8:5-6; 10:3; 16:8). Disillusionment and bitterness could easily result (Ruth 1:20-21). Her crisis was aggravated if she had no able-bodied children to help her work the land of her dead spouse. To provide for her children, to maintain the estate, and to continue payments on debts accrued by her husband imposed severe burdens. Since she was in an extremely vulnerable economic position, she became the prime target of exploitation. The fact that she was classed with the landless stranger and Levite indicates that she was often unable to keep her husband's land. (source)
This status has not changed very much over the centuries. Despite the veneer of feminism, women who are unattached through divorce or widowhood often discover they are sliding down a slope toward poverty, which this Canadian research confirms.
Many aged widows experience a decline in their standard of living upon widowhood, a pattern which is pronounced among those with limited education. Aged, 21% below the poverty line, 22% below the poverty line if have a child in care, 36% under the poverty line if disabled. (source)

"Five years down the road, median income had fallen for both widows and senior women who remained married. Among widows, median family income had declined 9.8% more than 6 times greater than the senior women who were not widowed. The study also found that not only did the standard of living for these widows decline, but more of them also fell below the low-income threshold as a result of widowhood. And once these widows were in low-income, it was very difficult for them to climb out." Statistics Canada, 2004, The Economic Consequences of Widowhood, 1990-2001.
And widows in Third World nations fare worse.

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Source

"In many conservative Indian Hindu families, widows are shunned because they’re seen as bringing bad luck. Superstitious relatives even blame them for their husband’s death. The widow can become a liability with no social standing, an unwanted mouth to feed. Often they’re cast out of the family home,” said foreign correspondent Trevor Bormann in a recent June, 2007 interview with Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Dr. Mohini V. Giri, for the ABC – Australian Broadcasting Corporation."

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"In the hours after James Mbewe was laid to rest three years ago, in an unmarked grave not far from here, his 23-year-old wife, Fanny, neither mourned him nor accepted visits from sympathizers. Instead, she hid in his sister's hut, hoping that the rest of her in-laws would not find her.  But they hunted her down, she said, and insisted that if she refused to exorcise her dead husband's spirit, she would be blamed every time a villager died. So she put her two small children to bed and then forced herself to have sex with James's cousin.  "I cried, remembering my husband," she said. "When he was finished, I went outside and washed myself because I was very afraid. I was so worried I would contract AIDS and die and leave my children to suffer."  Here [Malawi] and in a number of nearby nations including Zambia and Kenya, a husband's funeral has long concluded with a final ritual: sex between the widow and one of her husband's relatives, to break the bond with his spirit and, it is said, save her and the rest of the village from insanity or disease. Widows have long tolerated it, and traditional leaders have endorsed it, as an unchallenged tradition of rural African life."  (source)

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"In the eastern province of Shandong, a sixty-five-year-old widow had to find work on a construction site in order to pay off medical debts accumulated during her husband’s long illness. The labour contractor for the project promised her 6,000 yuan for her back-breaking work but after 82 days on the job, she had not received a single cent. ... I couldn't move the big stones, so I moved the small ones. I got tired using the wheel-barrow to move soil, so I only filled half of it each time. I had to use a big shovel to mix the cement, starting from the middle and slowly mixing it bit by bit. By night-time, my whole body was hurting, especially my waist, the pain was so bad that I couldn't sleep." (source)

The Lord is a caring Lord, and He loves His widows.

--"Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation." (Psalm 68:5)

--"The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin." (Psalm 146:9)

--"Leave your fatherless children; I will keep them alive; and let your widows trust in me." Jeremiah 49:11

We are reminded of the Lord's compassion in reading about the widow of Nain, an event recorded in Luke's Gospel.

"Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother." (Luke 7:11-17)

Gill's Exposition says, "she was a widow; and if she had been supported by her son, her loss was very considerable; and having neither husband, nor son, to do for her, her case was very affecting... And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her,.... Knowing her case, that she was a widow, and had lost her only son: and said unto her, weep not; signifying, that he would help her, which he did without being asked to do it, as usual in other cases.... and he delivered him to his mother; for whose sake he raised him from the dead, commiserating her case: wherefore, as Christ showed his power in raising the dead man, he discovered great humanity, kindness, and tenderness, in delivering him alive to his mother; which might be done after he came off of the bier, by taking him by the hand, and leading him to his mother, and giving him up into her arms: think what affecting scene this must be!"

As for widows in the New Testament, they were prominent. "It was no accident that one of the poorest of the poor, Anna, was privileged to greet the infant Messiah (Luke 2:36-38). The adult Jesus followed in the footsteps of his prophetic predecessors with his concern for the plight of the widow. He healed a widow's son because of compassion for his mother (something we just looked at in the story of the Widow of Nain, above,); he protested the exploitation of widows (Mark 12:40). He reversed the standards by which people were judged with the parable of the widow's tithe: the widow gave from her poverty while the wealthy merely offered from their abundance (Mark 12:41-42). In another parable, the church was compared with an importunate widow who kept demanding that her case be heard." (source)

If you have a friend or relative who is grieving the loss of a husband, as I do, think on how the Lord cares for His widows. It is a beautiful thing.

But think of this, too. In the first days of the unfortunate loss, the widow will be in a whirlwind of activity to make arrangements, perform duties, and getting through the initial push. After that, she will return to work, or her whatever her routine is, and her mind and heart will be occupied with making adjustments there and in dealing with her return. This second stage may continue for a while.

But then, after months have gone by, something will happen. She will realize as the dust had settled, months later, that she is alone. The "activity" will have returned to a routine level and she will not have that to distract her any more. Her brain will suddenly one day understand at a more conscious level that she is alone. And her aloneness is not going to change.

Maggie Smith as character Lady Violet on the BBC Production Downton Abbey, made a comment that speaks to this. She said "Parenting...the on and on-ness of it."

Widows one day wake up and realize, "loneliness, the on and on-ness of it." Things at that point get bleak, but there is hope. If the woman is a Christian, she will be encouraged at whatever stage of grief she is in. Please help her in the early days and the middle days and in the days when she makes her final re-adjustment to her status. Help her financially too. This also is a biblical command.

Though the Lord looks out for His widows, we are His ambassadors on earth. In this day and age, the Lord takes care of His widows through His church, and that means us. Please make a point to seek out a widow in your church, make sure she is not marginalized. See to it that she has food and her necessities are taken care of.

The Lord cares for the vulnerable of His society so He made provision for them in His word. (1 Timothy 5:1-16). He is a great and gracious Lord who overlooks no injustice against them. He loves His people deeply. We have a perfect friend, defender, and Groom, don't we?!

8 comments:

  1. I'm a widow and i'm feeling comforted by your post. Bless You Elizabeth.
    Rebecca Bonnell x

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  2. Thank you for this Elizabeth. It's very timely! I'm a widow as well and although it's been a year and a half I find that there are (seemingly) never ending stages to this grief. All things whether big or small seem amplified by his loss. Every time our kids do something great I wish he was here to see it and every time they work my last nerve I wish he was here to fix it. It's hard but, I keep my eyes focused on Him. He really is the only true comfort. My prayers are with your loved one. It does get easier but, it never completely heals. Keep up the good work Elizabeth! I read your blog everyday! :)
    Blessings!

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    1. Thank you for your prayers Amber, I truly am grateful. It's hard to know how to encourage anyone but I always find that the best encouragement comes from the Lord Himself. I'm so glad to read that you rely on Him more and more, too :)

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  3. Thank you Elizabeth. I too am a widow. He has been gone for a year and a half and I miss him so much. I trust in the Lord and believe I will see my loved one again as he was a Christian man believing in the Lord Jesus as his Savior. Our Lord is truly an amazing God as He cares for us at all times. Thank you for all your posts----try to read them every day. God bless you. Joann

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  4. Praise the Lord!

    I think of the verse -"The Lord tears down the proud man's house but he keeps the widow's boundaries in tact"-Pr.15:25

    He is our Husband-Isa 54:5 For your Maker is your husband--the LORD Almighty is his name--the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.

    "All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast"-Pr.15:15..



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  5. Amen Linda....great capture of Isaiah 54:5. We need to see the spirituality of the "widows and orphans" while at the same time maintaining practicality.

    We need to be mindful also that the “widows” are those whose “Husband” is no longer alive; i.e. the Husband being Christ and they are without their First-Love. We must restore our brethren back to their Husband. And the “orphans” are those without a “Father” and we must care for them and restore them back to The Father of the Fatherless, etc. One can be “widowed’ or “orphaned” through many means and forms, but that is pointless since He is the Mighty Counselor and the Everlasting Father yearning to draw nigh unto us as we draw near unto Him. And as Christ said, the “poor” we will always have with us, but He is THE thing that is needful and we must lift Him up to all in order to draw them to Him. Our Redeemer lives!!

    "...So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith....for the poor you shall always have with you....The group of believers was one in mind and heart. None of them said that any of their belongings were their own, but they all shared with one another everything they had. With great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God poured rich blessings on them all. There was no one in the group who was in need. Those who owned fields or houses would sell them, bring the money received from the sale, and turn it over to the apostles; and the money was distributed according to the needs of the people"

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    1. I too was comforted by your blog and God's Word regarding widows. I am a widow of almost 5 months with 2 small daughters so I can totally relate. I am grateful that God will take care of me. I am 47 and appreciate the favor I have.

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