Monday, February 18, 2013

A Community of Widows

Elderly Woman , B&W image by Chalmers Butterfield
During my recent visit home to America, my mom's mother fell and broke a hip.  I sat up with her a couple of nights at the hospital.  It was a small enough thing, especially considering that I don't live there and do not often have opportunity to serve her.  

She told me a dozen stories those two nights, but mostly I was struck by her words about my Papaw.  She talked about the thousand tiny things that he did for her that made life easier. She talked about his immense faithfulness to her, to his own parents and to the Lord.  She told me again that she had chosen to have him cremated because she couldn't bear the thought of having to ask someone to take her to his grave.  She told me that she missed him every moment - an unfading ache made even more difficult by the limitations of her age.  

My grandmother is a widow.  There's a whole community of widows that reached out to her after my grandfather's death.  They understood about the empty echoing halls of a house suddenly both too big and too small.  They helped her process the memories and adjust to her unwelcome status.

In the ancient world much of a woman's income, housing, and social status came through a male family member - first a father, then a husband and finally a son. It may be politically incorrect to point out, but women still have needs best met in a man. The tip of the iceberg at my house includes getting cups off the top shelf, opening pickle jars, carrying heavy packages, moving furniture, solving computer problems, and disciplining unruly children who shrink beneath their father's baleful stare. Widows and orphans share the problem of being severed from their provider and protector. They are therefore, (potentially) disenfranchised, disconnected, and of particular concern to God. Our God is described as the one who, "administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing" ( Deuteronomy 10:17-18). In other words, where there is no father, no husband, no neighbors, God freely passes out love and justice. 
Jesus embodied this care.  He praised the giving of one widow (Mark 12:41-44) and raised the dead son of another (Luke 7:11-17). Jesus even carefully gave the care of his own mother, who scholars suspect to be a widow by this time, over to John, the disciple whom he loved, even as he died on the cross (John 19:26).  

The church began caring for the widowed in its earliest days.  In Acts 6:1-7 the church is beginning the process of self-organization.*  Trustworthy men were chosen as servants to administer justice in the care of the widows.  Some of the widows, either because of language or birthplace, were being treated unfairly as food was passed out. Discussions of this story frequently focus on the growing tension among the disparate early church members.  We should notice, however, that it is assumed as a matter of course that the church's job is to feed widows.  

In my grandmother's case, she doesn't need the church to feed her.  She lives comfortably in the home my Papaw built. What she does need, on a daily basis, is the support of the her sisters.  While my mom was visiting us, there was a parade of them coming by to relieve her loneliness. One of them, Karen, picks her up for church.  My grandmother doesn't drive, and my mom and uncle attend other local congregations.  Another sister, Claudette, stopped by while she was in the hospital just to visit.  While she was there she volunteered to come and help out while my mom went to the doctor. I am sure to the women of the church these things seem small and easily done, but to my grandmother they are priceless. 

God's priorities include a deep concern for the lost.  Not only for those who are separated from Himself, but also for those who are separated from society.  As Christians our call is not as simple as the Old Testament requirement not to mistreat the widowed (Exodus 22:22-24).  We are told "Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world" (James 1:27).

Let me challenge you to demonstrate your "religion" by adopting His priorities this week. Do something practical to bless a widow in your life.  Take your preschoolers to visit.  See if she needs a ride somewhere - to Wal-Mart, to church on Sunday nights, to her husband's graveside.  Let her borrow your husband for her "honey do list" since her honey is gone. Then stop back by and encourage us all by leaving a comment about what you did. 

*We see this process fully realized in God's plan for Elders and Deacons-Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3.

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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