What Do Widows in the Bible Teach Us about Loss?
My best friend Abby was widowed at 44. Her husband John passed away from sleep apnea. He was healthy. No warning. Four little faces greeted Mom at the breakfast table. They had no idea their Daddy was gone. Ten years later, Abby cautiously remarried.
Two years after she tied the knot, Abby’s second husband died following a gruesome battle with cancer. Abby loved and lost. Devastating!
Over 220,000 Americans died in World War II. Men and women who sent their loved ones into battle kissed their spouses goodbye never knowing if that goodbye would be their last.
According to wiserwomen.org, 50% of women will lose their spouses by age 65.
My Mom was happily married to my Dad for 63 years. She told me her deepest hurt was going to sleep at night in an empty bed. My mother-in-law lost her first husband in World War II. My husband Roger never knew of his Mom’s first marriage until long after his mother’s death. Helen never grieved openly, and because she hid her pain, she was fearful and angry most of her life.
How will you face the empty bed? The empty pew?
Many women tell me that losing a mate is like losing a limb. They have to redefine who they are and how they relate to others. Couple friendships may be awkward. Income may be reduced. It's a torturous, treacherous journey. Only by the grace of God can one survive it.
The Bible is filled with stories of widows. We can learn much from them.
Ruth and Naomi demonstrated two different ways of dealing with grief. Naomi cried, “Don’t call me Naomi (which means pleasant)” she told them. “Call me Mara (bitter) because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.” (Ruth 1:20)
Ruth, also heartbroken, showed incredible love and loyalty to her mother-in-law:
“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17)
Ruth taught us two invaluable lessons about grief:
From Ruth, we learn to not grieve alone, and to face the future with faith.
Too often we pull away from comforters because we are afraid to show our weakness. Too often we turn away from God because we are angry with Him for taking away the love of our life.
Naomi wallowed in self-pity.
Ruth clung to her dear mother-in-law. She forsook the worship of Chemosh, the Semitic god she feared, for a life-long commitment to Yahweh, the God she had yet to know. The Moabite widow became a beloved wife, mother and the great-grandmother of Jesus.
Joppa’s widow Dorcas blessed others in her sorrow.
Instead of allowing her overwhelming loss to engulf her in self-pity, Dorcas used her solitary moments to minister to the poor:
“In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor...
When he (Peter) arrived, he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.
Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive.” (Acts 9:36-41)
Dorcas cultivated a community of widows, a safe place for women to share their pain and an outlet to use their gifts to help others.
God not only blessed Dorcas for her generosity and faithfulness, He raised her from the dead!
Anna continued to worship God through her loss.
The prophetess Anna is only mentioned in two short verses of the New Testament, but her story gives us the greatest inspiration in the loss of a spouse:
“There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:36-38)
Anna, alone and probably destitute, lived her life worshipping God. She drenched the temple floor with her tears. How unfair to lose her family at such a young age! But Anna prayed and praised her entire life.
Her unfailing devotion to God was rewarded. Anna saw the Messiah and joyfully foretold His ministry and coming kingdom.
Anna probably lived 65 years without a husband. I’m sure there were mornings when she didn’t even want to get out of bed. But she kept coming back to God, giving Him glory day after day.
Christ created the church as a place of comfort, safety and service. Only in God’s presence do we find God’s healing and rest.
Ruth, Dorcas and Anna teach us that tragedy and loss does not have to define us.
“You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy!” (Psalm 38:11)
Dr. Julie Barrier, along with her pastor-husband, Dr. Roger Barrier, have taught conferences on marriage and ministry in 35 countries. The Barriers are founders and directors of Preach It, Teach It providing free resources in 10 languages to 5 million visitors in 229 countries. The Barriers pastored 35 years at Casas Church in Arizona, Julie has served as a worship minister, concert artist and adjunct professor at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. She has authored or composed of over 500 published works.
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