God has a special place in His heart for those who have no one. The Lord feels deep compassion for anyone who is alone and left to fend for themselves. In particular, God is grieved when there is no man in the house to lead and support the family. Did you know that there are over 30 verses in the Bible that reference both widows and the fatherless in the same sentence? For example…
“He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow.” (Deuteronomy 10:18)
”A Father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling.” (Psalm 68:5)
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” (James 1:27)
Widows and orphans are so often commingled in the Bible because they’re in a similar predicament – they’ve lost the most important man in their lives. Children have been deprived of their dad. The wife no longer has her partner in life. They both face a challenging, uphill climb – equally and desperately in need of help and hope. More than maybe anyone else, they need to truly understand that the Lord is their Father.
Does anyone fit this description in your church? Do you know someone at your workplace or neighborhood who is alone, struggling to navigate life now that her husband is gone?
Loving Those in Distress & Lonely
The root of the word “widow” means “lonely or solitary” or “bereft or void”. God’s Word does not typically describe how a woman arrived at that status – presumably it was death, but she could be bereft due to divorce or desertion. Children can also become fatherless as a result of death or desertion.
Most envision elderly women when they hear the term “widow”. However, women who have lost a husband span all ages, ethnicities, and socioeconomic status. Those who have no one, the kind of people the Lord loves dearly and commands us to help, encompass a wide range of dire circumstances faced by countless people right outside the back door of your church:
- Widows Indeed – I Timothy 5 says the Church should step in when a widow has no relatives or dependents to help them. Some widows are financially secure, blessed with life insurance or supported by a loving family. However, even when there are other family members, often they are unwilling or unable to help. Statistics show that the rate of poverty among elderly widows is 3 to 4 times higher than elderly married women. As is so often the case with older widows, emotional grief takes a toll on physical health, increasing medical expenses at a time of reduced income.
- Grass Widows – Women left behind by husbands who believe the “grass is greener” often have nowhere to turn for support or are too ashamed to ask. In cases where children have been abandoned too, this suddenly single mom has much less income to cover nearly the same expenses. To make ends meet, many have little choice but to dust off the resume, find affordable child care and navigate her unexpected new life on her own.
- Widowers – It’s not only women who grieve over the loss of a spouse. Many elderly men live in solitude as shut-ins, unable to adjust after decades of married life. Our church did a home “makeover” last weekend for an 89 year-old disabled veteran who hadn’t touched anything inside or outside his house since his wife passed away in 2002. Her collections of trinkets still covered the shelves inside the home while 16 years of overgrowth completely enveloped the exterior.
- Fatherless – Every widowed mom has fatherless children. Her greatest concern is caring for her children. Research shows that fatherlessness results in higher rates of poverty, substance abuse, physical and emotional illness, poor education, crime, and teen pregnancies. Churches can play an important role in telling children about God’s promises to the fatherless, helping them avoid becoming one of these statistics.
Urgency & Imperative
Acts 6:1-3 describes how important caring for widows was to the early church. They chose “seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom”, including Stephen. Few churches take ministry to those in distress that seriously. Most offer only a rotating “deacon on call” for church members and no ongoing ministry for the bereft in the community. Maybe if church leaders fully understood the plight of widows, they would realize why the Lord so passionately emphasizes the importance of caring for them:
- Almost half the women over age 65 in the U.S. are widows, and 7 out of 10 live alone
- 60% of those who lose a spouse will experience a serious illness within 12 months
- Assistance from family and friends typically diminishes dramatically after the 1st year
- Widowhood (in all of its forms) is the fastest-growing demographic in the world today
- 39% of children in the U.S. live without their biological father in the home
- 75% of the average widow’s support base disappears by the end of the first year
- Women whose husbands have died live as widows for an average of 14 years
- Over 90% of the time, a widow does not ask for help because she doesn’t think to, is afraid to, or doesn’t know how or who to ask
- Practical needs often sit for months before they are met
The lack of dedicated ministries to those living in solitude and distress is largely attributable to the gradual demise of discipleship within America’s churches. Disciples would naturally have a heart for widows and the lonely because Jesus did. A common blessing in Jesus’ day was, “May the dust of your rabbi be upon you”, meaning disciples walk in His footsteps in every respect. Yet in its Americanized, institutionalized form “church” has been redefined as a place and not people, thereby diluting the emphasis on personalized discipleship to avoid the inconvenience and risk that necessarily accompany the Great Commission mandate.
How Churches Should Help Them
First Baptist Woodstock partners with Perspective Ministries to serve the hundreds of widows that attend that Atlanta-based church. The ministry’s name reflects the importance of changing perspective – turning attention from the loss of a husband and dad to the reality that God has always been the true embodiment of those roles. That shift of heart and mind brings emotional stability and purpose when all hope seems lost. Perspective Ministries also provides valuable services to ease the burden caused by death, divorce or desertion:
- reminds the widow and her children of God’s promises to be their covering, protector and provider
- recognizes that widows and the fatherless need Christ-centered community, which churches are in a unique position to provide
- mobilizes relational networks to walk alongside widows and fatherless children
- organizes social gatherings and grief sharing groups
- meets daily practical, emotional, physical and spiritual needs of the widow and her family
- connects them with others experiencing similar loss
- provides leadership and service opportunities to turn attention to helping others
- educates family, friends, church members and service providers on how best to care for widows and the fatherless
- offers its services to the bereft in the community, not just church members, who lack an extended (church) family
The Guiding Principles of Perspective Ministries are:
- Dignity – Acknowledge that each woman and child is created in the image of God and therefore has immeasurable worth and value, and should be treated accordingly in every respect
- Relationship – Understand that the suffering and challenges experienced by widows and the fatherless is personal and enduring, requiring individualized and long-term solutions
- Compassion – Stand in the gap for those struggling to meet the physical, material, emotional and spiritual needs that accompany the loss of a husband and father
The Action Plan followed by Perspective Ministries involves 4 phases:
- Initial Engagement – Come in during the storm bringing relief through crisis response teams from within and outside of her “village”
- Near-Term Intervention – Over the first few months, provide time-sensitive help and hope to ease suffering
- Extended Assistance – Remain after the storm has passed to meet daily needs and build resilience as they adjust to life without a spouse or dad
- Ongoing Care – Stay in relationship as support from family and friends eventually wanes to sustain them through the inevitable ups-and-downs
It’s Your Turn
Do you know of another church that has a ministry to widows and the fatherless dedicated to responding to the 30+ Bible verses expressing God’s heart for those bereft of a husband or dad?