Looking after Widows

lonely senior woman at home alone

Sue* knew her husband was dying. She had cared for him for months. She and her husband were both believers in the Lord Jesus, strong in their faith, and witnesses to all in his final days. They had discussed death and the arrangements for his funeral. Yet, when her husband died, Sue was not prepared for the grief and loneliness she experienced. She was disappointed by her church and pastor. No one called to check on her. She felt uncomfortable with the couples who had been their friends. Her children went back to their busy lives. She was alone.

Emma* did not expect her husband’s death. An accident claimed his life, and she was left alone. She had responsibilities and a job, but the grief was overwhelming. Insurance helped with the unexpected expense of a funeral and burial, but the loss of his income was difficult. She had major decisions to make on her own in areas her husband had always taken care of.

These stories and others tell of widows’ need for compassionate, continuing ministry long after their husbands have died. Throughout the Bible, God’s concern for widows is evident. James says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).

In recent years, a great deal has been said about the need for ministry to orphans. Foster care and adoption ministries are vital ways for Christians to provide care for the most vulnerable. But far less has been said about or done for widows. Perhaps this is because in American culture, widows are not financially or legally bereft the way they were in biblical times. The fact many women have careers with insurance benefits puts them in a stronger position financially when they are widowed than they would have been in times past. Social security and Medicare provide a safety net for many. Yet the emotional and spiritual needs of widows are still great, and Scripture is clear about our responsibility for ministry.

What to Do and Say

James says to “look after” orphans and widows. We do this readily for children needing parents. We are not as comfortable looking after women. We are unsure of what to do or say. Remember widows (and widowers) were once part of a team that handled their household together. Every couple has different strengths and divides duties in different ways. Just checking in often to say “I care” means a lot. Inviting conversation about memories is welcomed. Asking about tasks that are now a challenge reveals ways to help. Ministry to widows is about more than meals at the time of a funeral. It is about continuing to care and help as a new normal develops.

Consider starting a widows’ support group in your church as a ministry not only to widows of your congregation but also to widows in the community. A ministry to widows may be a way to share the gospel with widows who need to know Christ as Savior. Some steps to take include

  • praying for the Lord’s guidance;
  • learning about grief and its impact;
  • talking with your pastor and church staff;
  • identifying widows in the church and community;
  • praying for and seeking out a woman to lead the support group.

The first Sunday in November is Orphans and Widows Sunday on the Southern Baptist Convention’s calendar. Think of a widow you know and give her a call today. Better yet, take her to lunch and invite her to reminisce about her husband. Pray for and with her during your visit. Every believer can minister to a widow in simple ways that will make a lasting impact.

Joy Bolton serves as WMU churchwide and associational lead strategist for WMU.

*Names changed.


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