STAGES OF WIDOWHOOD AND
While a widow’s environmental needs may be
the easiest to meet for the men of the church, many pastors ask me,
“What are the emotional and spiritual needs that are sometimes a
mystery even to the widow?”
The following information is intended as a general outline of the stages of recovery a widow may experience in terms of emotional and spiritual need. Know that every widow is different in personality and spiritual maturity so this timeline is only a general guide.
Stages of widowhood we will examine are as follows:
This is the time to meet physical needs like meals and home services i.e. cleaning the house or helping with laundry. Even if she isn't coming to church continue to make regular contact with her. Every couple visit should be an opportunity to make assessments so you can offer help before she has to ask. Nothing wrong with asking her to make a list for a workday. Continue to remind her of the specific promises that God makes for her to claim. Try to get her connected with another widow who is walking in victory. Refer her to the website www.widowtowidow.net and get a copy of Widow for a Season: Finding Your Identity in Christ into her hands.
In the book Widow for a Season: Finding Your Identity in Christ by Kristine Pappas three stages are described that mark a widow who is working through loss. The following chart outlines these predictable stages:
1) all power
1) some power
no control 2) all control
2) some control
3) no choices 3) two choices: 3) multiple choices
Above Chart taken from author’s notes from Gregory Schad workshop, “Care When It’s Critical: Helping Others Recover from Trauma,” (Columbus, Ohio: Citywide Training Facility), July 10-11, 2002.
In order to have a healthy emotional recovery, it is important that the widow get to the Stage of Thriver as quickly as possible. Being in the Thriver Stage does not mean she will be over mourning but it does mean she will mourn with healthy attitudes and cope the best in her circumstances. As long as she perceives herself as a victim she will feel helpless and focused on herself instead of the power she has in Christ. As a victim she will feel a sense of lost identity. As she moves toward the Survivor Stage she will tend to take everything into her own hands -- again, unfocused on the power she has been given in Christ. This will most likely be the stage where she takes the reigns from God and if she is going to withdraw from other believers she will do so at this point. She will attempt to work everything out in her own strength. If she becomes stuck in either the Victim or Survivor Stage the best way to help her is to remind her of what she may already know about God but need encouragement to believe and practice. For example, what does it mean in practical, everyday experience to find God as the Husband to the widow and Father to the fatherless? The best way for anyone to help a widow is to be the real deal themselves. If your faith is not practical and your relationship with God is not real then your words will be empty of power. If reminding her of the promises of God make her angry it may be because her faith is being stretched, but your words will challenge her to fall at the feet of God where she needs to be broken and healed. This is the desolate place which happens to be the literal meaning for the Hebrew word almanah (widow). It is the place where Christ often went to be with His Father for direction and healing. The goal is not to help the widow get over this place called widowhood, the goal is to help her find God in a powerful, passionate relationship that is sufficient for every need she has. This is the attitude of the healthy Thriver. Widow for a Season: Finding Your Identity in Christ explains this process thoroughly in chapter one.
This is an important point. If the general population has a divorce
rate of about 50% and marriages are in the turmoil that statistics reveal them
to be, we must apply those same statistics to the widow. Unfortunately a
spouse's death may be the event that exposes an adulterous affair. Perhaps
just as difficult is the unhappy marriage that has been kept a secret to
others. People often assume that every widow has
had a loving, healthy relationship with her late husband. If that fallacy
has been kept unknown a widow will have to pretend in order to maintain her husband's integrity
or tell the truth and let her anger and unresolved issues spill out on others --
often to their shock and disbelief. If you really want to help, don't
assume anything and be aware of this possibility. The realization that you
have no expectations will allow her to speak honestly.
rate of about 50% and marriages are in the turmoil that statistics reveal them to be, we must apply those same statistics to the widow. Unfortunately a spouse's death may be the event that exposes an adulterous affair. Perhaps just as difficult is the unhappy marriage that has been kept a secret to others. People often assume that every widow has had a loving, healthy relationship with her late husband. If that fallacy has been kept unknown a widow will have to pretend in order to maintain her husband's integrity or tell the truth and let her anger and unresolved issues spill out on others -- often to their shock and disbelief. If you really want to help, don't assume anything and be aware of this possibility. The realization that you have no expectations will allow her to speak honestly.
This is really tough. People tend over time to change the way they relate to widows -- even family members including children and extended family. Some couple relationships just don't work anymore. Some women become very cautious of relating to a single widowed woman when their husbands are involved. It can really hurt to loose these friends and realize the shallowness of their friendship. Old friends disappear and new friends emerge. Some people take advantage of a widow's vulnerability and sometimes even family pecking orders change resulting in what feels like a lack of respect and love. Co-dependent issues surface and can become very problematic. A widow will have to learn to trust God with all of these situations and having another widow to relate to is often helpful.
This involves more than daily nurturing and care of children. Death has its own special mark on children and often special help is needed. When it comes to teenagers there are some very predictable patterns that emerge even in teens who prior to this event seemed to be solid in their faith. Widow for a Season: Finding Your Identity in Christ has much to say about this issue in chapter eight. For a brief excerpt please see Excerpt. Also, there is a Bible study available dealing with the prodigal child under the Study Guide Tab at the top of this page.
A great exercise in developing this trust is to have her create an index file as she is reading in God's Word. While she is reading, every verse that really speaks to her or reveals a promise of God that she can begin to claim should be written out on a 3x5 index card punched with a hole in the corner to store on a metal ring. When she is struggling she can go to that ring and re-read the verses. They will be like the "cream of the crop" for her personally. They can be kept by the bedside or in her purse for easy accessibility. This file will grow and as she commits the verses to meditation she will mature in the Lord.
Chapter three is a great study through the Old and New Testaments on the promises of God and His care for the widow. Many find this study to be very enlightening and comforting to really understand from Scripture God's perspective and care.
Hopefully by this point the widow has been successful in progressing through the continuum of stages she may experience as a widow. If she is experiencing life in the Stage of Thriver she will be in a solid trust relationship with Christ that is bringing health to her emotional well-being. That does not mean that she is not still mourning her loss. If she is stuck in either the Victim or Survivor Stage she will continue to experience anger, anxiety, depression, fear and spiritual warfare will arrest her. She will struggle until she breaks free and that can only happen in a mature relationship with Christ that is real and practical for her. I believe that the best tool for this process is your encouragement that she be in the Word of God daily. The book Widow for a Season: Finding Your Identity in Christ will help to shed light on the emotions and experiences she is having.
Chapter seven in the book Widow for a Season is excellent on this topic addressing areas like emotional affection, sexuality, need for conversation and how to meet financial and environmental needs through prayer.
This is an area of real vulnerability when a widow is tempted to satisfy comfort and trust in areas outside of Christ. Without a solid relationship with Christ that takes time to develop it is so much easier to find replacements for husbands, fathers, emotional comfort, etc. Chapter nine in Widow for a Season: Finding Your Identity in Christ walks a widow through the steps of identifying the idols she may unwittingly have in her life, exposing the role they may play and learning how to substitute Christ in their place. This is spelled out through a solid study of Hezekiah and the twenty-nine year period that Israel enjoyed free from the idolatry that so often characterized them in their long history.
Remember that widows’ needs have no
projected end. This long-term
ministry will not be completed until the widows being served either remarry or
A church that desires to come
alongside of the widow in her distress in a long-term commitment will be
recognized in the sight of God as imitators of the pure and undefiled religion
described in James 1:27 – “This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight
of our God and Father, to visit orphans and the widows in her distress, and to
keep oneself unstained by the world.” What
is even more exciting is that this amazing ministry has the potential to extend
into the community at large and become a powerful avenue for reaching the lost
both in those who choose to serve and the widow being served.
May God bless your