“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, and the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).
What Does It Mean To Visit?
Every widow is an individual person. No one likes being lumped into a group and having assumptions made about them based on demographics. The only way to truly help a widow is to get to know her. This will take time and effort on your part. According to James 1:27 quoted above, “visiting widows” is evidence that your commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ is real and results in compassionate ministry to those in need. It demonstrates that you are a doer and not just a hearer of the Word.
The Greek word for “visit” can also be translated as “look after” or “care for.” “Visiting” does not consist in dropping by to see a widow, saying “Hi,” and then leaving. The fact that a widow may not be in dire financial need does not relieve you of your Christian duty to look after her. She has other needs that are spiritual in nature—emotional, social, intellectual, and so on. These are matters that are just as critical to her well-being as financial help.
The Comfort of Consistency
When you visit, please do not go once with a potted plant and never come back. If you see her weekly at the worship service of your church and therefore assume she is doing fine, you are failing in your ministry to her. Regular visits in her home are the best way to fulfill the James 1 command. You will be able to observe if she has needs regarding her home and property. It is also the best way to know her and to interact with her in a personal way so that she will feel comfortable divulging other needs. If she is living in an eldercare facility, do not assume all her needs are being addressed. It is good for her and good for the staff to know that multiple people are looking in on her. In the unfortunate situation where an elderly patient is abused, it is often those residents who have few or no visitors who are the victims of abuse.
Widows usually have ample visitors during the first few weeks after their husband’s death. Then people get busy with their lives and tend to find it hard to remember to continue ministering to her. Mark your calendar and make a point of contacting her and planning some sort of visit. It is always a nice gesture to bring her a small, inexpensive gift. After you leave, your gift will remind her of your love and kindness. When her mind has difficulty focusing and remembering, the gift will help her remember you. After my husband died, a friend gave me a little basket full of fragrant soap. Each time I used it I thought of her and her kindness.
Many people are uncomfortable around the bereaved, particularly if they have not experienced the death of a close family member or friend. Below I’ve listed just a few examples of things to say and not say to a widow. If you are unsure of what to say, it is best to say only “I’m sorry.” Gentle hugs often speak more eloquently than words.
Regarding the “What to Say” column, you will not say these things, of course, unless you truly mean them. Try to adjust your tone to how she seems when you are with her. Be even-tempered and avoid singing songs to a heavy heart or it will feel like your presence is a blast of wintry air (Prov. 25:20). An effervescent personality is a trial to a heavy heart. The Scriptures call us to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15)—if not tears, at least a properly serious, calming demeanor.
If the widow you are caring for no longer drives a car and has few options for getting around, take her out. Studies show that people feel better physically and mentally when they are able to enjoy the outdoors. Ask her if she would like to go to an arboretum/conservatory/public garden or even to a local greenhouse. If you live where winters are cold, it is cheering in the middle of winter to visit an indoor garden.
You may be the only person a widow (who lives alone) speaks to that day or, perhaps, for several days. Try to gently encourage her and carefully remind her of God’s love for her. A warm smile and kind words may cheer her heart for quite a while. Will you make the time and share that smile?
Questions for Reflection
Are you intentionally caring for widows within your church? If not, how can you start engaging in this aspect of ministry? When counseling widows, how are your interactions with them different than with other counselees?
Note: Today’s blog post is excerpted by Carol W. Cornish from her book, The Undistracted Widow (Crossway, 2010).