Pastor and Christian Leadership Resources

7 Ways You Can Help Widows in Your Church

7 Ways You Can Help Widows in Your Church

Did you know that 1 million new widows will join our ranks in 2017 in the United States?

Did you know that half will not be attending the church they attended with their husbands one year after becoming a widow?

Did you know our average age is 56?

I believe churches care about widows but don’t know what to do. Church staffs are stretched thin, other programs take priority. Folks care but don’t reach out. Still 103 verses in Scripture show God’s heart for widows and his instruction that we be cared for. James 1:27 is clear.

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. (NIV)

Let me offer a few tips. Yes, I learned these on my own journey into widowhood. Losing 75% of our friendship network is typical, tough, and can be addressed. I thought I’d be an exception; I was wrong. Our church should be our place of comfort, not aloneness. God sees us as his treasure with great purpose. I admit to being a church vagabond for the first years of my singleness. Before I became a widow, these women were invisible to me. No more. Let’s change this together.

Seven Top Tips to Help Widows:

1. Please do stay connected. There is already a huge hole in our universe. Do not assume we need ‘space’ to grieve.

In those lonely hours we are tempted to fill them with empty activity, shopping, wrong relationships, or maybe ok relationships but just too soon. Before we heal and become a whole person on our own, reaching for another person to fill the void is asking for trouble. We can hide, hoard, hand out, or hibernate, fake solutions to our loneliness. Staying connected to people who have our best interests at heart is what we need.

2. Please do say you are sorry for our loss. We would rather you tell us you do not know what to say than tell us your story of loosing your friend or even close relative. We may be able to listen to your story later, but not now. Do not tell us you understand. Each loss is unique.

Yes, its tempting for you to try to relate by telling us of YOUR loss. Not now. One friend told me of her repeated trips with her beloved dog to the vet. Funny now, not funny then. Listen, listen, and then listen more.

3. Do call and ask specifically, “Can we go for a walk together? May I run errands for you? Meet you for coffee? Do not say, “Call me if you need anything.”

Our arm is to weak to lift the phone. Yes, enter our space. Has it become a disaster area? Is our frig empty and our appearance, well, unkempt? We need you to keep us real, in the now. Yes, we are tempted to look back and miss what God has for us in the moment.

4. Do refer to our husband’s acts or words—serious or humorous. We are so comforted by knowing our husband has not been forgotten. Do not leave our husbands out of the conversation.

You might be thinking, ‘but that will bring tears.’ Yes. But healing tears of remembrance are a good thing. Our culture does not handle tears well. But God does. He collects them in a bottle, treasured indeed.

5. Invite us to anything. We may decline but will appreciate being asked. Do not assume we no longer want to participate in couples events.

Don’t become discouraged asking. We do appreciate that. In time we’ll join you again, maybe in a different venue. True friends stay and we all adjust to the new

reality. A few true friends are golden. Yes, I enjoy being with other couples now. Early on, it was painful. But being excluded is even more pain filled.

6. Do accept that we are where we are. Marriages are brief, long, healthy, dysfunctional, intense, remote. Death comes suddenly or in tiny increments over years. Again our experiences are so different, as are we. So is our journey through grief. Do not assume we go through the outlined grief process ‘by the book.’

I’ve learned through many who contact me at that some marriages were not the sparkly object folks saw. And some have such fierce, tender and tight bonding that grieving will be long and hard.
For me, having been married 41 years, 2 months, and 21 days to a good man, meant that when someone said, ‘Its been 6 months, I thought you’d be . . . ‘ Thankfully my mind stopped my mouth from saying the unmentionable words I had for her. You get the point.

7. Walk the talk. Do not make ‘conversation only’ offers. “We’ll call you and we’ll go out to dinner.”—and then not follow up. Yes, we are sensitive in our grieving, but we’d rather hear you say, “I’ve been thinking of you.” than make a ‘conversation only’ offer.

Please know that as a widow, so many of our expectations are crushed. Dreams that will never happen. Please don’t get our hopes up of an anticipated event or connection and then not follow through.

I recommend that each church have a specific widows ministry. This outreach extends past those first months and offers widows a gathering opportunity that meets their needs. At I have resources such as a survey to know their needs, a referral recommendation template for repairs and resources, books, and study guides. Our DVD series: One Widow to Another: the Connection That Counts, and accompanying Journal needs only a friendly coordinator and a gathering place, whether church or home.

Some widows need support only for a few months, others longer. We become strong and are ready to move forward into God’s good plans for us. Yes, some stay to lead the next widows through to strength.

Your church can become that healing place where we love to enter, worship, pray, give, and serve. That’s our desire. I believe that is the desire of your church as well. Then we can say with Job, (29: 13) that we made the widow’s heart sing.

Based on From One Widow To Another: Conversations About The New You. Moody Press.

Miriam Neff is the founder and president of Widow Connection, a not for profit ministry. Author of 11 books, counselor by profession, mother and grandmother. Media: New Beginnings and $tarting Over Financially are one minute features heard on many outlets. Frequent radio guest on Chris Fabry Live. Sponsor of sewing projects and bakery training for widows in Africa and Albania. Bible study teacher and seminar and conference speaker.

Image courtesy: ©Thinkstock/AntonioGuillem

Publication date: June 1, 2017