Tomorrow I will attend the funeral of a friend who fought the good fight with faith and is now home with the Lord. I've written before about John Spiro before and his battle with ALS. He was loved by many and I expect his funeral will be packed out. I feel for his family deeply and am eager to express my condolences.
In John's final months, I read a book that I will be sending in due time to Kathy, his wife. It is The Undistracted Widow by Carol Cornish. While oriented, obviously, to widows, this book is also good encouragement for women who struggle to find purpose in the second half of life; for those who have endured many romantic disappointments and are still single; and for those whose marriages ended in divorce. In other words, any women who find themselves alone and relying on God. It is a wise and compassionate book that is empathetic without condoning self-pity. Its 20 chapters begin with a focus on widowhood, but by the last several chapters, the book moves on to challenge readers to "stretch forward" and "number your days with wisdom." The book also includes additional materials about how the local church should serve and regard widows.
One piece of advice I flagged early on was Carol's advice about identity. She writes:
According to the Scriptures, our identity as Christians flows primarily from the fact that we are children of God, adopted into his family and saved from an eternity in hell because his Son, Jesus, died in our place to pay the penalty for our sin. ... The Scriptures direct us to think of ourselves in this way. God's Word uses other metaphors to describe those who belong to God, but "child" or "son" is the principal description and the most endearing. You may have a more difficult time adjusting to life without your spouse if in the past you primarily thought of yourself as a wife. Please don't misunderstand--being a wife is a wonderful gift from God and a significant privilege. But if your understanding of yourself was largely attached to that role, then when you lose that role you lose a strong sense of who you are.
As expected, Carol has a well-written chapter on trusting God, reminding widows of the explicit verses about caring for widows that are found in the Bible, as well as practical chapters about how to think of and speak about a deceased husband, grieving in a godly way, managing fears, etc. But I found her closing chapters were broadly helpful to those who are feeling stuck in their circumstances. She writes:
What has God called us to now that our former call as godly wives is (at the present moment and perhaps for this life) no longer our calling? Do we have anything to stretch toward? Any goals to reach? Or are we simply going to squander the time we have? It's tempting to do nothing because doing anything takes energy, something which you may have very little of now. To counter the temptation, let's turn to the Scriptures and find direction for the future.
She then unpacks Philippians and applies what Paul wrote from that Roman prison as a pattern for living in widowhood. And she adds this helpful perspective:
On the gearshift of life, there is no reverse. The only choice is to go forward. The good thing about this road trip is that God is in the driver's seat. He knows the way to where we are going, so we cannot get lost. But sometimes we feel like we're sitting on the side of the road in a disabled vehicle. It looks like life is passing us by. We see people around us speeding by with their lives. We wonder how they can do it when our lives have been brought to a screeching halt. We feel abandoned and alone. Living intentionally with biblically-based resolutions to guide us like a road map can be a useful way to counter spiritual inertia. We can enter into the future confident of reaching our destination...
Geoff Thomas, in his sermon on Philippians 3:13-14 entitled "The Marks of a Mature Christian," encourages us to pray this way: "Lord here is a new day given to me by you. Your mercies are new this morning. There are new things to be done, and new lessons to be learned. Help me to use this day properly as I head for home."
I starred and underlined that passage. No matter our season of life or emotional state, we cannot afford to lose sight of our destination. This is not home. We are on our way to an eternal city that is illuminated by the glory of the Lamb. Fellow pilgrims, let's not forget that in our circumstances here. Therefore, we can trust God in our circumstances because there is a purpose and a plan, as Carol writes:
Widowhood presents a Christian woman with an opportunity--a situation in which she can, with God's help, show the world that her God is of infinite worth, that he makes no mistakes, and that he upholds those who trust in him. The work of God can be displayed in us for his glory. In this way, our widowhood can be useful to the kingdom of God rather than being wasted.