This is the second post in a three post series Lisa and Cara asked me to write for The Helpmates. On Monday, I shared three ways for Christians to help assist widows.
Today, I would also like to discuss three things not to do if you truly want to help a widow.
1.) Men, do not be alone with her.
You can scoff at this all you want but I am telling you, don’t do it. You may think I am being super judgmental, but people are emotional human beings and attractions can and do develop. Just Google: ‘Elizabeth Taylor-Eddie Fisher-Debbie Reynolds’ sometime if you don’t believe me. Protect and guard your own marriage, and protect and guard the reputation of the widow as well. You are there to help her, not harm her. You can still do stuff for her, just go with someone else along. It can be your kids, your wife, another deacon, a small group class, a friend. This also gives her a chance to meet more people personally and feel more connected to the church. My best friend’s husband always gets a huge chuckle whenever he does something for me. He is completely done with the chore list and has loaded up the tools when we are just getting started talking!
At the same time, be tactful and subtle about this. I never will forget this one guy who went on and on about how he could never come to see me alone. I think all I had asked him was ‘Did he think my door could be fixed?’ Now I grew up in church. I totally understand and believe in this principle. I just told it to you. But I was still taken aback by his smug ‘holier than thou’ attitude. The first thing that popped in my head was ‘Exactly what kind of woman do you think I am?!?’ and the second was ‘Buddy, I wouldn’t have you if you came gift-wrapped with a bow!’ Fortunately, neither of these things I said aloud.
Think about how judgmental and patronizing this would seem, especially if you did not know any other Christians. Don’t be like the stereotypical Christian caricatures they see portrayed everyday on television and in movies. Show them the real thing!
2.) See them as people.
Don’t see them as just another mission project, something to check off your “to-do” list. Listen to them, learn from them. Allow them to do something for you sometimes as well. Friendship is a two-way street. It cannot be one always taking and one always giving. Treat them as valued friends and oftentimes that is what they will become to you.
3.) Don’t say you will if you won’t.
If you are going to serve, serve. And do it with the right attitude. Chances are, your opportunity to serve will not come when it is most convenient for you. Try to serve anyway. (Go ahead and whine to God all the way there… how you really don’t want to do this…. What is the world was He thinking?.. Couldn’t someone else do this instead of me?… I have done the same thing many times myself.) But when you arrive, drop that me attitude like a hot rock and do whatever you can to help. Your actions speak much louder than your words ever will. I was assigned an ‘Undershepherd’ from my church the week my husband died. He could definitely talk the talk: ‘anything you need, anytime – day or night, anything – big or small’, but then it came time for the walk….
There I was a 34 year old widow with a 4 year old daughter, a 6 year old son, a 6 week old fox terrier puppy (that someone thought my kids needed), and an old brown Crown Victoria (that I hated). Trying our best to muddle through our new life. About 2 1/2 months after my husband died, we were running late to school and the blasted car wouldn’t start. WOULD NOT START! I started crying, my kids started crying, the dog started crying. I was at my wit’s end!
Wait, go call that Undershepherd guy! He said ‘anything – anytime’, right?
So I did. I could tell by his voice on the phone that he was irritated, but I honestly didn’t know what else to do or have anyone else to call. I was already in trouble with the school for excessive tardies. I honestly didn’t think I could take much more. The Undershepherd pulled up, slammed the truck door. Everything about him showed his aggravation and displeasure – his walk, his gestures, his tone of voice. My kids finally stopped crying because they were too scared. I tried to tell him as best I could what was going on with the car….I don’t speak ‘car’. He grunted and started fiddling around with it. He got it running and then went on to explain to me what it was and what all I needed to do next time. It felt like he was saying, ‘Don’t bother me again! I don’t want to mess with you or your crying kids anymore.’
I sat there and took it because I had to get my car running and I had to get my kid to school, but I promised myself I would never ask him for anything else ever again. And I never did. But it was quite a while before I realized the harm his actions caused me. You see, I associated him with the Church. And if the Undershepherd the Church had assigned to me treated me like that, that must mean that the Church didn’t care about me or my kids either. I no longer believed anything they said about caring for me. It was just talk. His actions spoke louder to me than all their words ever could. I built a strong barricade of defenses around myself so I wouldn’t be hurt anymore. It took a long, long time, a different church and several determined, caring deacons to get through those defenses and show me a truly caring church.
That last story was very hard for me to share, but I wanted to let you know how much is at stake in this ministry. I have been hurt by a few thoughtless people, but I have also been blessed beyond measure by hundreds of others. As I was praying over writing this, God brought many back to mind. I’ll share some of those on Friday – specific practical ways to bless a young widow.