May always used to be my favorite month. The beginning of truly warm and sunny weather, everything that was once lifeless for the winter now lush and green, the end of the school year, and my birthday. Aside from the intense pollen we have here in North Georgia, there wasn’t much I didn’t like about the month of May.
Now it’s a strange month. I stray from saying “bad” because there’s always good to be found, so it’s just a strange month. As April nears its end and May approaches, I find myself becoming easily annoyed and impatient. I know I’m a sinner, it doesn’t take spending much time around me to find that out, but this specific time of year is different. All of my tasks seem overwhelming, and I can’t think clearly.
Then I realize it’s a larger, unanticipated wave of grief crashing on me with strength and persistence. The days surrounding painful anniversaries bring on a sometimes surprising level of grief.
I could say May is a bad month for me, but the truth is it’s a blessed month. The sweetness of salvation becomes greater juxtaposed with the bitterness of loss. And it’s strange, but it’s the good kind of strange.
When grief hits hard, whether expected or unexpected, I encourage you to lean into the One who is strong enough to carry all the pain of the world. We all need relationship with our Heavenly Father. A relationship where we know we are destitute of any hope, and the only hope we have rests in the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ.
I could tell you a million things to help you along your walk with grief, but there’s only one true way to healing and without that all the rest will only momentarily cover your pain. That one way is Jesus; fixing your eyes on Him, thinking on Him, dwelling and meditating on His word, talking to Him and listening to Him. When we want to scream at the ones we love because we feel strangled by grief, we can cry out to Jesus to not let our flesh be overtaken by the pain of this world. When we feel like we haven’t a bit of energy or mental clarity left to get us through the day (or even begin the day) we can call on our great God to hold us up throughout the day. There is victory in Jesus alone. May is my strange month, but it’s a month filled with the deep reminder that Jesus is the Victor of my life – not me.
Most of us widows find it easy to mourn with others and sympathize with pain, but when it comes to rejoicing with others, temptation can easily be creeping at the door. The temptation of resentment, the temptation of, “Why not me?” lurks. When it seems like life’s new joys have stopped for the widow, the new joys of others suddenly become more obvious to her. This new sensitivity to others’ joy, as well as pain, can be a beautiful thing or an ugly thing depending on how we respond to it. It may seem like an obvious concept, “rejoice with those who rejoice,” but when new joy for others becomes our own new loss, rejoicing with others may not come so easily.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the acknowledgement of loss in our lives, but we have to redirect our focus at some point. It’s okay to feel the sting of loss when you hear the news of another pregnancy, knowing you may never be able to have children again. It’s okay to acknowledge the pain when you see your fatherless child watching another child snuggled up in his own daddy’s arms. But we can’t stay there, we can’t dwell in the pain. Someone else’s gain does not make our loss any greater.
Three months into widowhood, I found myself sitting in a classroom at a hospital, seven months pregnant about to begin a water birth class. I sat at my desk, and I started to scan the room. I was the only woman in the room who didn’t have her husband by her side. Instead, I had my mom. My eyes welled up with tears at the reminder of my loss, along with the thoughts of this isn’t fair, why me? Thankfully, my mom was there for me, rather than no one at all. She mourned with me in the moment, acknowledged my pain, and redirected my thoughts towards thankfulness. What a blessing that those women had support, and their children would have fathers! Their gain ultimately became my joy.
“And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” 1 Corinthians 12:26 NKJV
We will never have joy if we don’t desire good for others. Our rejoicing with those who rejoice while we’re in a season of mourning is life giving on both sides. It’s an act of selfless love, rather than something that simply happens naturally. Most of us have high expectations for those who are rejoicing to mourn with the mourning, but the mourning are called to the same act of love. Considering others better than ourselves is not easy, and it’s certainly not what our sinful nature is inclined to do, but it’s what Jesus does and asks us to do, as well. Jesus asks difficult things of us, but He never asks us to do things that won’t benefit us in the end. God knows we gain joy in loving others and rejoicing with them.
There are seasons for everything and everyone. Sometimes we’re the ones in a season of mourning while others are in a season of rejoicing, and sometimes it’s the other way around. Keeping in mind that everyone experiences suffering at some point in their lives, is a good reminder that we aren’t always in the valley and others are certainly not always on the mountaintop. When we’re in the valley, we have the opportunity to share in the mountaintop moments by rejoicing with others, while also giving thanks to the ones choosing to mourn with us.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15 NKJV
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” Philippians 2:3 NKJV
Well over a year into widowhood, I found myself watching the girl with the sparkle in her eye and a hearty smile. She was goofy and seemingly carefree dancing and laughing in her dining room – and I was totally jealous. I wanted to be like her with all of her happiness.
The weird thing is, that dancing girl was me. I was watching a home video of my late husband and I, and boy, was I happy. I didn’t feel the pain of missing my husband, because he was right there with me in the room. As I watched all of our home videos and looked through our pictures, the same question jabbed at me; Who am I now? Will I ever be who I was before? The differences between the pre and post-widow me weren’t only in my carefree expressions of happiness, it was in how I could hardly remember someone’s name anymore, or how I felt like I could crumble under the expectations of how others thought I should be grieving. Pre-widow me knew (well, thought she knew) what her next step in life would be, but post-widow me wasn’t totally sure if she’d be any good for the work of the Kingdom of God. Post-widow me was tired and so easily agitated. Post-widow me struggled with fear of the future. Would I ever remember people’s names, have energy again, laugh until my abs hurt, or not dread good-bye’s so severely?
I believe the answer is an anomaly—no, but yes. Originally, I feared the answer “no,” but I now understand it isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a different thing. No doubt, it would be a fearful thing if the answer “no” weren’t also bundled with the answer, “yes.” There are so many similarities between myself now and who I was before, but overall, we are not the same and I praise God for that. I’m much slower to frustration again and I laugh until I can’t breathe again, but I still won’t be who I was before widowhood. Suffering is a refining process. God can use our pain to refine us in certain ways, and refining is not bad.
If our lives are surrendered to Christ Jesus, we shouldn’t want to remain the same, but rather to continuously grow in step with the Spirit. I’m glad I’m not who I was before Michael died, but it did require a season of pain and mourning to get here. And the journey is certainly not over. In the midst of the “Who am I stage?” we need to remember the identity God has given us, if we belong to Him. It’s an identity that isn’t swayed by our circumstances or emotions.
Becoming a widow did not strip me of the title of a child of God. Through tears from the pain of missing Michael, I could also rejoice in the fact that my Heavenly Father was doing a good work in me. When we don’t know who we are, we can trust Abba to always be who He says He is. When we feel our earthly identity is flaky, we can trust that the identity Abba has given us is sure and steady. We can trust God to use the pain and struggle of uncertainty to make us look more like His Son. We will laugh again, but we will never be who we were before the pain of widowhood entered our lives—and that’s a beautiful thing if we’re allowing the Spirit to lead us through it.
Setting our eyes on who we are is scary and ugly no matter what stage of life we’re in. We were not meant to find security in who we are, we were meant to find security in who God is. Our circumstances are going to reveal to us just how unstable we really are. Whether we allow God to use that to show us how stable He is, is up to us. While we’re redirecting our hearts and minds to Christ, He is growing and changing us to be more like Him. Being a new person is sweet, if it means becoming more like Jesus.
Growth and change look so different in different seasons. There are seasons of slow growth and rapid growth; seasons of invisible growth and visible growth. Nevertheless, if we are following Christ and living by the Holy Spirit we can trust God that He is growing us and changing us for our good and His glory. It’s not supposed to be a comfortable process, but it is worth it. I can confidently say, that the joy I have now in widowhood is not a result of my circumstances or my wavering personality, but instead because of who God is and who He says I am.
John 1:12-13 (NKJV)
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
Romans 8:14-17 (ESV)
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
When your husband dies, your dreams with him die as well. For me, some of those simple dreams were seeing Michael hold our little baby for the first time and telling him how good fatherhood looked on him. Sadly, dreams of sharing the love of Christ together, raising our son together, having even more children, buying our first house, traveling together, seeing our grandchildren, and doing all of the highs and lows of life together all ended in a moment. New good things would still come, but it would be without him. Most of us have broken dreams, but what are we supposed to do with them? And is there even anything we can do with them?
As you may imagine, there came a point in grief where I was fairly angry about all of these broken dreams. Even though I trusted God, I was still upset about everything I had lost along with Michael. I didn’t like the drastic, sudden change that had occurred in my life. I was severely rattled and trying to come to grips about minor things, like not being able to send him a text throughout the day or making him breakfast and packing his lunches. I was struggling with the fact that I didn’t have uniforms and nasty, sweaty P.T. clothes to wash, let alone the fact that we wouldn’t have anymore children together after the sweet, little one that was in my womb at the time of his death. I knew I had to trust that God knew what He was doing, but I didn’t want to let go of those now dead dreams.
I held onto all of my broken dreams, I wept over them, and I was angry about them. I think a lot of my anger sprouted from fear. I was struggling with a lie that said my future was going to be hopeless. At times, I was even thinking that my plan for my life was better than God’s plan. I had forgotten that God had dreams for my life, too. And since God is God and I am not, He knows and sees what I don’t, so His plan for my life is very obviously different than my own. When I began to fully trust God for that in the midst of my pain, I began to give up my broken dreams to Him.
The dreams were dead, and clenching them tightly in my fists was only digging my wounds deeper and wider. With clenched fists full of my own dead dreams, I couldn’t make room and take grasp of what God was offering to me as His dreams for my life. As I continued to hand over my own dreams to God, I began to realize He was taking my heart’s desire off of them and towards His dreams for me. This wasn’t just something that happened in a day, it was a process, and continues to be as life goes on and more broken dreams surface. When my son blew out his candles for his second birthday, and I thought, I wish his earthly daddy was here to celebrate him, I had to immediately follow up with, Here, Lord take this broken dream, and fill it with more of You. Nevertheless, the healing process had begun and the pangs of broken dreams were no longer destructive because my desire for God’s dreams for my life were greater than my own.
If we allow Jesus to do it, our broken dreams break way for blessing. In early widowhood, I used to just beg God to let me have some glimpse of what my life would look like a year or three out from then. I was so afraid of surprises and I just wanted to know so I could be prepared for what was up ahead. I remember telling my mom about how I felt and she asked me, “A year ago would you have wanted God to show you what your life would be like today?” I said, “Ummm, NO!” I thank God He didn’t tell me as a new widow what my life would be like today because I would’ve been mortified! The funny thing is, I love my life today. Yes, it’s not easy and there is pain, but that doesn’t take away from the good. I get to raise a precious little boy and I get the opportunity to be a part of God’s plan in other’s lives, as well. However, a year or two ago, my life now would have looked scary and unstable. The life I live today is very different from the dreams I once had for my future, but I know God’s dreams for me are beyond greater than my own. Even still, in this broken, sin filled world we live in, yes, life will include heartache.
Our Heavenly Father truly wants good for our lives. I have tended to say, “Good is not easy,” and when I look back on my short life and all the good that has come, I’ve realized that nothing good in my life was led by easiness (or painlessness). If we are equating good with easy, then we’ll find ourselves running away from God’s good plan for our lives. We’ll end up taking the easy route thinking we’re headed towards good things, but end up in harmful things rather than just painful things. The more broken dreams we have, the more opportunity we have to see God move in our lives. We just need to hand it over to God and trust Him through the pain; He will provide the grace.
Being a friend to a widow is a special calling in itself. It requires patience, compassion, and a lot of prayer. If you are a friend to a widow, please don’t think for a second that your relationship isn’t important to her. Whether you knew her before her husband died or you became friends after, you are important. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my friends being there to be a listening ear or a helping hand.
So, you may be wondering what exactly to do or say to encourage your friend but aren’t sure how to go about it. There is no honest way for me to give you an exact guideline of how to be an awesome friend to a widow, because I only know my own grief and my own needs—but, I’ve made a little list that I hope and pray will help you to come alongside your friend in her grief and get to know her unique needs so you may meet them the best you can.
“And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you.” 1 Thessalonians 3:12
As a young high school girl, I began to grow a seemingly irrational fear. As irrational as the fear would have sounded to others, it was unquestionably real to me. My fear was of becoming a widow, specifically a young one. I had even vowed to myself to never, ever marry a man in the military, since a military man would only increase my chances of being a young widow. A couple years passed with this fear still lingering in the back of my head. Surprisingly, I ended up getting married while still in my teens to a boy named Michael who would join the military soon after we wed. (Never say never, right?) I loved him enough to accept that was what he wanted to do, and even though it scared me a little, I was his wife so I supported him.
Eventually it was official, Michael joined the military and not too long after we were living in Germany. So many amazing changes in such a short amount of time, and even more were yet to come. A little over a year of being married, we found out I was pregnant. We were both so excited and immediately began to mentally prepare for the big shift soon to come for our tiny family. Our life was good, in a completely normal everyday life kind of way. He loved his job, we had awesome friends, we lived in a beautiful village, we had a precious, little dog and a baby on the way. It was all so normal, and then suddenly one day everything was not normal at all.
It was a typical Friday morning for us. We got up about 5:00am, we had breakfast, talked about plans for my birthday, shared lots of laughter, and then Michael left for work after he prayed over us. I had no idea it would be the last time I would see him. I was nearly four months pregnant at the time, so I went back to sleep for another hour to get some extra rest. I woke up to a knock on the door, and when I realized I didn’t notice the car, I began to feel a little uneasy. I texted Michael letting him know about it, but I never received a response. Finally, my phone went off, it was my neighbor and friend to Michael and I, telling me someone stopped by saying that Michael hadn’t shown up for work. In the military, you don’t just not show up for work.
I ran down the stairs and out the front door still in my pajamas and a robe and knocked on my friends’ door, trying to learn as much detail as I could, but we were all clueless at that point. My friends and I spent hours searching for Michael, calling hospitals within a two-hour radius, and the language barrier only prolonged the process. These hours felt like days. That afternoon, I finally got word that Michael had been in a car wreck. I prayed and prayed for God to save my husband, to just let him live. God had answered that prayer, just not in the way I was asking.
I heard a car pull up outside, and I made my way out the door. I saw four men with somber faces and dress blue attire step out of the car. My stomach turned in disbelief and the only thing I remember saying was a very solemn, “No.” I had seen all the movies, but this was my life, not a movie, so it just couldn’t be real. But it was real, my biggest fear was really happening. We all walked inside, I was asked to sit down, and one of the four men proceeded to tell me Michael had died in the car wreck earlier that morning. I slumped into my dear friend’s arms, and I wept—and I wept hard. I had spent hours trying to cling to the idea that he lived through the wreck and was being taken care of in a hospital somewhere, but it just wasn’t so. I was three days shy of twenty years old and pregnant with our first child; this was not how I imagined my life to be. Eventually, I sat up again, and I looked down into the palms of my hands which had written on them, “For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful.” And I spoke, “God is good,” reminding myself that God went before me, and it was not a surprise to Him. With that, I began my undesired journey of widowhood.
What was once just a seemingly irrational fear, is now my reality. I’m a young widow and a single mom to a precious little boy, and you know what? It’s okay. The road certainly wasn’t painless, but God has used it all to grow me deeper into Him.
God allowed me to enter into my biggest fear so that I could experience just how much bigger He is.
When I first began to fear widowhood in high school, I hadn’t yet entered into a relationship with Jesus. I know for a fact that I would not have the hope and peace that I have today if I didn’t have Jesus to walk me through this. He is our only hope.
“Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you. And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one.” –2 Thessalonians 3:1-3 (NKJV)
When someone you dearly love dies, the world doesn’t stop. Although, for the one grieving it certainly seems it should. While you’re focusing on taking your next breath to make it through the motions of the day, the outside world looks like nothing and nobody has missed a beat. Everyone still goes to the grocery store, they pay their bills, kids go to school, and adults keep working. The earth keeps spinning and life just keeps going. In the beginning, it’s utterly annoying, but now looking back on that painful day of loss and the minutes, hours, and months that followed, I see what a blessing it is that life keeps going.
Oh, how awful it would be if everything did stop. There would be no spiritual growth and grief would be stagnant and unrelenting. I don’t necessarily believe that “time heals all wounds.” I believe Jesus does. But, I do believe that time makes it better, and it’s different for each of us. So, if you’re in the very early stages of grief, just know that, yes, it will be challenging, but you can look to the future with hope. It won’t always be like it is now (Praise God!).
We can definitely look forward to our future, but we can’t live in our future; we must live in the present. Along with that, our future won’t even be good if we aren’t learning to see what’s good right now. Six to nine months into widowhood was probably my darkest time—besides the very beginning, of course. But this was different. I think the shock and chaos were beginning to wear off and I was realizing, Oh my…this really IS my life…and I need to accept it.
I knew I needed to accept it, but I didn’t want to accept it. This was a pivotal time where God heavily laid on my heart for me to set my mind on Him, on the good. It wasn’t a harsh, “Okay, Emily, time to get over it!” Instead, I felt my Heavenly Father gently nudging me to stand up with some much needed encouragement, “I see your pain sweet child, I know you and I know your hurt. I want the best for you, and the best for you is to set your eyes on Me, not this world.” James 1:17 (ESV) says, “Every good gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” So not only was He asking me to set my eyes on Him, but to praise Him in every good thing, no matter how small, because it is a gift from Him. That fact that God freely gives of Himself, which is already enough, and still gives us more is amazing to me. At the time though, I was severely longing to be launched into the future away from the pain, but God was teaching me that if I couldn’t see the good now, I wouldn’t see it later either. If all I see is bad now, bad will be all I see later. He was training my heart towards gratefulness to Him and away from self-pity.
Sometimes we may think we have the right to self-pity because something awful has happened in our lives. But do we? The right to mourn, yes. The right to self-pity, no. So what’s the difference? Self-pity says, “Why did I deserve this? This isn’t fair. My life is way worse than so-and-so’s.” Mourning says, “This really hurts and it’s the result of a broken world.” In mourning we have the right to acknowledge our pain while also acknowledging the good in our lives. We can also understand that we are not the only ones hurting in this world. Self-pity steals our joy and tells us that the bad will out-weigh the good. It tells us that everyone else’s life is better than ours and a lot less painful or difficult. With that outlook we begin to not only hurt ourselves, but those around us. Self-pity is destructive, not healing. Self-pity is a lie from Satan intended to hurt us. We have to pray for a shift in our perspective, be aware of it, and work towards aligning our minds with Christ.
This is why I said time doesn’t heal, and Jesus does. If we make the choice of self-pity, whether subconsciously or not, we aren’t going to heal. Our wound is going to fester as we find more negative things to add onto it, and time will only be against us. On the other hand, if we choose Jesus, seeing His goodness, and trusting in God’s sovereignty in the midst of our pain, we will experience healing and joy unexplainable.
Can you believe we’re already coming to a close on the first month of this new year? Time on earth is going to keep ticking and life here is going to keep moving until that day we enter into eternity. How will we choose to use it? In thankfulness or self-pity? In growth or decline? In relationship with God or casting Him aside and doing life alone? I can assure you the latter of any of these will not lead to an abundant life. Our lives are not determined by our circumstances, but rather by where we put our trust. Let’s trust in the One who loves us so much He sent His only Son, Christ Jesus, to die for our sins and rose again so that we wouldn’t have to live an eternity separated from Him. God is good. He doesn’t want us “stuck in time” with our grief. If we allow God to use this time on earth to deepen our relationship with Him, He certainly will. He desires us to have His healing and joy and He will faithfully provide.
Father, thank You for Your love for us. Help us to keep moving forward with our eyes and hearts set on You. Adjust our perspectives to be more like Yours. Help us to be aware when our thoughts stray to negativity, so we can go to you to set our minds on things above. Help us to be eternal minded, and not to dwell on things that will only matter temporarily. Give us the faith to trust You to comfort us and heal us. Strengthen our desires to know You more and spend more time reading Your Word. You know us better than anyone ever could, and You love us still. Help us to rejoice in You even when our circumstances hurt. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.