Caring for those who find themselves left to cope on their own
This is a new, periodic contribution of articles to the magazine that aims at trying to support elders and others who feel burdened about a pastoral ministry for fellow believers. These articles will not seek to provide all the answers or pinpoint all the needs, but, as a result of time spent with those who have been through or are going through the particular experience being dealt with, the writers will endeavour to give insights into their feelings and our caring response.
There are many believers today who have to face the nights and the days of living by themselves having once had a spouse but who now, through bereavement or marital breakdown, is no longer there for them. How do they feel? How can we best understand what they are going through? How can we be of some immediate help and comfort to them with understanding for what they are feeling?
The following question and answer session with one such believer may be of some practical help to those seeking to support such in their need.
Q. As a Christian what is the most difficult thing that you have found to be overcome by those that have been left to cope on their own, like yourself?
A. The most difficult thing for me isn’t that I no longer have a partner to share life with. It may be different for others but I have found that this is something you can slowly get accustomed to and accept as a fact in the end. For me the great difficulty has been that while I have good friends and can begin to enjoy life, have great days out with others and wonderful fellowship giving me spiritual uplift, at the end of the day when I shut the door behind me there is no one there. No one to talk about the day to, no one to grumble about things to and no one to laugh with. There’s only ever the one cup of tea to make. The house is dark and the rooms empty. There is no one to answer your, ‘Coo-ee, I’m back’.
Q. Do you ever feel that you could adjust even to this?
A. My widowed mother often says after being away or having had visitors that she needs to, ‘settle back into her routine’. What she is really saying is that she has to get re-adjusted to being on her own again. Adjustment, seemingly, is what you have to do every time. She is content but I am not sure that she is happy being just by herself or ever will be. Ask any bereaved believers if they get lonely after three years of being on their own. They may have large families and live a full lifestyle to outward appearances, but they will affirm that they feel the loneliness at times. It never goes away. It’s not the ‘going out’ so much as the ‘coming in’ that is the great difficulty.
Q. Doesn’t knowing the Lord make it easier for you to deal with these challenges?
A. It may be supposed that for a Christian it is going to be easier. You do always have the Lord to come back to. But one of the most godly women I have known said to me that she was often desperately lonely and hated being at home on her own. So this vindicates how difficult it is even having Him.
Q. What can we do to help those in this situation?
A. I once asked a friend who was widowed in her 60’s, and this for the second time, if it was any worse for having to go through it all again. She said that in a way it was worse because you knew the pain that was to come. After a few weeks everyone thinks it is all right now and they forget to show the support they did at the beginning. You still need it though and it is as time goes on that you need it more. There is this need to feel that you are still wanted and that you belong to people, especially the believers. It is having the phone call, getting the holiday postcard or someone just dropping in for a chat. As you get older these things matter more and more. It would do us all good sometimes as we leave an uplifting conference or time of fellowship to stop and observe those that have no one to go home to and think what it might be like for him or her. At times, I must admit, I’ve felt too frail and hurt even to want the well-intentioned support of believers either physically or spiritually. People need to be very sensitive in what they do.
Q. What do you feel is the greatest test of these difficult circumstances?
A. It is not just the empty house, the cold bed, the empty rooms, but it is the thought, and particularly for those that are younger, that you have a lifetime yet to live and that it may be going to be like this for the rest of it. Each silent night is a repeated reminder. It is harsh, but life can be harsh and my heart goes out to others I know who have to face it as I do just now.
Q. Did you have difficulty coping financially when you were left alone?
A. Yes. Life became a matter of a constant struggle to pay the bills and as life was always a little like that for me, I still had to take immediate steps to cut down my expenditures so that my meagre income was enough to keep me going. At one time I had four jobs to help make ends meet. Things have slowly settled down now but I still need to count every penny. There are believers who are very good in perceiving the financial stresses that come with this situation and their comforting, no fuss support has often saved the day for me.
Q. Did the Lord become more precious to you in some way and how did you survive spiritually?
A. I definitely feel that through all that’s happened I have been drawn much closer to the Lord. I have proved His amazing, loving comfort and grace. I know now that He is always Someone to call on in instant need. I believe now more than ever that He understands my frailty and even physical and emotional requirements and the times when I feel I cannot hold on any more. In the quietness I sense that He has stepped in and taken over.
Q. What value do you now place upon the assembly and its fellowship for those as you are?
A. The assembly has become my lifeline in so many ways. I have found those that have always been there for me, but I have always tried to keep things to myself. I am able and encouraged to work for the Lord through the assembly outreach. This I find very fulfilling. At least I feel part of things again. Without a partner it is not so easy to be kept informed as to what is happening in the assembly. This information is very important to me so that I feel included.
Q. What would be your first advice to those who like you have been forced into living on their own?
A. Keep in touch with the Lord. It is not people in the end that you need, it is Him. Keep your spiritual life alive and active; don’t go down the road of self-pity because it goes nowhere. I have never asked anything of my fellow believers but only of the Lord. However, I am convinced that there are always those who will show concern and give a listening ear should I need one. The following verses of a hymn sums it all up for me:
Less than Thyself will not suffice,
But Thou art ample store;
More than Thyself I cannot crave
And Thou canst give no more!
As those that are compassionate and possess the many exhortations of scripture to minister to the bereaved, deserted, isolated and the lonely, it may be that the Lord will use these openhearted exchanges to energize our hearts to care a little more for those carrying the unwelcome burden of loneliness.