In reflecting upon the “One Body” we are drawn to the plight of another group in that body. Although their reasons for now living as single individuals in the body may vary, the fact is that this group are often so alone. How do we really relate to their situation and needs?

The Separated and Divorced

There is the brother or sister whose marriage partner has left, often under very painful circumstances for them. They may or may not have children. They may or may not have contributed to this situation. But the stark reality is that their partner has gone, and from all indications has no thought of returning. Some may find that this initial step of separation leads to the next step, and they are advised that they are to be divorced—which makes hope of future reconciliation virtually impossible. In both these cases our brethren and sisters have their marriages shattered—the one whom they once covenanted to remain faithful to in a bond of deep and abiding love has now departed. We need not write of the deep and searching anguish felt by these wronged ones in our midst, as it only brings back the memories of such bitter rejection. But have you seriously tried to enter into their feelings before you attempt to be of assistance?

While reflecting upon the sad situation of these brethren and sisters, let us add another dimension to their suffering that can be very painful and traumatic. In the body we speak so often of the wonders of family life and the rich blessings of companionship in the Truth, and rightly so. We should emphasise the unity that must exist in marriage in the Lord and the need for moral purity in this relationship. We correctly speak of the evil of divorce and separation. However, we need to understand that these expressions dredge up past wounds from unfaithful spouses. Let us never be too proscriptive against the brother or sister who is endeavouring under such trials to maintain faithfulness to their Lord. Let us never indicate that being in such a position makes one a less valued member of the “One Body”. There is the “hardness of men’s hearts” which does have its hurtful outworkings, and we need to be a source of comfort and strength under such suffering and not a cold legalist, merely telling them what they must or must not do now. There is a time and place for all medicine. A true nurse is able to give what is needed at the right time for the healing of the injured member. More vigorous exercise is given once strength has been gained.

The Widowed

Although the end result is the same, the path to this sad state is different. It may have been after an illness that continued for some time, or by an accident or heart attack with its swift and awful grief. In one case there has been the lengthy period of facing the reality that this illness is “unto death”. The struggle has continued through long days and nights of prayer. There have been the physically taxing trips to hospitals or doctors for medical assistance, the mental drain of keeping a positive and cheerful spirit to encourage our companion, yet deeply feeling their pain and suffering, those quiet times of solace in bitter grief and tears. Let us all try to appreciate the ordeal emotionally, physically and mentally that the one left has passed through.

On the other hand we have those whose life is brought to a sudden standstill with the unbelievable realisation that their loved partner will not be coming home again. They could not say a word of loving kindness and farewell to one they loved so deeply. Their marriage with all its shared joys and sorrows has been tragically broken. And in their grief we go to comfort them. Once again we need to exercise great sensitivity and care in this situation.

It is true that Paul wrote: “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him… Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess 4:13–18). Our brother or sister and possibly their children do know this fact and it really is a basis of their faith. However, it is not the time for a doctrinal lecture, but a time for sympathy and thoughtfulness as we comfort them in their grief with this wonderful hope.

Practical Care from Nature

To use a medical experience we have all faced sometime in our life may be of assistance here. For example, you may suffer a burn or some other serious injury to your leg through an accident or maybe even from your own foolishness. The damage is done and the pain is immense. You would hardly remonstrate with yourself before you had taken good and thoughtful care of it. During its early healing you would be protective of that injured limb. You would not allow it to be placed where it could be bumped or knocked. You would take painkillers for the relief of the suffering. There seems no limit to which you would go in the early care of that injured member of your own body. In speaking of your injury to others you would expect them to show understanding, sympathy and love. Do we care for our own injured members in the Body like this? Remember Paul’s words that “whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it” (1 Cor 12:26).

Care for our Lonely Members

What are we to do in the early days to help our suffering brother or sister who has been left alone, either through death or the departure of their partner. And then what long term assistance can we give? First it is important to realise that they may feel unable to attend the meeting and talk with their brethren and sisters. This is a very natural reaction and we need to appreciate it. Their whole life has abruptly collapsed and there seems just a big black hole into which they have fallen. They need understanding, help and patience. True, the meetings are a place where they can receive comfort and strength and it is good if they can be there, but if one cannot face this in the early days then offer to meet with them until things settle a little more. Offer to enter the hall with them and sit with them, and after the meetings stay with them or at least be close at hand. If one of our children has a broken leg and comes out for the first time, just note how carefully his mother watches him all the time so that he does not fall. Likewise be a support and make sure our grieving brother or sister does not fall. Make provision for their possible distress.

Spend time with them and have them to your home, or visit them at their home and listen—just learn to listen. You cannot answer a problem if you have not first listened! Remember that their home is where all their joys and hopes were shared. This has now been shattered with the loss of their loved one. Be there to help them through. Perhaps they would appreciate help with their home duties, as their energy level will be very low. Read with them, and discuss the readings sensitively. Look up the readings before and be selective—you may even decide to read a psalm together. Talk about the positive things of the Truth and the brethren and sisters who are praying for them. Make plans with them and help them to cope with everyday life. Slowly, ever so slowly, hurt will heal and a positive spirit emerge in the knowledge that God knows what they are going through and has promised, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee”.

Step by step our aim is to assist our brother or sister back to being an active member of the “One Body” to which we all belong. There is no doubt that their experience has been a learning experience that will be of enormous assistance to others in the future. They will feel so much more deeply the difficulties others face, and prove their value in assistance to them, as well as in many other aspects of service to their Lord. One recalls the experience of a brother who was in deep depression over issues that had come upon him—he was obviously very low but trying to get back to normal. Many had looked on him as a tower of strength who would never crumble. One day a sister, a quiet, unassuming member of the “One Body”, took him by the arm and with tears in her eyes said, “You will be all right, I do understand”. She could say that because she did understand, having been through the same herself, and her caring words were a great comfort and encouragement to him.

Continuing in Love

The sudden fact that a member has suffered can soon be forgotten by those fully committed to their family cares and the pressures this brings. However, the loneliness for the ones left alone can grow and grow. The days turn to weeks and then months and years of loneliness. We need to be ever vigilant to their need for company and mental stimulation on the things of God. There is the need to share the readings and discussion of them. Remember them on public holidays for family gatherings, if they do not have a family of their own, to involve them in activities. Invite them home on Sundays for lunch and the afternoon to fraternise with you and your companion, or for tea before the weekly Study Class. These things are so obvious but so easily passed over. One almost needs to make diary notes so that they are not forgotten!

By constantly keeping in contact we can be a guide and sounding board for our lonely members. We all appreciate that such loneliness and grief can drive one to make decisions which in normal circumstances would not be made. They may seek companionship that may lead to relationships that under normal circumstances they would not have considered. We need to be well aware of the “woe is me” feeling that will direct into areas of possible disaster.

Before another companion is considered, serious thought should be given to Paul’s words: “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord. But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 7:39,40). Sadly some have made hasty decisions in seeking another companion to alleviate their grief and loneliness, only to regret the decision later.

In the first century, with the prevalence of illness and persecution, there appear to have been many widows. There was no government financial help as there is today in many countries. The responsibility rested on the ecclesia. They were all one family and were to treat their widowed sisters as real sisters and fully care for them. On the other hand, those widowed had their responsibility also before God. Paul saw that widows had an opportunity to serve the body also. He speaks of the widow who was “well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work” (1 Tim 5: 10). However, he foresaw a situation that could develop with younger widows which was not constructive to the body: “And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not. I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully” (1 Tim 5:13,14).

Those who are assisting such brethren and sisters to cope with their new situation need to offer sound and mature counsel in such matters.

A Father to the Fatherless

It may be that some in this group will now be left to bring up their children alone. What a daunting task in this evil age! Yet what a comfort to know that there are brethren and sisters to help them in the family of God. Once a father or mother is not there, there is a great gap left in the lives of those children. Try to enter into that little one’s world. He goes home from school or Sunday school after hearing what his friend’s Dad or Mum did with him, and he does not have one—only memories of one. Our Heavenly Father is a Father to the fatherless and has told us to care for them, too—do we? Next time you are playing ball, teaching your child to ride a bike, to cook, or the hundred and one other things you do with your child, think of those little ones without someone like you to help them—and pick up the phone and ask if you can pick them up right away!

To be a “father to the fatherless” requires spending time with them—quality time as it has been called. Teach them little lessons that allow for the spiritual lessons to be learned, help them with their Sunday School work or if need be with their schoolwork and just play with them. And as you do this, think of the free time that you are giving to your brother or sister which is so needful for them to draw their life together again. Remember the children’s birthdays and other special occasions and let them join in with your family for outings and other activities.

For those of you who are in this single parent situation, do not be slow to ask for this help for your children. None should be offended if asked if they would like to help but rather see it as a privilege in their service to their Heavenly Father in His family.

We need to also give thought to encourage our teenage children to care for those young ones in need, teaching them to always consider them in their arrangements, and keep them well within the group. Training in this area is a good discipline for them so that when they are members of the body of Christ they will have already learned the need to be aware of the needs of all members of the body.

Being Fruitful in Every Good Work

Because one is now without a partner does not mean that their work in the Truth is limited, though it may need to be refocused. We could hardly imagine Paul feeling a misfit in the ecclesia with no responsible work to do because he had no partner. There may be a need to review their service and use the opportunities that are before them. If there are no children involved then there is scope for a very wide range of service. And if there are children then this obviously is a very important work before them. Paul gives sound advice regarding widows which provides comfort and guidance for those who have been left alone, even if not widowed (1 Tim 5). Consider Mary, who it seems was widowed early after bearing at least seven children. She fulfilled her task very competently in this regard. One can only wonder at her faithful dedication and trust in Yahweh in her role as a widow and a mother. She knew He cared for the widow and the fatherless.

Finally we would like to offer some words of encouragement. Once grief has subsided, prayerfully look at the “One Body” to which you belong. See what you can do for the well-being of that Body. You have much to offer and you have a depth of understanding that many have not so gained. There is support that you can now give to encourage others. It has been well said: “We are only as good as what we have been through”. You may have time to help those who are struggling with family life—a meal for the busy mother, a visit to an elderly member to encourage them in the way. The opportunities are many if the mind is vigilant to needs, and by helping others you will help yourself and be blessed of Yahweh.

By This shall all Men Know

What then is the sum of what we have been considering, as we have reflected upon the ecclesial body and certain members in that body? There is a need for all, every member or group of members, to look to the well-being of others. Our Lord and Head has given us all his example to follow. His anxiety and care was for others and their eternal well-being. He left us a new commandment, but it was one on which his life was based: “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another”. We are to love the other members of the body with that love he has shown to us, a self-sacrificing love even unto death: “ Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”. He did this for us that we might live through him. There was no complaining, no holding back for others to do it, no selfish restraint in his service. Therefore let us try to follow his example as we care for others in need, for “by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34,35).