Can You Help Widows and Fatherless Children “in Their Tribulation”?
1, 2. (a) What is the difference between “looking upon” someone in distress and “looking after” that one? (b) According to James 1:27, what responsibility does true worship bring?
THERE is a vast difference between looking upon someone in distress and looking after that one. True worship should change persons from uninterested observers into caring helpers of fellow believers, because “the form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself without spot from the world.”—Jas. 1:27.
2 At James 1:27 the original Greek word that is translated “to look after” is defined as ‘having a care for, providing for.’ It conveys the idea of visiting someone to bring needed help. This help is deeply appreciated.
CHILDREN CAN PROVIDE VALUABLE HELP
3, 4. (a) According to 1 Timothy 5:4, who should be concerned about helping widows? (b) In what ways can children of single parents help, and what is the finest support these children can give?
3 The apostle Paul shows who should be concerned about helping widows by saying: “If any widow has children or grandchildren, let these learn first to practice godly devotion in their own household and to keep paying a due compensation to their parents and grandparents, for this is acceptable in God’s sight.” (1 Tim. 5:4) Though this statement involves grown children, even minors can learn to show their devotion to God by paying “a due compensation” to their parents, who have done so much for them. But how? Some youngsters help out financially, as one did who offered his entire savings from his part-time job to pay an unexpected bill. “This kind of generosity from a 14-year-old son,” said his mother beamingly, “encourages me beyond words.”
4 Even if children are not able to contribute money, they can give much more important things—appreciation and obedience. (Prov. 23:22; Eph. 6:1-3) Most single parents ask themselves, “Am I doing a good job in bringing up my child?” Imagine the joy of one single parent when his little child made a card, saying: “I love you very much and I know you try hard.” Well, if you are the child of a single parent, have you recently told that one how much you appreciate his or her sacrifices for you? Are you quick to obey? Do you know what it means to wash the dishes obediently, carry out the garbage, do your homework, come home on time, clean up and, above all, to study your Bible lessons regularly? Such willing obedience is the finest support you can give your parent.
HOW THE CONGREGATION CAN HELP
5. (a) What does showing “fellow feeling” mean, and why is this so important? (b) In what ways could our congregation display such “fellow feeling” toward single parents?
5 “It’s been hard and sometimes I get weighed down,” said a single parent with six children, including a set of 17-month-old twins. “However, once in a while one of the brothers or sisters [in the congregation] will say to me: ‘Joan, you’re doing a good job. It’s going to be worth it.’ Just to know that others are thinking of you and that they care is so helpful.” This shows how all can help. “All of you,” urges the apostle Peter, “be like-minded, showing fellow feeling, having brotherly affection, tenderly compassionate.” (1 Pet. 3:8) Put yourself in the other person’s place. A kind word, a smile right from the heart, can mean so much. Be tenderhearted rather than critical.
6. Why would an individual acting like the one described at 1 John 3:17 truly be reprehensible before God?
6 Real love includes more than kind words. Just before urging Christians to put their love into action through deeds, the apostle John wrote: “But whoever has this world’s means for supporting life and beholds his brother having need and yet shuts the door of his tender compassions upon him, in what way does the love of God remain in him?” (1 John 3:17) The original word for “beholds” means not just a casual glance but a deliberate gaze. It is used of a general inspecting an army. Certainly, this one looks with interest for details. So imagine the scene John paints: Someone who has the means to help, after a careful look at his brother perceives a need, then shuts and locks the door of his heart. He refuses to help. How cold! Thankfully, such negative responses are rare exceptions among Jehovah’s Witnesses. Countless reports show their generosity toward those “having need.”
7. When needy single-parent families are neglected, what usually is the problem, and how can this be overcome?
7 However, there have been instances of neglect. Usually this has occurred because there has been a failure to “behold” the need. ‘Careful observation,’ with interest regarding those in need, was lacking. So what about the situation in your congregation? Are you really conscious of the circumstances of the widows and the orphans? When was the last time you did more than casually greet them? Have you ever invited some over for a meal or a social gathering to get to know them better? Such questions help us to see if we are really ‘beholding’ the condition of our single-parent families.
8. How have some in the congregation helped needy single-parent families?
8 It does not take great wealth to help. Many, seeing a real need, have shared extra food or have passed on clothing that their own children have outgrown. Some have even taught single parents certain skills, such as sewing, so that these could manage better. An old proverb says: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” One single parent wrote: “A sister gave me a sewing machine, two lengths of material and sewing lessons. I have saved hundreds of dollars since that time.”
9. What balanced outlook should single-parent families have regarding help from others?
9 However, should single parents normally expect a “flood” of help and become discouraged if such is not forthcoming? One must keep a balanced outlook. While grateful for any assistance offered, one should ask, “Am I doing all I can to handle the situation?” As one single parent put it: “No one can really take on an extra family. If you don’t help yourself, you are not accepting your total responsibility. You have to learn to stand on your own two feet.” There are Bible examples of faithful widows who gave of themselves, rather than expecting service from others. (Luke 2:36-38; Mark 12:42-44) One financially poor single parent who struggled for many years to rear two children had a plaque on her wall that read: “Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.” For 12 years, as a full-time evangelizer, she has done just that. She has given of herself, and now, at 73 years of age, still gives to help others. As a result, she has never been in want.—Prov. 11:25.
10. What evidence is there that mature sisters played a large role in helping widows and orphans in the first century?
10 Mature women undoubtedly played a large role in helping widows and orphans in the first century. Some widows are described as ‘relieving those in tribulation,’ perhaps including single-parent families. (1 Tim. 5:10) In his letter to the Christians in Rome, one fourth of those greeted by the apostle Paul were women who had served faithfully with or in behalf of the congregation. Some were specifically spoken of as working hard or performing labors “in the Lord.” (Rom. 16:3-15) The woman Phoebe, a “minister of the congregation” (evidently she served in an unofficial way caring for the personal needs of others), is described as a “defender of many.” Doubtless, she took the initiative in helping “many,” which strengthened the congregation. Today, like Phoebe, mature Christian women give loving encouragement and help, including their material resources to help “those in tribulation.”—Rom. 16:1, 2.
11. (a) What type of help can mature sisters give single parents? (b) What example can you give, and do you know of other instances?
11 Many aged Christian women provide spiritual and emotional help by being “teachers of what is good,” so that “they may recall the young women to their senses” by offering them understanding counsel. (Titus 2:3-5) As an example, one single mother was in tears after hearing a Bible lecture about marriage. An older Christian woman asked what was wrong. “I guess I’m just feeling sorry for myself,” was the tearful reply. The older woman began to talk with her. She knew how the depressed one felt, because she herself had been abandoned by her husband 20 years earlier. The younger woman remarked: “She was my biggest help. She talked to me a lot and invited me to share with her in the preaching work. She’s been very dear to me.” Many mature Christian women have reached out to such ones and offered them a “shoulder to cry on,” even discussing very personal problems that a Christian man, by himself, could not appropriately handle.
ELDERS—MAKE THE ‘HEART OF WIDOWS GLAD’
12. How can elders ‘make the heart of widows glad’?
12 “The heart of the widow I would make glad,” said Job of pre-Christian times. (Job 29:13) He “felt” the pain experienced by widows. Rather than adding to it by a thoughtless word or deed, he acted to cheer them up inside—in the heart. Elders of Christian congregations today can do likewise by reassuring such ones that the congregation is a warmhearted family, by really making them feel a part of it. The overseers may share a comforting scripture that shows the blessings resulting from faithfulness. “Fellow feeling” will help them to try to understand the tremendous emotional and mental pressures that plague many single parents. (1 Pet. 3:8) Consequently, needy ones will feel free to come to them for help. Each of these spiritual men can truly be like “a place of concealment from the rainstorm, like streams of water in a waterless country.”—Isa. 32:1, 2.
13. Why may single parents approach elders for help in making important decisions, and what kind of help should be given?
13 The Bible foretold that God would restore capable “counselors” among his ancient people. (Isa. 1:26) Similarly, today single parents may look to elders for counsel in making important decisions. When approached, elders should provide “skillful direction,” helping the inquirer to recognize the Bible principles involved in the matter under consideration. However, the role of an elder or anyone else approached for help is that of a ‘counselor,’ not a decision-maker for others.—Prov. 11:14; Gal. 6:5.
14. (a) Why should elders try to “readjust” someone who takes a false step? (b) How was the Greek word for “readjust” used in the first century, and how should knowing this affect the way such ‘readjusting’ is done?
14 An elder may note that, because of the pressures, a single parent is taking a “false step,” such as dating an unbeliever. The individual may not be fully aware of the seriousness of such a step. “Brothers, even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it,” recommends the Bible, “you who have spiritual qualifications try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness.” (Gal. 6:1) Thus elders and others may prevent a “false step” from becoming a wayward course. The Greek word for “readjust” is also rendered ‘mend.’ (Mark 1:19) In the first century, it was used to describe the setting of a broken bone. A doctor, though he must apply some pressure, would be, oh, so gentle in setting a bone! The objective would be to ‘mend’ the injury, not to make it worse. So elders who wish to reach the heart of such ones will “in a spirit of mildness” reason with the person gently but clearly, helping him to see why applying the counsel of God’s Word is in his best interests, thus putting him on the mend spiritually.
15. (a) When might elders have to organize help for needy widows? (b) Why do the elders need help from others in the congregation?
15 At times elders may have to organize help for lonely widows. In Trinidad, a 79-year-old Christian widow fell seriously ill with terminal cancer and needed round-the-clock care. Though she received a small government pension, there were no relatives to help her. To prevent having the task fall on just a few, the elders scheduled teams of Christian women who volunteered to help. For over six months these women cooked and cleaned for their spiritual sister, transported her, washed her clothes and even bathed her when she could no longer move. This was an example of love that truly impressed the neighbors. Naturally the elders cannot do everything necessary in such cases. They usually have their own families for which to care. But they are happy to do what they can, and they appreciate it when others take the initiative by helping out in circumstances of this kind.
BROTHERS—‘RESCUE FATHERLESS BOYS’
16. (a) What is a chief concern of female single parents regarding their sons? (b) Who can help, and how?
16 The mother in a single-parent family naturally is concerned about the lack of a father’s influence in the home, especially on the sons. Men in the congregation should feel as did Job, who said: “I would rescue . . . the fatherless boy and anyone that had no helper.” (Job 29:12) Often what is needed is sincere interest. These boys could be personally invited to share with you in witnessing, in certain activities at the Kingdom Hall and even in wholesome recreation. This attention could “rescue” a boy from a worldly course and draw him toward the congregation.
17. (a) Who was a good example of one who ‘rescued fatherless boys,’ and with what results? (b) In offering help to other children, what would a married brother have to consider?
17 The apostle Peter was one who ‘rescued fatherless boys.’ He befriended John Mark, even calling him “Mark my son.” (1 Pet. 5:13) Mark’s mother, Mary, was probably a single parent, because the account says that Peter went to her house, not her husband’s. (Acts 12:12) Undoubtedly the fine spiritual association Mark had with Peter and other Christian men was instrumental in his becoming a missionary who even wrote a Bible book. He is a good example for boys who must be reared by a mother alone. Naturally, any married brother would have to realize that Scripturally he has a prior responsibility—to care for his own family first. While not neglecting those “who are his own,” much good can come from showing interest in these fatherless boys to the extent that this is advantageous and as far as one’s circumstances allow.—1 Tim. 5:8.
THE BASIS FOR SUCH HELP—SELF-SACRIFICING LOVE
18. (a) What type of love identifies genuine Christianity, and how did Jesus show it? (b) How can we display such love?
18 The badge of identification for a real Christian is not merely love, but self-sacrificing love. Jesus said to his disciples: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:34, 35) His example of giving was to be the standard. He “did not please himself.” He “became poor for your sakes.” “He gave himself [through an agonizing death] for our sins.” Only by imitating this pattern of love could his disciples manifest the attention and care that widows and fatherless children would need during “their tribulation.”—Rom. 15:3; 2 Cor. 8:9; Gal. 1:4; Jas. 1:27.
19, 20. (a) Is it always easy to show self-sacrificing love? Why or why not? (b) Whom should we especially be concerned about helping?
19 As pressures intensify and it becomes harder to care for our own problems, it is easy to become insensitive to another’s plight and to be preoccupied with our own lives. Even some in the first century who were “taught by God to love one another” needed to “go on doing it in fuller measure.” (1 Thess. 4:9, 10) Should we not look frankly at our own attitude and actions toward our Christian brothers and sisters in unfortunate circumstances? Love like that of Jesus would require that we sacrifice our life for our brothers. However, if we are willing to lay down our life for our brothers, how should we feel about sharing our “bread” when we ‘behold our brother having need’?—1 John 3:17.
20 Caring for our Scriptural responsibilities keeps us all very busy. We often wish we could do more to help others. Yet, if we willingly do what we can, be assured that Jehovah knows our limitations and appreciates what we do. “As long as we have time favorable for it, let us work what is good toward all, but especially toward those related to us in the faith.”—Gal. 6:10.
ALL WORK TOGETHER TO ENDURE TRIBULATIONS
21. (a) What can single parents do to cope with today’s pressures? (b) How can others in the congregation help them, and is this help important?
21 Thus, in summary, single parents can endure by doing the following: (1) Trust God continually now and look to the hope of eternal life when God will satisfy the desires of all. (Ps. 37:3, 4) (2) Maintain a close relationship with God through Bible study and intense prayers. (3) Keep involved in beneficial work, including Kingdom witnessing, managing a household and rearing children. Self-sacrificing love will move all in the congregation to be sensitive to the necessity of helping single parents in need. How? By having “fellow feeling,” by showing an interest in their children and by assisting them spiritually and materially, to mention but a few fine deeds in their behalf. How valuable is such help? One single parent said: “I have been through so many unpleasant things that I prefer to forget. However, let me say this: Without the help from loving and faithful brothers and sisters I would never have made it!”
22. What will result from looking after needy widows and fatherless children?
22 Yes those who genuinely “look after” single-parent families in distress will not only see these endure faithfully. (Jas. 1:27) They will also reflect brightly the personality of our heavenly Father, who “gives help to the widow and to the child who has no father.”—Ps. 146:9, The Bible in Basic English.
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Mature Christian women can give loving encouragement and help, including material aid
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Learning certain skills can help single parents cope with the cost of living
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Have you ever invited a single-parent family for a meal, to get better acquainted?