Raising thriving children after the loss of a spouseWritten by Sandra Picklesimer Aldrich
What's inside this article
Single parenting was not a part of my dream for the future. But a few months after our 16th wedding anniversary, a doctor said, "I’m so very sorry" as he diagnosed my husband’s brain cancer. Soon I was left to raise a 10-year-old son and an eight-year-old daughter alone.
I grieved my husband’s death, but I also grieved the loss of the future we had planned and the dreams that would never materialize. Mingled with my grief was the feeling of being inadequate to face the challenges swirling around me.
So, after I put the children to bed each night, I read grief books – everything from clinical psychology to the personal experiences of other widows. But nothing helped until I turned to the Bible.
Night after night, with a Kentucky quilt pulled around my shoulders, I drew encouragement from Old Testament women such as Deborah, Ruth and Esther, who had also faced impossible situations. The accounts of their victories strengthened me. Soon I was personalizing everything I read in the Scriptures and looking for my own victory.
A misunderstood plan
Even though I had read the account of the raising of Lazarus in John 11 numerous times since childhood, I had not read it with the eyes of a frightened single mother. But as I read how Mary and Martha of Bethany sent word to Jesus about the illness of their brother, Lazarus, I nodded, thinking of our many prayers for healing. Jesus had seemed to deliberately stall in our situation, too.
When Jesus finally arrived in Bethany, Martha told Him her brother would not have died if He had been there. When Jesus assured her she would see Lazarus again, she answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection."
I love the Lord’s powerful reply: "I am the resurrection and the life," as He explained the life resulting from believing in Him. Gently rebuked, Martha proclaimed He was the Christ, the Son of God, and hurried home to tell her sister Mary that Jesus had arrived.
When Mary met Jesus outside the village, she fell at His feet and said through tears, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."
As Jesus saw her weeping, as well as those who accompanied her, He wept, too. Those two words in verse 35 – Jesus wept – suddenly comforted me. If Jesus could cry, it was OK for me to cry.
As I continued to read, I noted the people who judged His reaction. Some saw His tears as proof of His love for His friend, while others wondered why He, who healed the blind, hadn’t kept Lazarus from dying.
When Jesus was directed to the tomb of His friend, He told those standing nearby to roll away the stone covering the entrance. Then, after praying publicly, Jesus said in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" I decided if He raised Lazarus from the dead, He could resurrect my life as a single parent (and the life of my children), too.
I envisioned Lazarus emerging from the tomb, still bound in the grave clothes with strips of linen keeping his jaw shut and holding his arms close to his chest. Then Jesus said to those standing nearby, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."
The One who raised a man from the dead was asking others to roll away stones and untie grave clothes? His point was clear: Do what is humanly possible, and leave the impossible to God.
I thought about the grave clothes that had bound Lazarus, and I pondered their connection to my grief. Numerous emotions, including fear, were keeping me bound. How was I going to teach my children to make good choices? The media – and several acquaintances – were bombarding me with statistics about the number of prisoners who came from single-parent homes.
My only option was to turn to the Lord and continually give Him my fears. Gradually, as I prayed for step-by-step guidance, He was there to offer new energy or a creative solution. And He reminded me, even though I was miserable, I had no excuse to act miserably.
Thus, I had the choice to concentrate on what I had lost or the blessings I still had left. So I took a deep breath and chose to concentrate on my two young children. They had lost their dad to death; I didn’t want them to lose me to grief.
In addition to identifying emotional grave clothes, I pondered the last part of verse 44: "and let him go." I had a few close friends who became my support group and helped me move toward the future by pointing out strengths I hadn’t recognized within myself. In the process, I decided letting go didn’t mean I had to be happy about my situation. It just meant I trusted the Lord in the midst of it. After all, Philippians 4:4 says, "Rejoice in the Lord" – not in circumstances, not in people, but in the Lord.
As part of letting go, I asked my pastor’s permission to start a Sunday school class for women like me who sat alone each Sunday. We called ourselves the beginners, women moving toward a brighter future.
Now, years later, I’m stronger spiritually and both of my children are college-educated, employed and happily married – neither of them has sold drugs, stolen a car or turned out to be a murderer.
Single parents can and do raise responsible, godly children – if we invite the Lord into our situation. I allowed Scripture and the Holy Spirit to guide me in single parenting. And just like Lazarus, I shed my grave clothes and rejoined the living.
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