“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
“To visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction.” This is the part of James 1:27 I hear quoted most often, but never have I understood the significance of coupling these two particular demographics in the same breath, until now.
Most recently while at church I spoke with two different women on two separate occasions and heard first-hand, yet only in small measure, what it feels like to be a widow at the holidays. Both conversations began with me asking a question, “How are you?’’
As the smile faded from their lips and tears filled their eyes, I heard of how difficult it is to get through the holidays – without them. Their best friends, with whom they’ve laughed and cried for decades, are gone. How are they to get over that? How are they to stop the longing to see them again when they’ve really not been gone that long? How can they continue to step through the entryway of an empty home day after day, night after night, and wake up to the same nagging feeling of an engulfing emptiness each morning?
With a prayer on their lips before they place their feet on the floor they ask God for strength and courage to hope again, breathe again, live again. Until that day when they will be reunited, they will simply endure. Until then, they will be brave and fill their days with service and activity and people that they love and who love them back, yet never fully able to fill the vacuum of their souls for their beloveds.
The fatherless, the orphans, like the widows, suffer such an affliction as this. Laying their heads down at night many times without even a prayer to comfort them, they ask the question to the space around them, “When will my forever family come to take me home?” Night after night they are forced to ask this same question. Day after day, the same activity, filling the time, filling the space around them with a need for belonging, burying a sorrow they carry on their little shoulders because the reality of it is too great a burden to comprehend.
Enduring each day with such courage, such tenacity, longing to be reunited, in a sense, with their beloveds, how brave they truly are! Yet they love, in spite of conditions, they love those around them, and they are loved back. But there is a vacuum, nevertheless, with a longing which can only be filled by their forever families. When will that day ever come? Will that day ever come?
As soon as I realized I have a daughter who has been living in an orphanage for the past six years without me, without her big sister and her daddy, the tears began to flow. A river of tears I cry, just below the surface, the same kind of tears I imagine as the widows and the orphans. Is this sorrow I feel the only way God could make me see their pain?
Is it in caring for the afflicted, the widows and the orphans, that we come to know what pure, undefiled worship of God our Father feels like and hence with great awareness turn away from the world? Through the care of the afflicted do we come to a deep awareness that it is the world that afflicts the afflicted?
Or is the only way to see the affliction, the pain, of the widows and the fatherless, the orphans, is by seeking out God first in all that we do, hence living a life of religious substance filled with God? To practice a pure religion undefiled before God will we come to recognize their affliction? As we turn away from the world and deny ourselves this ubiquitous carnality, can we then feel the pain, the affliction, of the widows and the orphans by keeping ourselves “unspotted from the world”?
God is opening my eyes. Praise the Lord! Even though there is great pain there is also great joy, for this growing humanity welling up inside of me is showing me the need before me. The need has always been there just like my daughter has been alive for over six years now. Having not known the need was I responsible for the need. Now that I know the need I must meet it.
For God showed me that even though James 1:27 speaks of the widows and the orphans specifically, the afflicted of all sorts can be addressed. My brother without a job, my sister who is ill or caring for a sick child or an elderly parent, these are some of the afflicted that need cared for through prayer and encouragement and who often hold back a river of tears just below the surface.
The need of the hour is great. Let us rise to meet the need through Christ Jesus because we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Who knows? Perhaps someone reading this right now is being beckoned by the Father to visit an orphan and give him a home and a forever family.