words by: Ferree Hardy
Last month when I wrote about “Home” in this column, I missed something. My widowed friends had shared some deep wisdom with me in saying, “Home is not so much a place. Home is the presence of someone we love.” My heart resonates with that idea, doesn’t yours?
Yet, home is also something else. Living by myself these past several months has made me understand that a place of “sanctuary” is also a need. The widowed, and everyone else in a season of suffering, needs a sanctuary.
Sanctuary, generally speaking, has two meanings, encompassing both our spiritual and physical needs. First, it can refer to a holy place in a church, where we meet with God. Next, it refers to a place of safety and refuge for people in danger; or a place of protection for wildlife, as in a bird sanctuary where hunting isn’t permitted. Sanctuary is a place of refuge for both body and soul.
Jesus looked upon a crowd of people and saw that they were oppressed and harassed. They were like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). They needed sanctuary—some needed it for their body, others for their soul. Times haven’t changed; we still need it today. Sometimes I sense a sanctuary of God’s peace deep in my heart where no troubles can touch me or settle in. Sometimes I need the sanctuary of a house: a roof over my head, a door that locks at night, and a warm room that keeps out the cold weather. Sometimes the sanctuary is in my soul; sometimes it’s my house. On the best of days, I can draw from both.
Widows and widowers have had a double dose of trouble this year; they’ve had personal tragedies on top of our many national crises. But I was surprised by a discussion at a Bible study I went to recently. One of the questions was, “What thoughts occupy your mind most of the time?” I answered with a question I am constantly mulling over: “Where do I belong?” And, although the ladies in the group were not widows, nor were they planning to move away like I was, they all nodded in an understanding way.
“Where do I belong?” was on everyone’s mind. Do you feel the unrest and displacement too? Pandemic restrictions and unrest have disturbed us all. As conversations began to buzz, women in the group counted off on their fingers all the things that had changed. We, like the people in Christ’s time, wander about like sheep without a shepherd. We’re all a bit dazed.
In our pandemic-shocked state of mind, Thanksgiving is a holiday we desperately need. The familiar traditions, the good smells from the kitchen, the gatherings, the sharing of food, the games, and the conversations will be a doorway to sanctuary for a day. It will be good to sit down and rest. But, even if our house no longer feels like home, within its confines we can find physical sanctuary, and within our soul we can find spiritual sanctuary. It’s where we belong.
Focus on three things: praise to God, the presence of God, and the promises of God. Doing so will bring peace and a sense of sanctuary, security and refuge. Philippians 4:8,9 gives us this good promise: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things… and the God of peace shall be with you.” Where there’s peace, there’s sanctuary.
Two of my widowed friends shared experiences with me that illustrate these truths in real life. Look for their praise and gratitude towards God, their peace in the presence of God, and how they’ve turned to the promises of God.
“The events going on in the world this year have had an immense impact on my life, leading me to reevaluate what I prioritize in my life. Through my disappointments and human limitations, I have found a settled peace in my heart—the kind of peace that resides deep within me—the peace only Jesus can give. It is this kind of peace I am so grateful for. Spending more time in God’s Word and forsaking all the negativity this world has to offer has made me realize how disappointments and limitations in myself are necessary. They show where my strength and limitations end, and God’s strength and power in my life begins. They are so essential and real.”
– Delia Geary
“My husband passed away six months ago. The loneliness at times has been tremendous. However, God has opened my eyes to others and their loss. As a hospice Chaplain, I am so much more sensitive to the loneliness my patients and their caregivers feel. As my Father in heaven has reached down to me, with His love and comfort, I am, in turn, reaching out to others in a more real love I now hold on my heart. What a privilege to carry His love to others.”
– Toni S. Troxell
Jesus said, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). My two widow friends honestly mourn. Not every day has been peaceful; they’ve struggled deeply with loneliness and disappointments. But they are learning to recognize God’s comfort. They’ve found a sanctuary in their relationship to Him.
In times of suffering, words can ring like an empty tin pail or even sting like icy snowflakes. Grief can overwhelm for hours, days, or even months. I know. Sometimes we need to lean into the sadness; we need to lament and wail and let it work itself out through our pores. Some days we feel as if our sweat is like the great drops of blood that saturated Jesus in the dark night before his crucifixion. We need a sanctuary, but most of all, like Delia and Toni illustrate, we need a Savior. Hide away in Christ. He is the truest sanctuary, our rock and our fortress.
As we come to the close of this article, let’s open our hearts to a real Thanksgiving and find sanctuary through praise, God’s presence, and His promises. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV). We have no reason not to expect blessings, so we can be thankful for them ahead of time.
Ferree Hardy has helped thousands of widows through her book, “Postcards from the Widows’ Path,” small groups, speaking, and personal coaching, but touching one life at a time is what matters most to her. She holds a BA from Moody Bible Institute, and was a pastor’s wife in Ohio for over twenty years before her first husband died. She’s happily remarried now, and her readers know that moving seems to have become a hobby for her. But she also enjoys backyard chickens, aims to read fifty books a year, and loves to bake. Learn more by visiting her blog.