Christ Can Lift the Widow’s Veil

Recently Lynn Roush, counselor on staff at The Crossing, was asked to write a review of the book The Undistracted Widow by Carol Cornish for the Her.meneutics blog. We thought it would be helpful to post it here too. If you are interested in reading the book, you can find it in The Crossing’s bookstore.

“How do you celebrate a wedding anniversary with only half of a couple?” asked Margaret Nyman, newly widowed and only 26 days short of being wed to Nate for 40 years. Her husband, who had succumbed to pancreatic cancer only six weeks after his diagnosis, passed away surrounded by his wife and seven grown children. Like many of her widow friends had already realized before her, losing her husband to death turned Margaret’s life upside down and brought uncertainty at every new turn.

The unwelcome transition into widowhood is traumatic and often misunderstood by those who have not been affected by such a loss. But since statistics suggest that women will likely outlive their husbands, it is reasonable to anticipate that many of us will be widows in our lifetime. And despite the fact that many mental health professionals gauge the death of a spouse as the number one stressor a person will face in their lives, most women are caught unaware of the significant challenges they must navigate once their husbands are gone.

In her book, “The Undistracted Widow: Living for God After Losing Your Husband,” Carol Cornish provides hope and direction for widows who desire to remain devoted to God despite the harsh storms that accompany their new season of life. Even though Scriptural encouragement for widows is plentiful, Christian women in this position are often scrambling for resources that speak to the specific pain and heartache that they feel. Grief and bereavement groups may provide social support and connection, but the woman seeking to embrace her widowhood from a God-honoring perspective may easily come up short or be led astray by worldly counsel about where to find comfort in a time of loss. Cornish, who lost her husband to lung cancer, offers widows a biblical perspective that grew out of her own heartache and grief. The emotional shock of saying good-bye to her lover and friend of 40 years started her on a journey towards knowing God in a deeper, more trusting way. Through her own study of Scripture, and a heightened need to see God as sovereign over her loss, she began to collect her thoughts, prayers and insights into a book that has become a treasure of wisdom for anyone struggling to trust and obey God in difficult circumstances.

The first step in her journey hinged on her willingness to understand her state of widowhood as “not simply a problem to be solved or a circumstance that must somehow be overcome,” but as a calling for her life that had been arranged by God. The notion that “God designed our widowhood…[and] all God’s designs flow from his love for us” seems incompatible with the suffering that accompanies such loss. But her desire to yield to God’s will instead of nursing an angry grudge or bitter suspicions about His goodness became the foundation for her healing and growth. The many biblical promises that God gives to widows, including that He will protect, uphold, maintain and execute justice for the vulnerable and defenseless confirmed that God had not abandoned her. Over time she discovered that her husband’s death opened a door to dependence and devotion to God that marriage had not previously permitted.

But what would tempt a Christian widow away from this kind of undivided attention to God? There are many challenges to face including loneliness, fear, self-pity or the desire to seek comfort outside of God’s will. These struggles are universal, but become more intensified when a relationship that once brought fulfillment and joy has been ended through the finality of death. Cornish is able to speak directly to such temptations and how she found ways to combat them, primarily through time in God’s Word, the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and a constant reminder that Christ was the treasure that she could never lose. Paul’s admonishment that the unmarried woman should “promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord” in 1 Corinthians 7:34-35 guides her assertion that “loving God and living for him is the key to honoring him in widowhood.” Her own experience confirms that God’s sufficiency in the midst of hard, even devastating circumstances manifests the beauty of Christ to a world that is terrified of death and seeks any possible distraction to quiet the restless, aching soul within.

Although this book has a specific audience in mind, Cornish communicates gospel truths that are not just for widows. She has the ability to write plainly and unwaveringly about the hard topic of grief and loss by acknowledging sorrow but not indulging it. As believers, we should grieve differently than the world does, but what that looks like realistically and practically is often mysterious. “The Undistracted Widow” removes the mystery by offering biblical wisdom, compassion, and honest answers to women who have found themselves on this path, and to those who want to walk beside and support them. Cornish conveys with first-hand authority and biblical conviction that beneath the frowning providence of widowhood lies a storehouse of spiritual blessings to any woman willing to look for such a treasure.

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