Two weeks ago I found myself in a place I vowed I would never go. I am ashamed to admit that I have been there before; in fact, I have been several times, but after the last time I decided enough was enough and vowed to never do it again. It’s embarrassing to admit so I’ve held off on telling you guys but I went Black Friday shopping. It’s embarrassing to admit. It’s like having friends catch you eating at McDonalds or showing up to Whole Foods without your recyclable bags. In those moments your reputation takes a hit.
So here’s the story: I didn’t go to Target on Black Friday to buy gifts. I was tempted by the Playstation 4 for $200 but I did not succumb. I was grocery shopping. I would never have gone near the place but I went because I made a promise that I would go with a friend.
Let me explain: A few years ago I was out walking our new puppy and when you walk a new puppy it’s easy to make friends. As I walked I saw this elderly widow outside of her house. I’ll call her Betty. Betty is 80 years old and was working in her yard and she saw our puppy. Turns out Betty loves dogs so we stopped. Our puppy is always scared to meet new people so I picked up the puppy and let Betty pet her. As we stood there, from time to time Betty’s whole body would cringe in pain. After a few minutes she had to sit down so she found a bucket and sat on it. I placed Jasmine on her lap and we just talked. Not much. Just a little dog therapy and I was on my way. Over the next month or so we talked here and there and I was even able to get her in to see a chiropractor to have her treated. Thank you Doc Heidi.
I lost track of Betty over the last year or so. I would call but she wouldn’t pick up and I never saw her outside. Two days before Black Friday I ran into her and she asked me if I would take her grocery shopping on Black Friday. Little did I know she shops at Target so last Friday I found myself elbowing my way through the aisles of holiday shoppers helping her find SOS pads, and prunes. There was an upside. I did get to drive one of the little electric carts to my car to pick up Betty.
The Christmas Story Widow
Life can be difficult for a widow today, but not nearly as difficult as it was for a woman we find in the middle of the Christmas story, the greatest story every told.
36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. 39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.–Luke 2:36-40
I’m guessing you may have read these verses before. Every year I read the Christmas story and it’s right in the middle. I’ve read these words. If you’re like me, I’m guessing you haven’t given them much thought. The story of Anna reads like a math story problem:
If a woman is married at 17 and is married for 7 years before her husband dies and she lives to be 84, how many years did she live without her husband?
For all of you who aren’t math whizzes out there the answer is 60 years.
For 7 years this woman was married. For 7 years there was someone to come home to. For 7 years she had someone to hold her and make her feel loved. And then, after 7 years he was gone. He would not be replaced so she spent the next 60 years alone. Depending on how you read this verse. Some read it as she was 84 years old. Others read this as 84 years as a widow. Either way, it’s a long time. That’s a lot of heartbreak. That’s a lifetime of loneliness.
Whenever I tell the story about how we adopted our daughter, the part hardest for people to understand is why it took so long. I’m asked that question most of all. Most people are angered by the length of our wait. When we were in the wait, other’s offered advice: “Is it a money issue? Isn’t there someone you could bribe?” For four years we were asked that question. More often we asked it of ourselves. All we were trying to do is save a life. Why is was it taking so long? 4 years can be a long time to wait. Anna waited 15 times that amount, unless she was a widow for 84 years then it was 21 times that amount. More math for you.
Anna didn’t just lose a husband that day 60 years before she met Jesus. She lost part of herself. She lost her wholeness. Part of her identity was wrapped up in her husband. Part of her personality. Part of her self worth.
I’m guessing we don’t have anyone here who’s experienced 60 years of loss like that. But I’m guessing there are people here who lost some of their wholeness. People here who have experienced loss. People here who have had someone abandon them. Maybe you don’t have that kind of loss in your life. Maybe the people in your life didn’t abandon you, maybe they just diminished you. They hurt you, demeaned you, put work ahead of you. Maybe you don’t have that kind of hurt either. You would just like to be the most complete version of yourself. I’d actually be surprised if that wasn’t part of your story.
Life of a Widow
As I was working on this post, I was trying to figure out a way to make it apply to everyone. The story of Anna isn’t going to make it into theaters, and probably wouldn’t even make it to the Lifetime channel; maybe the Hallmark Channel after they stop running 25 consecutive days of romantic comedies. Guys, how many of you have a wife who watches those Hallmark Christmas movies? I have to admit that I have watched “A Boyfriend for Christmas.” If you are wondering how the story of an 84 year-old woman can make a difference in your life then your attitude is the same attitude as most people had toward widows in Jesus day.
The life of a widow in first century Israel was a difficult one. Our first thought when hearing that someone is a widow is the emotional loss. The pain of that kind of loss is devastating, especially at age 24. All of her hopes and dreams were tied up in this man. No husband to come home to. No kids to care for. No one to dry her tears. When the Bible describes widows it most often does so with these words: “Weeping,” “mourning,” “desolation.” Anna had some deep hurt. That is obvious. What is not so obvious are the other kinds of loss a widow would feel. A childless widow in first century Israel were considered at the bottom rung of social status. Their status would be similar to an orphan or landless immigrant. Perhaps the most devastating issue in becoming a widow was the economic loss. A widow had no legal rights to her husband’s land. My friend Betty owns her own home and a Cadillac. Anna was not allowed to be a property owner. If she had a son she could try to keep the land until he was old enough to become the caretaker of the land, but she herself could not keep the property. Two other words common in the Bible to describe widows were “poverty” and “indebtedness.” Let me read you a passage that gives a window into the life of a widow. So here’s Anna’s standing in her society as I see it:
- She had no husband
- She had no children
- She had no money
- She had no status
- She had no land
- She had little food
So far this post is living up to low expectations. Let me see if I can change gears. I have a book in my library; It’s called Seeking Solid Ground by John Trent and Rick Hicks. You’ve probably never heard of it but it did sell 40,000 copies which is pretty good. The average sales for a typical book published by a known publisher is around 3-4,000. So this book sold ten times more than average. Here’s the reason why I own the book: It was a gift from the author, who is a friend of mine, and I’m in the book and so is my wife, Jilane. We’re practically famous. Even though my name has been changed and no one knows it’s me and the story told about me isn’t actually all that positive, it just feels cool to be mentioned.
To be mentioned in a book or a magazine or a trade journal is honoring. It feels pretty good. It makes it feel like you’ve accomplished something. That you are worthy.
Anna was just a widow. She was poor. She had no social standing. But she did have this going for her: She is mentioned in the number one bestseller of all time. Not only that, she is mentioned in the greatest story every told in the number one best seller or all time. Every year when the Christmas story is read her name is read. Why is that? Anna had a few characteristics that we can learn from that put her in the book. Anna was not a brokenhearted widow; she was a wholehearted person which is something I think we all want to be.
Never Stop Showing Up
We don’t know much about Anna from her story in the Bible but there is something that we do know about her that made her a wholehearted person and that gave her a place in the greatest story of all time:
She never left the temple but worshiped night and day.—Luke 2:37
That line, “she never left,” means one of two things: It could mean she was always at church. She did set up and put the donut holes out and made the coffee and taught Sunday school or it means that she actually had an apartment on the church grounds. Either way, this can be said of Anna’s character: she never stopped showing up. I don’t want to make this point all about showing up to church, although that is what Anna did. Let’s broaden this topic to showing up where it’s important: Showing up in your marriage. Showing up with your kids. Showing up in your friends lives. This is how we make a legacy in our relationships. We just keep showing up.
If you’ve been in my office you have noticed that I have several trophies. My office has a sports theme and it has become a final resting place for old trophies. My favorite is my son’s MVP trophy from water polo his senior year. He was also all CIF and his team won CIF. I guess this qualifies me as a proud parent. This was 7 years ago and I’m still finding a way to talk about it. But there’s another one that’s near and dear to my heart. It was given to me by a 5 year-old girl who goes to Canyon Springs and she got it for playing soccer this year. Do you know what it says on it? It says ‘Scripps Ranch Soccer Club, 2017, Participant.” Do you know why she got that trophy? Just for showing up. Just for being on the team. This is the time in culture when everybody gets a trophy. Everyone’s a winner. We could debate the merit of that in youth sports if we wanted to, but that’s not my point. I want you to be an MVP in your relationships. I want you to win the Captain’s trophy, but even if you don’t, in your relationships you get credit for just showing up.
- Just showing up in your marriage. Just being there. Hanging in there in the tough times. Staying close in the dark times. You get a trophy for that
- You get credit for showing up with your kids. When they are bratty and you’re over it. When you have to run one more carpool, and run one more trip to the grocery store and you need to make one more trip to Target to get the right kind of athletic shorts. You get a trophy for showing up. For hanging in there.
- You get credit for hanging in with your friends who are having a hard time.
- You get credit for keeping close to parents who need you.
- And yes, I’ll say it, you get credit for hanging in there in your relationship with God. Showing up to small group. Showing up at church. Showing up in your devotions. You get a trophy for that.
Lessons from a Wholehearted, not a Brokenhearted Widow
Anna had nothing. She had no money and no social status and no property. But she made a legacy by showing up. We can too. Hang in there with your high school kid who won’t talk to you. Hang in there with a friend who’s battling right now. Stick with a marriage that has put you through the ringer.
If an 84 year-old woman can do it, we can do it too. That’s what a wholehearted person does. A wholehearted person keeps showing up and if we want to be wholehearted that’s what we need to do too.
Anna kept showing up. She was poor. She had no position in society. But she never lost her usefulness. She kept showing up. She kept praying. She kept asking God how she could be used. I don’t really know how she would evaluate her life but I do know this. The people I know that keep showing up and keep moving and keep praying and keep moving forward are my favorite people. It doesn’t matter what economic status they have or social status they have or what restaurants they eat in. Those people are on fire. Those people are inspiring. I don’t know much, but from what I know, that was Anna. She was an 84 year-old firecracker who kept showing up and because of it got her name written up in the number one best seller of all time.