By LeRoy Lawson
Glen Wheeler, Widowers Hurt, Too (self published, 2008).
Cheryl Savageau and Diane Stortz, Parents of Missionaries (Colorado Springs: Authentic Publishing, 2008).
Daniel Gottlieb, Learning from the Heart: Lessons on Living, Loving, and Listening (New York: Sterling Publishing, 2008).
Practical is the key word for this column’s books: practical advice for men who have lost their wives, practical advice for parents who have “lost” their children to a faraway mission field, and practical advice from a man who has lost the use of his arms and legs and has learned to live successfully without them.
LOSING A WIFE
Wheeler’s little volume is almost more pamphlet than book, just 89 pages of pithy counsel for other men who, like him, have had to make their way without their life’s companion. After decades of togetherness their “we” has become “I” and they don’t like it. The title of Widowers Hurt, Too sounds almost whiny. (“Hey, give us men some sympathy, also. You women get all the attention. Even the Bible says to take care of widows and orphans; it doesn’t offer any consolation to widowers.”) Don’t be misled. Wheeler is transparent about the pain, but his is not a pity party. Along with generous portions of Scripture, poetry, and prayer to lift the spirits of the bereaved, he reveals the concrete steps he took to fashion his own recovery.
Each chapter concludes with blank lines for the reader to fill with “some areas I intend to pursue.” Don’t just wring your hands or promise that someday you’ll. . . . Write it down. Then act on it.
I agree with Wheeler’s friend David Eubanks, former president of Johnson Bible College, Wheeler’s alma mater: “The greatest contribution of the book . . . is in promoting positive attitudes that are essential for widowers.” Practical.
I liked reading Parents of Missionaries in part, I suppose, because I have been involved in promoting missions all my life. I have often been touched by the joys and the heartaches of parents whose children leave them to serve cross-culturally, sometimes for a few years and sometimes for a lifetime. With our own children states and continents away from us, I identify all too readily with these grieving, rejoicing parents. Their children are serving the Lord (the rejoicing) but doing so has separated them from their parents—and taken their parents’ grandchildren with them (the grieving).
The authors, a clinical counselor (Savageau) and a missionary parent (Stortz, who cofounded the National Network of Parents of Missionaries), write for a clearly defined audience. The result, however, is a volume whose value goes beyond its intended readership. It’s chock-full of sound advice on parenting and grandparenting for all the rest of us as well. Look at some of the topics addressed:
• Saying good-bye and experiencing loss
• Relating to adult children
• The challenge of the empty nest
• Coping with complex emotions
• Staying connected
• Having happy holidays
• Traveling to the field (going to where your children are the heads of their families)
These topics are not limited to missionary parenting. I read some very sound advice here. Now all I need to do is apply it. Practical.
Learning from the Heart was worth its price for one insight, and there are many. Gottlieb includes a chapter on “The Gift of Hopelessness.” I’ve chastised myself in recent years for not preaching enough about hope, and I deserved the scolding. But in this brief meditation, Gottlieb forces me to rethink this virtue.
Just this week a man crying his heart out visited with me between morning worship services. His wife has left him and taken their child to another state. His alimony and child support payments have left him broke. He lost his job in the economic collapse in our state. He can’t get help from government agencies. He faces jail as a deadbeat father. And more. His frustration, anger, helplessness, and stubbornness in fighting everything and everybody are eating him alive. The best advice I could give him, I thought, was to encourage him to simply face up to the overwhelming odds against him—and to quit kicking against reality.
I felt uneasy with my advice. It would have been the natural, intuitive thing to say, “Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. Keep fighting.” But his course is futile. He needs to try another tactic. He needs to admit hopelessness.
That was Sunday. On Tuesday I read Gottlieb’s words. For two years he kept alive the hope that the automobile accident that broke his neck would not permanently confine him to a wheelchair. But it did. There was no “hope.” When he accepted reality, it was like a gift, he says, the gift of hopelessness. “I never would have chosen the life I had if I’d reserved some hope that one day I would have the life I wanted. When false hope was removed, I chose the life I had.”
His advice is very similar to that of a pastor friend of mine, who regularly advises his troubled members: “Well, you’ll just have to deal with it.” And you will.
Gottlieb, a full-time counselor, knows whereof he speaks. He has had to deal with his permanent paralysis, his wife’s cancer, their later divorce, his sister’s and parents’ deaths, his children’s independence and temporary alienation, and his confinement to his wheelchair. His arms and legs simply won’t work.
Here’s his summary:
Suppose someone had said to me, when I was thirty-two years old, “Over the next twenty years you will become a quadriplegic, your wife will leave you, and shortly after that she will die. And shortly thereafter, your sister and parents will die. But don’t worry, you will be happy, anyway.” Imagine what I would have thought. But that’s exactly what happened.
These reversals haven’t prevented him from hosting a radio show, penning a regular column for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and writing several books (and donating the royalties to a variety of children’s causes).
He packs wise advice into this simply written volume. He draws from a wide variety of sources, not all of them religious, but mostly he relies on what he’s learned while living—but not passively—in his wheelchair. Practical.
LeRoy Lawson, international consultant with Christian Missionary Fellowship International, is a CHRISTIAN STANDARD contributing editor and a member of Standard Publishing’s Publishing Committee. His column appears at least monthly.