By Veda Thomas Hall
Widow—I still cringe when I hear the word. It’s not what I would have chosen. It’s certainly not what I expected for this time in my life. After all, my husband’s family has an extremely long lifeline, living well into their 90s. I expected my husband would outlive me by 20 years. At times I even thought of our single friends and wondered who’d replace me once I was gone, knowing he wasn’t likely to remain single. No, widowhood is not what I expected, nor did I think I’d find myself hurled into a state of singleness again, but I’m learning what both are.
Astonishingly I find myself forced into a lifestyle struggling with temptations I hadn’t experienced in over two decades. I’m vulnerable to the allure of sex that within marriage served as a means of mutual affirmation between my husband and me. We enjoyed a fulfilling intimate relationship with one another until his health prevented it. During that time, our daily lives were consumed with meeting his chronic health needs related to terminal cancer, as well as getting things in order for life without him. Coupled with financial anxieties and the stress of weekly doctors’ appointments, our physical relationship took a backseat to more urgent concerns.
After my husband’s death, I found myself coming home at the end of a tough day of work to an empty house, longing to have his strong arms wrapped around me as I allowed the cares of the world to melt away in his reassuring intimate embrace. Instead, the lonely nights left me yearning for companionship. A gentlemen friend, with whom I had been in a relationship before meeting my husband, began pursuing me. The problem was, he was married. Even though I tried to discourage his attention, he’d often show up uninvited at my doorstep. I made a point of not inviting him inside, but as time lingered I felt my defenses growing weaker and weaker.
At first the guilt and embarrassment I felt caused me to deny confessing the urges I experienced. But I decided to confide in a trusted sister-in-Christ who had been widowed years earlier. I hoped she’d provide me with wise counsel to help me combat my temptation. Instead, she said, “In time those longings will pass. Just stay busy.” Her suggestion didn’t improve my situation. Months crept by and my self-imposed demanding schedule offered no relief, only exhaustion.
Remarriage: the Solution?
Concerned I would give in to temptation if my pursuer continued his advances, I began to pray fervently about seeking a marriage partner. After much prayer and deliberation, I sent a Facebook friend request to a neighboring pastor who had lost his wife to cancer three months before I had lost my husband. He accepted my friend request and our relationship rapidly progressed. We were engaged after seven months and set a wedding date for five months after that. But then, due to our children’s reluctance to accept our relationship within this time frame and our desire to be sensitive to the grieving process they were all working through at the loss of their parents, our marriage plans were indefinitely put on hold.
Before long I found myself struggling with the same sexual temptations I had managed to suppress when I thought that soon our marriage would fulfill those desires.
Determined to gain control over these sexual urges, I sought out another friend to confide in and seek counsel from. This time I met with a single Christian friend who was in a long-term relationship. I asked her bluntly what she did to deal with sexual temptation. She responded, “Do you really want me to be honest?” Surprised by her response, I replied, “Yes.” Then she divulged to me that she and her fiancé were engaging in sexual activity. They justified their actions by their commitment to one another. I told her I appreciated her candor, but for my situation that was not an option.
At this point, as difficult as it was to admit to myself, I realized I had not depended on Christ to enable me to be victorious over the sexual temptation I experienced, nor did I truly want to practice self-control. Much like my friend, I was depending upon human reasoning to find a way to fulfill my desires. Simply put, I thought having a husband would put an end to the temptation. In reality it would have given me a legitimate release for the sexual frustration but not victory over it. Although I loved my fiancé deeply, I knew I had to be honest with him about my struggles and seek God’s wisdom to provide the guidance and support I desperately needed and had grown weary searching out.
A Change in Focus
This admittance proved to be a turning point in my plight. My fiancé encouraged me to commit to memory Scriptures that targeted my greatest need. Since my struggle existed in my thought life first and foremost, I memorized 2 Corinthians 10:5, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
My fiancé also helped me realize the importance of changing my focus immediately and not allowing sensual thoughts to linger and take root. He emphasized the necessity of replacing inappropriate thoughts with the list provided in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
If this seems simplistic, it was anything but. At first I struggled with believing it possible to break the established thought patterns I had allowed to consume my thinking. I began to devote time to fasting, skipping breakfast and lunch, in order to intensify my ability to concentrate on the Scriptures I was committing to memory. I began praying the words of Mark 9:23, 24: “‘If you can?’ said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’” Repeatedly I’d recite what became my personal prayer derived from this passage, “I do believe, Father; help me overcome my unbelief that I can’t be set free from these tormenting temptations and enable me to live life as if I am!”
Personalizing the truth of Scripture enabled me to see myself as victorious over the temptations that had plagued me. Daily I applied the truth of Scripture describing Christ as sufficient to meet all my needs, even the need to live and delight in a self-controlled, celibate life. As Christ had presented himself capable of doing for Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Today I have experienced two years free of tormenting sexual temptation. When the door is open for my fiancé and me to marry, I know it will be a marriage that truly glorifies our relationship with Christ, not merely one of convenience devised to get a physical need met without practicing self-control.
Veda Thomas Hall is a Language Arts teacher from Harlan, Kentucky.