I read a story about a single mother who was in a very tough spot. As we all know, single moms have one of the most grueling and thankless jobs on the planet. Quite a number of them are among my personal heroes.

One had an especially compelling story. She was not only a single mom but also a recent widow. Her husband had been a godly man whom everyone admired. When he passed away, he left a loving wife and two sons. He also left a mountain of debt and no life insurance.

The woman had no real way to work, and her sons were still young, so she found herself a pauper overnight. She had debts she simply couldn’t pay, and where she lived, debtors weren’t treated well. Cash was tight for everyone, so there was no mercy.

The widow was staring down the possibility of her two sons being sold into slavery until the mortgage was paid. In her culture, that kind of thing happened all the time.

She cried until she was empty of tears. She had nothing left but desperation. This widowed mother was at the end of herself, and she was down to one not-so-promising idea. She would go visit the preacher. After all, her husband had worked in this man’s ministry. They’d had a good relationship. Maybe he would feel some loyalty and help her find some kind of financial solution.

“I’m at my wit’s end,” she told the preacher. “We’ve already lost everything, and my boys are all I have now. But they’ll be gone, and the house, too, if I don’t come up with some money fast. My boys will die in slavery, without my ever seeing them again, and I’ll be in a gutter begging for coins—or worse. You know how my husband loved and served the Lord. The two of you ministered shoulder to shoulder. Surely God won’t look away from us now. Or you?”

The preacher reached over and gently wiped away a few of the woman’s tears. “I’m so sorry for what you’re going through,” he said. “What have you got left?”

She met his gaze, puzzled. Was he actually demanding some kind of payment? “Nothing—I’ve got nothing, like I said.” And she began to cry all over again.

“Nothing but walls and floor?”

“I sold it all. Empty rooms filled with memories and nothing else. I think there’s one little flask of olive oil on the shelf. Useless.”

The preacher, whose name happened to be Elisha, told her to go door to door, asking her neighbors to lend her any empty jars they could spare. Then, he said, place the jars on the floor and close up the room. Then, get the olive oil and begin pouring.

“How could that possibly help?” asked the widow.

“Have faith,” he said and smiled.

Some hours later, the room was filled with jars—and the jars were filled with oil. The boys were laughing as they ran from jar to jar, and the little flask just kept giving and giving. Then the last drop fell, at the rim of the last jar. The three of them began hugging, crying, jumping up and down.

“When you sell the oil,” Elisha told her, “I think you’ll find your debts paid, and just enough left to live on.”

Of course he was right.

Kyle Idleman, The End of Me: Where Real Life in the Upside-down Ways of Jesus Begins (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2015).

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