Discovering God's Calling in an Empty Nest Family
O Lord, you have searched me and you know me . . .
You have laid your hand upon me,
The way I laid my hand upon his forehead when he was sleeping.
Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I see my child in my rearview mirror come August, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of dawn and find his bedroom uncomfortably empty,
Even there your hand will guide me and hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely darkness of missing my children will hide me and the empty nest years become night around me,”
Even darkness will not be dark to you.
You know me. Your hand is on me. You are there.
(An adaptation of Psalm 139 by Christy Fitzwater)
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. (Psalm 139:14)
You have spent the last two or three decades fully immersed in your calling as an active parent. You’ve navigated every stage of parenthood from infancy to launch. And now, while you will always be a mom or dad, the days of activeparenting have come to an end, and your nest, as they say, is empty. What now?
Hopefully, this is a moment of triumph and pride for you. It may also be one of the most difficult transitions in your life.
Of course, you want your children to be independent, but you also want your family to remain close. Of course, you want some time and space and freedom for yourself, but you may feel guilty claiming it. Perhaps you have anticipated this day for a long time, eagerly awaiting its arrival and the perks it brings. And yet, now that it has come, perhaps you are not quite sure how to embrace it.
What’s your calling as an empty nester? How will you adjust personally? How will your relationship shift with your spouse or partner? How will your relationship shift with your children? These are just a few of the myriad questions that warrant dedicated prayer and reflection. God has an idea for you as an empty nester, no doubt.
At certain times in your life you may have carried the assumption that God calls you once, for just one purpose. Don’t miss the call, or you might spend the remainder of your days in meaningless mediocrity. In reality, it is safe to say that God calls us many times throughout the seasons of our lives, and each call challenges us to stretch further than we might have anticipated or imagined.
This is one of those times. Embrace all the emotions, from heartache to elation, from anticipation to trepidation, for God is present in all of these, and ready to show you what’s next.
In his book Managing Transitions, William Bridges writes that transitions always start with an ending. Seems odd, yes, but he maintains that the first step toward a life change is identifying what you are losing and learning how to manage the losses.
When it comes to empty nest, the vacant bedroom(s) in your home may be a blatant reminder of what you’ve lost. As you look across the table at your spouse or partner, you might also realize that the two of you have lost time together, and maybe even have lost touch with one another.
For years, you may have craved more space, more time, more privacy, and more solitude. And yet now that you have them, you might realize that you miss the chaos, noise, and frenetic pace of family life as it was, because you really miss your child(ren).
Iris Ruth Pastor writes, I hunger for structure, noise and tumult. Slamming doors. Loud TV. Wet towels on the bathroom floor. Cluttered coffee tables. Spilled cereal. All this order and quiet and discretionary time is making me feel unsettled, lethargic, and distracted. What is wrong with me? And am I the only one struggling to find a new sense of purpose, an alternate direction, a renewed sense of fulfillment similar to the one I got from raising my children?
It’s all normal, of course, but knowing that doesn’t make you feel any better.
Read the short article “Empty Nest Syndrome” from Psychology Today (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/empty-nest-syndrome). Empty nest syndrome is not a clinical disorder or diagnosis. It is a transitional period in life that highlights loneliness and loss.
Write and/or Discuss
Jot some notes or share with others your responses to these questions:
As you embrace the empty nest and begin to cope with the losses involved, your calling in life shifts. Take a moment to reflect on . . .
All these wonderments and anxieties are normal. It’s part of the shifting process. Acknowledge them and recognize that God is present in them. And pray for trust that God will reveals God’s ideas for you and your family with clarity and certainty.
Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:39).
What's Emerging in My Life
Let’s consider what might be emerging in your life as a result of these changes. As we do so, let us remember a few things that others have discovered about God’s callings in their lives. We can say that responding to God’s call will
likely . . .
Let’s focus on the first bullet point: lead to happiness in the long run. As you discern God’s call amidst this life transition it’s both worthy and wise to set long-term happiness for yourself, your child(ren), and your spouse/partner as one of your goals. This goal is not selfish. It’s prudent. Happiness is an indicator that your life is aligned with God’s work in the world. (It’s not the only indicator, but it’s an important one.)
In her article, “Celebrating the Empty Nest: How to survive—and thrive—after your kids fly the coop,” Carol Kuykendall offers four lifestyle “tweaks” to help minimize the emptiness and focus instead on the potential fullness of the empty nest. Read the full article at http://bit.ly/2XMnlfo.
Write and/or Discuss
Discerning and responding to God’s call comes down to alignment. We seek to align the work that we do in the world with the work that God is doing in the world. Sometimes our alignment needs tweaking. From the article mentioned above . . .
Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your way with those who love your name. Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me. (Psalm 119:132-133)
How Should I Live?
Now we seek to turn the corner and fully embrace the call. We seek to develop fruitful patterns of behavior and action that bring fulfillment and grace to you and your empty nest.
In their New York Times article “How to Thrive in an Empty Nest” Lisa Heffernan and Jennifer Breheny Wallace offer some very practical suggestions for ways to manage the mix of emotions of empty nest and strategies for building a new, exciting chapter in your life.
Write and/or discuss
Here are links to helpful practices and strategies for responding to the call of parenting a young adult.
The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. (Psalm 16:5-6)