The Empty Nest, Part 4

When our youngest son was a Senior in high school and our youngest daughter in eighth grade, it occurred to me that my gig as a full-time mother and home educator was almost complete. Retirement loomed near.

I mourned. I couldn’t imagine any other life. We married very young and chose a family structure that had me home with the kids full-time. I was fully invested. Raising our six children was my life, and educating them was my career. These have been the most fulfilling tasks I’ve ever completed. Our children are our greatest blessing.

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A grim evolutionary biologist might inform me that having reproduced, successfully raised my young, and launched them, my purpose for living is complete. The next generation will now do the same, and so on. That’s it. In the grand scheme of things, my life is over.

I knew I needed to reject this dark perspective and determine what God had for me in the future. I doubted I would drop dead the day my last kid walked out the door. God’s purposes for me go beyond reproduction.

Having never experienced adulthood before bearing and raising our children, I needed to explore my interests. I enrolled in a seminary program. I doubled-down on the bible studies I was writing. And I began penning fiction again. I needed to discover my heart’s desire for the next phase. What did I want to be when I “grew up”?

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I’d like to say those years were tidy, but they were not. I have varied interests, so it took several years to discern the area where I felt the Lord would have me focus. I overcommitted myself in the process, and I came out the other end with a chronic illness. The Lord used that situation to help me recognize that writing fiction gave me the greatest joy.

During that eight-year period, I experienced the emptying-nest angst of my grandmother’s generation, having followed a similar life path. My daughters and daughters-in-law have figured out their passions and interests earlier, having pursued education or started a business. My own mother did this, too. She had a different type of angst to work through when retirement loomed.

Shining clearly through my backstory are two facts: 

1) My children are able and prepared to move out on their own.

2) There are many options now available to women.

Number 1 first. Not everyone’s children are able to leave home and support themselves. Physical and mental challenges, health issues, accidents, injuries – any number of life situations could have occurred. As I was bemoaning the departure of  the last of my children, a very wise cousin reminded me of the alternative. What if they were unable to ever leave? That my children can leave and live independently, therefore, is a cause for rejoicing and gratitude, one that I do not take for granted.

Now Number 2. Today’s women have so many more opportunities to define and redefine ourselves and to shape and reshape our lives. That’s a great blessing. There can now be a next phase after childrearing.

Whether you’ve made raising your children the career of your life or you’ve balanced a career alongside raising your children, you’ve invested yourself. They have changed your life forever. You adore them, and you are better for it. When they leave, you miss their presence and their activities. They have enriched your life.

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Whether you have one child or many, when they move out and step into adulthood, you yearn for them, and you go through a period of assessment – how did I do?

All of us wish we could have some do-overs, but we don’t get them.

God is merciful. He knows our regrets, and he forgives us and helps us to move past them. He knows we gave our all to this nurturing relationship that placed us on call 24/7, sometimes for decades, and he offers kindness and mercy. He knows we are bereft when they leave, and he offers comfort.

And he has big plans for us in the next phase.

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What the Lord said to Jeremiah is true for us as well: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” (Jeremiah 1:5).

God views us as our truest selves, not as primarily mothers, wives, or daughters. We are unique individuals. He sees our hearts’ desires and longings. He built talents and gifts into our frames. Having blessed the world with our children, now, as individuals, we can live for his glory, using our own gifts to bless the world.

Turning toward this new phase of life, I embrace it, looking forward with enthusiasm, joy, and hope.

I am grateful that there is a next phase. And it is glorious.

Part 3: Alone on the Lawn

Part 2: The Looming Empty Nest

Part 1: Do We Really Know What’s Best for Us?