“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29: 11
As an avid watcher of birds, one of my favorite things to do in the fall is look for abandoned bird nests. I often find them in leafless bushes near the pond, and they can be spotted high in the treetops as the trees shed their golden leaves. I’m always amazed at how many birds were nesting near my mountain home – their nests securely hidden in the dense vegetation.
As a seasoned empty nester, I still recall how emotional I felt the first fall, more than eight years ago, after my youngest daughter had married. After raising four children, and dedicating more than 32 years of my life to full-time motherhood, it was a huge adjustment. Seeing the empty bird nests each fall always reminds me of God’s faithfulness to me in a season I thought I would never survive.
I still remember my first night at home with an empty nest. My daughter’s wedding was over, and the wedding guests had gone home. My husband pulled out in his 18-wheeler to start his usual work week. For the first time in decades, the silence in the house was deafening. I walked aimlessly from room to room feeling like I was dropped in the middle of a foreign island where I didn’t know the language, and I didn’t have a map to guide me in the right direction.
The loneliness suffocated me, and my mind raced with thoughts about what I was going to do to fill up the time. I thought maybe I would get a job or maybe two or even three jobs – anything to avoid the dreaded empty nest season.
In God’s perfect timing, a dear friend of mine reached out to me through an email. She was nearing the empty nest, and her words of wisdom were crucial to my survival at the time. Kathy lived in Alabama. I never met her in person. We knew each other from when we participated in a First Place 4 Health group online. I led one of the online groups, and Kathy was a member of my group.
Her email, which I share below, was a turning point in my empty nest journey.
Dear Joni, I know you and I share a common bond, because I’m spending a good deal of time alone too in this season of life. My son is working at the Y and is a senior in high school, so he always has something going on. My husband works long hours at the store, so I’m learning to spend my afternoons sitting on the deck watching the hummingbirds and squirrels. It has been a HUGE change for me, but the Lord has reminded me that, “I’m all you need, Kathy.” So, instead of fighting my loneliness with busyness, I have finally said, “Okay, Lord, here I am!” I’m trying to spend time with Him during my new alone time.
I was encouraged by how she simply chose to surrender her new season of life to God rather than trying to fill it with more stuff and activities. Our natural inclination is to rush from one season right into another. We try to fill up any empty spots in our lives with new activities, many of which we don’t even pray about. Our culture teaches us to be doers rather than waiters. We are quick to act without seeking God’s wisdom.
I took Kathy’s wisdom to heart, and I started to say, “Here I am, Lord!” What a difference it made in my attitude. I’m not saying it was easy, but as I learned to sit quietly and wait for the Lord to show me where to go next, I found a new peace about the empty nest. Was it still difficult to adjust? Yes. Did I still have days I doubted I would survive? Of course I did.
However, as I made it my goal to wait on the Lord, and to simply spend time in his presence daily, He spoke to me through his word. He revealed to me that he was the same God who sustained me through the days of being a brand new mother at the young age of 17 when I didn’t have a clue about motherhood. He was the same God who gave me the courage to make it through the grocery store with sticky-fingered toddlers fighting. He was the same God who was there for me as I sat by the hospital bed of a sick child and who strengthened me during sleepless nights with teething babies. He was the same God who comforted me when children were afflicted with middle-of-the-night croup and asthma attacks. He was the same God who gave me the strength to make one more peanut butter and jelly sandwich or clean up one more mess on the floor. He was the same God who sustained me during the teenage years when puberty brought new challenges with hormones, alcohol, and peer pressure. He was the God who helped me to let go, as each child left the nest and ventured out to start their life as an adult.
As I sat at his feet, consistently, in those early days of the empty nest, God revealed to me that he was always by my side, and the season of the empty nest would be no different, because he is a God of all seasons. And you know something? He was there for me. I survived the empty nest with a new appreciation for life and a stronger faith in my Heavenly Father.
In time, God filled my days with new adventures. I was able to spend more time with my elderly dad. I took several writing courses and started my writing career. I was blessed with grandchildren to love and cherish. My days are full, and I’m filled with contentment. There really is life after the empty nest!
Now, I watch other mothers entering into this unknown empty nest season with many of the same concerns. They are worrying about what they will do now. They are rushing to fill their hours with as many activities as they can fit in. They feel as if they won’t survive, but I always try to assure them that God is faithful in all seasons.
If you are facing an empty nest, know that you are never alone. Don’t try to fight the loneliness or fill your days with busyness. Be still. Get to know God. Seek Him diligently, and allow Him to work in your life. Be patient. In His timing, new doors will open. God has a plan for each season of our lives.
As I looked across the mountain landscape this morning, I spotted several empty nests high in the treetops, and I smiled. What a great reminder of a God who is faithful- a God who carries us mothers through every season of motherhood – even the empty nest.