Finding God in an Empty Nest
Yesterday my niece posted a picture of her three spirited children —all under the age of 5 —with this caption: “Tomorrow’s Friday…which means nothing when you have kids.”
I refrained from commenting, “Don’t blink,” because I remember those long days of littles. I remember keeping them entertained and active but feeling exhausted long before they did. I remember carefully calculating the earliest I could get them in bed without them waking up at an unholy hour the next morning. I remember fantasizing about going to the bathroom— alone. During those days when a mom of a twenty-something would say, “Savor every moment…it goes so fast,” I believed her—but it felt like eons before I’d even have them out of diapers.
I was fortunate during those years to have a mentor challenge me to “live with the end in mind.” She encouraged me to form a picture of what I wanted my relationships to look like when my kids were adults, and then parent intentionally to earn those relationships.
That’s what I did. For many years it seemed like we were parenting rockstars. Our family was close, our kids were best friends, and we enjoyed being together even during the traditionally tumultuous teens.
Suddenly, it seemed we had arrived at “the end” that we had in mind from the beginning. All three of my babies are now in their twenties. I have to make a confession: I had many days when I said to God, “Um….this wasn’t the dream.”
Don’t get me wrong. Each one of my children makes me proud in his or her own way. It’s just that the vision that I parented towards was a relationship with adult children grateful for the upbringing they received. I imagined adult children who were independent and responsible, but who still desired to spend time with the folks because they loved us so much. The dream was close relationships with like-minded adults who had learned to think critically for themselves and after much deliberation arrived at the conclusion that Mom and Dad were right. And they would rise up and call us blessed.
I’m still waiting for that.
I read something recently that comforted me, because I realized we probably have not yet arrived at that “end picture” that I have been mourning. The article explained a developmental process called “differentiation.” This is the process in which a young adult learns to separate from family in order to engage as a healthy adult within key relationships (including family). It is an important process because it allows young people to form and internalize convictions in a way that is more lasting than just mimicking mom and dad.
Knowing this gives me hope.
However, for a parent, this process is brutal. Perhaps the hardest for me has been the awkward state of “almost but not yet” that is young adulthood. They are legal adults, but not fully independent. They need still our help, but don’t want us to tell them what to do. It’s a normal, healthy process (and a good chance for me to learn to get over myself), but many days it feels a lot like rejection.
One morning I was unloading to the Lord my feelings of rejection—that I am pouring love and resources into people who seem to want my provision but not my company. They want my assistance but not my wisdom. They want my approval but not the truth. As I lamented, I realized something.
This is exactly how I treat God.
I come boldly before the throne of grace and ask for provision, protection, encouragement, and comfort —and then I dash off to my day, too busy to just sit and enjoy my Father. I’m too distracted by my need to marvel at the fact that — hello — I can come boldly before the throne of grace!
What a wake-up.
I’ve been considering how I can re-order my life so that my appreciation is ultimately for God’s presence more than for His gifts. So far, that means I’m prioritizing the following things:
1. Bible study. The more I know Him, the more I love Him.
2. Worship. For me, this involves lots of music and nature.
3. Fellowship. I am an introvert, but deep fellowship with God’s people deepens my love for Him.
4. Trust. I won’t fully obey someone I don’t trust, and I can’t fully love a God I won’t obey. .
What I am finding is that even as I establish these priorities, I am dependent on God to achieve them. Unlike children who must separate from family in order to mature, God’s children don’t need to differentiate from Him — just the opposite.
In order for me to mature as a healthy Christian, I must increase in dependence on Him.
Written by Mary Odell, member of Grace’s Oviedo campus.