It’s been one long month since we moved our youngest to college. So, for the first time in 27 years, our home is childless – the empty nest, as they say.
Homes—and lives—that are full of children, like ours used to be, are noisy, messy, happy places. Not unlike actual nests that nurture and protect baby birds while they grow and learn. Nests should be cozy and safe, carefully crafted and tended to by the parents, to give their brood the best chance to thrive in a strange, harsh world.
But it’s easy for mama bird to get so focused on feathering her nest and feeding her young that she forgets nests were never meant to last forever.
Nests serve a specific purpose for a short period of time. Our chicks’ time to fly comes before we are ready. But no matter how awkwardly or auspiciously they leave the nest, we are there, nudging and encouraging them to spread their wings.
If I’m honest, I’m not a big fan of this empty nest so far. It’s too quiet, too clean.
I think I’m supposed to feel free but mostly, I just feel sad and stifled.
Even if we love our husbands and enjoy our careers—which I do—there’s still an emptiness of the soul when the last child leaves that’s hard to put into words.
The first child going to college is a loss, no doubt. You miss the child and worry yourself sick and adjust your daily routine and navigate the transition from day-to-day authority figure to from-afar mentor.
But the baby’s departure signifies all that and so much more. You have completed the 20 to 35 years (depending on the number and age span of your children) known as the childrearing season of life. It’s the end of an era, really.
Every mother’s noble intention is to raise children who become honorable adults, and we all know the time is coming when that part of our job will end. Let’s get real—none of us wants our kids living in our basement until they’re 35! Yet the death of that role still sneaks up on us, and we are left shell shocked and crushed under the weight of the loss.
But as uncomfortable and inconvenient as it may be, the only way to move through loss is to grieve. That’s the bad news.
We’ve all experienced loss in many forms, and we know all too well grief takes a tremendous amount of time and effort, what with the aimless wandering around your own home, tears stinging your eyes at the slightest provocation and memories flooding your unsuspecting mind with hurricane force.
It takes seemingly superhuman strength to slow down and give sadness the wide berth it requires to work itself through.
It hurts, and it’s hard.
But it’s not the end.
God’s plans and purposes for you didn’t start—or stop—with motherhood. Underneath your identity as a mom, there’s still the you He created.
You may have forgotten who you are, what you enjoy or why you’re here. But rest assured, God hasn’t.
It has been my experience that the books and articles lie. They say the empty nest is a new chapter, like it’s a continuation of the previous two decades with a minor plot twist. But it doesn’t feel like a new chapter to me; it feels like an entirely different book.
So, it’s time…
Time to write a new story, letting fresh vision wash over me and youthful energy fill me.
Time to practice stillness and surrender to solitude, even if it feels suffocating at first.
Time to give up the excuses for not pursuing my passions and just start.
Time to release my children into God’s hands, where they’ve been all along.
Time to let go of regrets and rest in the freedom of having done my best.
Time to redefine the parent-child relationship and enjoy the unfolding of the plans and purposes reserved for these now young adults.
Time to revive friendships gone stale through years of busyness and daily demands.
Time to embrace who God made me to be.
The Bible reminds us in Ecclesiastes that there is a right time to hold on and another to let go. This is my season of letting go.
So, I’m trying to accept the ache and sit with the sadness. I’m learning to let the grief wash over me, sometimes in waves. But as I take baby steps to gently cleanse the wounds, I find comfort in my daily rituals and rich relationships and the simple pleasures God—and life—are always offering us if we will just open our hands and hearts.
Then slowly, steadily, I can feel the fog lifting, the light shining through and I swear I can make out the faintest outline of my new life on the horizon just ahead.