My daughter had surgery yesterday and I couldn’t be there. I wanted to be there, standing beside the hospital bed meeting the medical professionals caring for her. Instead, I was on the other side of the world obsessively watching for a little red alert to appear on my phone while someone else messaged me updates in real-time.
I don’t want to be too melodramatic. It was gallbladder surgery, which is very quick and very routine. But the helpless feeling of being utterly dependent on others to take care of her and even to get us news prompted me to think about the last few years, and things I’ve learned after packing up our empty nest and moving it to the other side of the world.
My children and I are learning together that I do not have to be the solution to all of their problems.
Grace is raising funds for a missions trip with her school. The deadline is this month and she was just a little bit short. I assumed that we would make up whatever she was short, but when a laundry list of unexpected expenses arose, we didn’t have anything extra to give her. I had already started wondering how I was going to squeeze it out of the budget, when someone else contacted her and donated the remaining funds she needed. The Lord reminded me that ultimately, meeting their needs is His job, not mine. Allowing Him to meet their needs was deepening my children’s trust in Him as their caregiver. In this empty nest season, I’m learning that my children need to be more dependent on Him than they are dependent on me. That is the way its supposed to be.
I am learning to let go of what I thought my children’s lives would look like.
Our son Jake has struggled to find his way over the last few years. His life is on a completely different path than we thought it would be and I’m learning to be okay with that. He is serving the Lord, which the only thing that matters for eternity anyway. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from my empty nest is that God’s plans for my children’s lives may take them in a completely different direction than I had pictured, but it doesn’t mean God isn’t in control.
I am learning to trust my children’s lives into God’s care.
Grace having surgery while I was 6,000 miles away was really hard. I kept thinking, “someone is cutting my only daughter open and I won’t even be there if something goes wrong.” I wasn’t there, but God was and He sent a multitude of other people to be there for her too. Her boyfriend, his family, her roommate, her pastor, our Primary Care Physician, and numerous neighbors and friends, all went above and beyond to stand in the empty place beside her bed where her parents couldn’t be. My social media apps all turned red with messages from people around the world praying for her and praying for us. Even more distant friends and acquaintances offered help. All of these people were Jesus to me yesterday. In this empty-nest season, I am learning that I can let go of the hold on my children little by little because God is trustworthy with their lives. He will take care of them, and He is able to do it better than I can anyway.
My husband and I are discovering a new season in our marriage.
Since the our fist child was born, we’ve been thinking of the empty nest as the end: the end of childhood, the end of day-to-day parenting. And it is the end of that season of our lives. But sitting here in my empty nest, I’m here to tell you that it’s also a beginning of a new season. Jake was born when we had been married for three and a half years. We are different people than we were 21 years ago. We have a lifetime of shared experiences and growth that we didn’t have then. No children in the home means new opportunities to just be together, to focus on us. It’s an adjustment to be sure, and we are finding our way again. But let me be honest– the empty nest is a beautiful season for marriage.
The view from the empty nest– I used to wonder what I’d do when I got to this point. I tried not to think about our little nest ever being empty because it just seemed too sad. And here I am, much sooner than I thought I would be. I’ll be honest- I have cried for the little children that are gone. It is bittersweet. (See this earlier post about the college-drop-off day!) And it has been scary, especially when we have had to free our children to fail. But I am also so overwhelmingly proud of the adults they are becoming that I find it hard to describe this new season as sad. I’m sitting here in the empty nest and telling you that the view is gorgeous; My children are flying and my heart soars with them.
A note for readers who do not know me personally: My husband and I are missionaries to the children of West Africa. We have two children, 21 and 18. During our children’s high school years, we had an assignment based in the US. In the fall of 2015, our youngest started college and we moved back to Togo, in West Africa and both our children stayed in the Springfield, MO area. This article was written four months after our departure.