WAIT…. WHERE DID EVERYBODY GO?!?
By Dan Herzig
Your child’s life will be filled with fresh experiences. It’s good if yours is as well.”
—Dr. Margaret Rutherford
How bittersweet. Feelings of pride coupled with life gripping fear. Feelings of freedom mated with the pit-of-the-stomach sickness when something, or someone is suddenly missing from our life. Whether fast or slow, many of us empty nesters wake up one day to realize that our lives have changed around us. The question is, will we change with it?
God has made adolescence purposefully challenging to encourage both child and parent that it is probably a good idea to separate and allow the child to live life on their own. Some of us go through this time with minimal angst and some with great stress and worry. Regardless of the individual experience, it is God’s plan for our children to separate and live life as adults. It is our purpose as parents to prepare them, and ourselves, for this inevitable day.
Once it comes, we find that inevitable time where the last of our progeny has become independent and we find ourselves with…, with…, well, with time. We are no longer driving to endless sports practices, dance lessons, plays and the myriad of other daily parental tasks we do lovingly and sometimes with a slight dash of begrudging exhaustion. We can find that we have developed a level of boredom and restlessness that had been long forgotten when the days of midnight bottle feeding came along.
This discovery of time is equivalent to finding a fresh flowing oil well in our backyard or the passageway to a diamond mine in our basement. It is a precious resource that was always there hidden under a blanket of frantic busyness that is today’s modern family life. Something we can invest wisely or easily squander if not careful. But what can we invest it in? Ah yes! My hobbies! Wait, do I have hobbies? DID I have hobbies? Am I even interested in the same hobbies I had 15, 20, 25 years ago?
It is critical to put God first and to give him our first fruits of time. And because God has modeled marriage after Christ’s relationship with his church, it is imperative that we make sure the husband-wife relationship is in good order. In Matthew 12:25, we read that a house divided cannot stand. It is critical we take care of the marriage relationship first because, if divided, we are less able to give our time to serve God in other ways.
Maureen and I began a regular Friday date night. Dinner, movies, home cooked meals, sports games, Netflix. Anything to make sure we reminded ourselves that our relationship was a gift from God and needed our regular attention to nurture it and allow it to continue to grow in new ways. We started to learn to appreciate and enjoy each other’s company again. We have appreciated each other, but the busyness of life lulled us into a contentment that sprouted taking our gift of marriage for granted at times. The empty nest has allowed us to sharpen our marriage, bringing it into clear focus.
Once we made sure that we had taken God’s blessing seriously, we were enabled to begin looking outside of ourselves to reach others in Christ’s name. This has manifested itself during our time at StoryHeights. When we are serving, it has become a team effort. We encourage each other and strengthen each other. Serving, in many ways, has replaced some of our other couple-related activities because we both feel together and feel fulfilled by doing God’s work together.
A NOTE TO ALL COUPLES: We recommend that you cherish your marriage as God’s gift to you and your current and/or future children. Treat it as your number one priority because it is not honoring to God to allow His blessing to whither, get dusty or be forgotten. We honor God by taking care of what he has given us. This means meeting each other’s needs for love, for social bonds, for romantic aspirations and for spiritual connection. You will go through seasons where time is a much more precious resource than at other times. Don’t allow it to deter you from making sure each other is a priority, even when it means only investing small amounts of time regularly.
Finding yourself in an empty nest with a virtual stranger by your side can be frightening. The sudden emptiness and silence throughout the house generate pangs of sorrow, loneliness and can even be a source of depression. However, this time is a blessing and should be treated as a very special opportunity to nurture, grow and enjoy our marital relationship and our relationship with our loving savior. We can bring glory to our master through developing the relationship in which God has entrusted and blessed to us.