My husband and I recently moved our youngest son into a dorm room about three hours from home. He is the last son to leave home; two older brothers preceded him. He is excited about being on his own for the first time. I, however, am feeling something altogether different in this new empty nest season.
It’s neither anxiety nor fear. Instead, it is a new, never-tread emotion and it is not easy; it hurts. For the first time in three decades, there are no children living full-time in my home. There are no dirty socks in the bathroom, no one yelling, “Mom, do you know where my….” or “Mom, we’re out of milk.” Just silence, painful silence. It’s the ‘empty’ in empty nest—and I wasn’t prepared.
The empty Nest: A Different Grief
I should have been ready. I’ve experienced the grief of losing a child to adulthood. My oldest son left almost ten years ago for a military career. My second son finished college and married a beautiful godly woman. They left home and began a life of their own. I’ve been through this before, right?
No. This time it’s different. When we drove away from the campus, my purpose as a mother was complete. My official parenting work was finished. In one day, I moved from being the mom who stocked the refrigerator to the mom whose sons visit on holidays and weekends. There is a huge hole where active, daily motherhood existed, and I don’t yet know how to fill it. What is my purpose in this new empty nest season?
Remember the Truth
As mothers with a changing purpose, there is a truth that we, must grasp. This is God’s plan and if it’s His will, it is good. It hurts to loosen our grip on the mission we have known since our children came into the world. We must remember, however, that God has a new plan for us and we can rejoice in this new season. Scripture reminds us, Rejoice in the Lord, always. Philippians 4:4 (ESV) God’s new plan for us is coming. But in the meantime, it hurts. In this painful window of time, while we wait for God to reveal His new purpose for us, let’s embrace that which is good, even in the midst of the pain.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (ESV)
Our Pain Draws Us Closer to God
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction…
Our parenting pain brings us closer to our Heavenly Father, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we can give Him the glory. If we lived every day with no pain, no loss, nor any suffering, our attention would remain fixed upon ourselves. Our worship would exalt our ‘perfect’ lives and not the Giver of life.
It is in the pain that God can comfort us. He is the God who Sees. When we grieve the end of a season and we can not clearly see our purpose moving into the future, He is waiting to gently remind us that He has plans for us—good plans. (Jeremiah 29:11) He does not remove the pain. Rather He tells us that He has a purpose in the pain.
Our Pain Gives Us the Compassion to Comfort Others
…so that we may comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
Another purpose for our pain is to comfort others in the same way we have been comforted by God. The word ‘comfort’ in this passage denotes coming alongside another, offering encouragement and exhortation. We can walk alongside mothers experiencing the ache of the ‘empty nest’ and encourage them in the same way God, the Father of all comfort, encouraged us.
As I tread through these new feelings and realities of motherhood, the mothers who have gone before me and experienced this affliction offer me hope. I have friends who have gone through this grieving process. And just as they survived the pain, I will too. They have described feeling the same emotions I am experiencing. These friends offer comfort as I go through the necessary adjustments to move into ‘empty nesting’. They are able to empathetically comfort me because they have been comforted in the same way. In the future, we will be able to use the experience of our pain to comfort those working through similar feelings.
Our Pain Teaches Us To Let Go and Trust God
Pain is a catalyst for learning to let go of control and trust God. In my mind, I convinced myself that my son could not make it on his own. Who would make sure he ate? That he cleaned his room? Who would encourage him when he was feeling discouraged? During the first week of school I called my son fifteen times to ask what he was doing and to remind him to be on time for class. I’m certain I drove him crazy.
I wanted to be in control, but I had to let go and trust God. Now when I feel the urge to call or text and ask, “Have you eaten lunch?” I pray, instead. I ask God to help me let go and trust that He is working out His plan in my son’s life, just as He is in mine.
If you have experienced the ache of the empty nest, of watching your last child walk into adulthood and leave home, then you know what I’m feeling. I trust that you would send me encouragement, as you know my pain. If you have not yet taken the journey of releasing your children to adulthood and letting them go, let me encourage you, God has an excellent plan for your children and for you. The God of all comfort is waiting to comfort you, and us mothers who have tread this path before—will be waiting as well.
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Oh Tamela, big hugs to you! I also left my youngest of 3 at Uni last week (about 4,000 km away from home!) and came home to a very empty nest. I know we’ll be fine and am excited to see what God has in store, but right now it’s tough! Quite the adjustment. The end of an era. But also the beginning of another, and I’m clinging to that… blessings to you!
Laura, thank you so much for the hugs. This new season does require adjusting my perspective. We will be fine and I hope you will share what God does in this new season. Blessings to you!