Jani Ortlund’s post, originally titled “Empty Nest or Open Nest?” was featured on October 25, 2012. We chose it for our “Best of the last five years” series because we love how Jani responded to what could have been a devastating life change. Instead, she turned her kids’ goodbyes into a giant kingdom opportunity.
Empty, lonely, quiet, and sad—that’s how your house feels after your last child leaves. At least, that’s how our home felt to me.
We have four grown children, and we absolutely loved the years we all spent growing together. I was secretly dreading the empty nest that awaited us after our Gavin’s graduation. You see, my husband, Ray, had the crazy idea that after we helped our kids through college, they needed to get out on their own. And they all did!
The months after Gavin left us were filled with a perplexing feeling of being lost in my own house. What would my life look like now? Where should I invest all those hours and energies I had previously devoted to our kids?
I took a little while to adjust. I shed a few tears as I packed away memory boxes and scrapbooks to deliver to our children once they owned their own homes. I spent extra time connecting with them through letters, packages, and phone calls. I went to visit them on their own turf.
Slowly I began welcoming the changes that were taking place. Dinner for only two? That was a lot easier than feeding all those kids. I loved being freer for Ray, for extended family, for friends. It reminded me a little of our earliest years of marriage, only now Ray and I had the advantage of thirty years of growing more and more in love. Our intimacy blossomed beyond what I had dreamed possible.
But one of the sweetest advantages of this new way of life was that I had more time and energy to open our home to others. Our nest didn’t need to stay empty. We organized a bedroom for guests along with another room for small children. We set up a crib so moms could visit with their babies. And then we prayed for God to send people to us who needed an open nest for rest and refreshment.
God has answered that prayer—children and grandchildren, vacationing family members, missionaries, young pastors and wives seeking counsel, friends and friends-of-friends. Oh, how He has answered.
We are at a stage now where we have the room, the furniture, and the experience to welcome others in. We’ve been through enough sorrows to offer hope and comfort to those coming up behind us. We trust the years of empty nesting will be some of our most fruitful as we “seek to show hospitality” (Rom. 12:13) by making our empty nest an open nest!
What has been hard for you as you enter your empty nest years? What advantages or disadvantages have you found? Who has been an example to you? What advice can you pass along?