Think of the Alternative . . .

By now, many of you are settling into life without that college freshman you dropped off a couple months ago. Perhaps, like me, the adjustment to empty nesting has been harder, sharper, and more painful than you anticipated.

Last spring, while Ray and I were away at a conference, a robin built her nest in a planter hanging at eye level right outside our back door. Imagine our surprise when our arrival back home didn’t frighten her away. We delighted in watching all the activities of our newest neighbor over the next ten weeks. How did she weave that nest together? And the beautiful eggs—one each morning over a three-day period—which she let us see when she flew off for food. Then the hatching, the constant feeding, the wonder of seeing the baby robins develop before our eyes. But all too soon, they were gone.

The now empty robin’s nest in our planter makes me wonder why my stage of life has been called the “empty nest.” I suppose in some ways Mother Robin and I are alike. We each carefully built a safe place for our young to grow up. We both hovered over them with protective flutterings as our babies grew. And we both extended exhaustive efforts to satisfy our children’s insatiable appetites at all times of the day and night.

But that’s where the comparison ends. Once those baby robins were big enough, Mother shoved them out of the nest. We saw the family gather for a few nights as the young ones were learning to fly, but very soon they were gone for good—and so was Mother Robin! This seemed crazy to me. She had worked so hard—gathering, building, birthing, feeding, teaching. But once her kids were gone, she moved on. I never saw her settle into that same nest again. I suppose she will build a new nest each spring, starting over with another batch of little ones to raise and send out into middle Tennessee.

But me? After we shoved our first “baby” out to fly on his own, I came home to the same house, only now his barren bedroom stayed open to a neatly made bed and a lifetime of memories. Our family dinners were missing his humor and sensitive interaction. Those afternoon catch-ups of, “I’m home, Mom. How was your day?” were over. No more piano recitals and wrestling matches to attend, or orthodontist appointments and teacher conferences to set up.

And so I moped a little. And shed a few tears. And entertained those doubts and fears that tried to settle over my spirit—Did I do enough for that child?  Did I do too much? Is he prepared? Will he find a good church? A good friend? A good spouse? Is his faith his own?

Any negative answer was, of course, my fault.

Over dinner, I unburdened myself to this college freshman’s father--my wise husband. He, too, was missing our son deeply. It was almost a physical ache because we were so close for those eighteen years. I told him that I was a bit jealous of Mother Robin’s ability to leave her grown children behind and start over again. With a twinkle in his eye, Ray reminded me that we still had three more children to get ready to send out into this world. Was I thinking of adding to that number? 

We talked about all the dreams we had for this boy of ours, all the joys and efforts and tears and delights of raising up a human being to near-manhood. Ray reminded me of our primary goal for this precious son, for all our children—that the whole world would hear about Jesus through them. How often we prayed those very words during family devotions around that very table. 

How can the world hear unless we send them out? We serve a God who sent out His only Son, at much greater cost to Himself. God cares and sees and knows. He understands the price of “child-sending.” And He is no man’s debtor.

Would I really be happier if this one never left the nest? After all, think of the alternative . . .

How have you dealt with your empty nest? What Scriptures have guided your thinking through this life change? Have you ever experienced the alternative—a child who couldn’t or wouldn’t leave the nest? 

About the Author

Jani Ortlund

Jani Ortlund

Jani Ortlund is the Executive Vice President of Renewal Ministries. Serving Jesus through writing, speaking, and discipling are her chief passions in life. Jani and her husband Ray, Pastor of Immanuel Church, have four married children and fifteen grandchildren and … read more …

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