Barbara Rainey: Ladies, thank you for coming. We’re so glad you all are here. I’m Barbara Rainey, and this is Susan Yates, and we want to welcome you to our session. We’re talking about the empty nest. It’s a fairly new season for me and for Susan, and we’ve learned a lot in the last few years that we want to share with you that we hope will make your transition easier, maybe a little bit smoother, but in the end you’ll understand what it’s all about and what God is up to in your life.
About five years ago our youngest left for college, and I remember thinking, “I’ve got to talk to somebody who’s been there, and who can tell me what to do with myself.” Like Karen Loritts said this morning, “I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t a mother anymore.” I remember thinking, “What do I do with myself?”
I was at a conference a few months later with Susan and another friend Mary. We went for a walk, and I said, “All right, ladies, you’re ahead of me four or five years in this journey. Tell me, what do I do? How do I handle the empty nest? What have you learned? What can you share with me?” And they both looked at each other, and they said, “We don’t have any idea.”
Susan Yates: We were no help.
Barbara: I said, “Thanks a lot.”
Susan: The reality is, we really didn’t know how to help, even though we’d been in it for a few years. What we’ve realized is the empty nest can be more complicated than we ever, ever imagined. Perhaps some of you all have asked the same questions, or you will, that Barbara and I have asked along the way.
Some of the questions that have run through our heads, and perhaps yours as well, are questions like this:
- How will I fill the gap when my child leave?
- Is my marriage strong enough to go forward without the kids?
- How am I supposed to relate to my kids in this new season?
- How do I deal with letting go, weddings, in-laws, or prodigal kids?
- What about me? What am I supposed to do now?
In the face of all of these changes, we’re really asking—yet again—who am I in this new season?
For the next hour, we want to try and look at some of these questions together, but before we get started, you are probably wondering, “What are Barbara and Susan really like? I mean, who are these two people that are standing up there?” Well, we thought we’d tell you a little bit about ourselves.
I grew up in the Deep South.
Barbara: I grew up near Chicago.
Susan: I was a tomboy.
Barbara: I didn’t like sports at all. I was afraid to catch a ball.
Susan: I had lots of pets growing up.
Barbara: I never had a pet, and I don’t like dogs, but I do like art and design and beautiful things.
Susan: I love watching Barbara paint and create.
Barbara: My dining room is painted black.
Susan: My dining room is painted blue and yellow.
Barbara: I love fashion and being in style.
Susan: I hate shopping. I tend to over-commit.
Barbara: I’m not afraid to say, “No.” I’m a task person.
Susan: I’m a people person.
Barbara: I still struggle with a fear of failure.
Susan: I struggle with an over-active imagination that runs quickly to worry, so I could really identify with Karen’s talk this morning. I’m also an extravert.
Barbara: I’m more of an introvert.
Susan: I married my best friend, and I can’t even remember how we met.
Barbara: I can’t remember how I met Dennis either, which means that we really are middle-agers.
Dennis and I had six kids in ten years.
Susan: John and I had five kids in seven years, including a set of twins. I thought at that time that toddlers and dirty diapers would never end.
Barbara: I did, too.
Susan: I hated sibling rivalry.
Barbara: I did, too.
Susan: We both love plants and gardening.
Barbara: We both love chocolate.
Susan: We both love hot tea, great books, and curling up by a blazing fire.
Barbara: And neither of us likes to cook.
Susan: Our husbands are seriously afraid they’re going to starve to death.
Barbara: You’ve heard a little bit about us, so now we’d like to find out just a little bit about you. I’m going to ask you to raise your hand when I ask these questions:
How many of you are in your first year of the empty nest—you’ve just sent your last one off? A good number of you.
How many of you are approaching it—you’re not there yet? Oh, even more. This is the right time for you to come to this—anticipate and prepare. We’re glad you’re here.
How many of you have been in the empty nest for a few years? Oh, even more. Wonderful.
How many of you are single moms and are facing the empty nest alone? Oh, a number of you. That increases the challenges in this new season of life.
How many of you are caring for aging parents? A good number—that’s common.
How many of you are caring for a grandchild? Not too many, but that becomes increasingly common, we’ve discovered.
Well, Susan and I have found on this journey that all of us are asking basically the same questions as women, and they all boil down to four of them.
The first one is: Am I the only one who feels this way? Women are asking that. We all want to know, “Am I the only one that feels this way?” Most empty-nest women feel many of the same emotions, and one of the big ones for us was loneliness, so we’d like for you to tell us what some of yours are, or what you anticipate some of yours might be. So shout out the ones that you’ve experienced in addition, perhaps, to loneliness:
- What’s my identity?
- What am I going to be when I grow up?
- Overwhelmed because there’s no one to help anymore
- How do you talk to your kids now that they’re adults?
A good friend of ours said when she was approaching the empty nest that she was elated because she was really looking forward to the years back with her husband again. So the variety of emotions is from one extreme to the other, isn’t it?
Several of our friends have mentioned being fired as an emotion that they felt in the empty-nest years, and Susan and I both identified with that one as well.
A woman wrote an article—she’s a columnist and is often featured in Newsweek Magazine—and she wrote an article called “Flown Away and Left Behind” about her empty-nest experience. I loved the way she wrote it because it really typifies what we as women feel. She said,
Tell me at your peril that the flight of my kids into successful adulthood is hugely liberating, but I will not believe how many hours I have in my day, and that my husband and I can see the world, and that I can throw myself into my job. My world is in this house, and I already had a great job into which I’d thrown myself for two decades. No, not the writing job—the motherhood job. I was good at it, if I do say so myself. And because I was, now I’ve been demoted to part-time status. This stinks.
I think we can all identify with what she said.
Another discovery that Susan and I have made is that the empty-nest season is complicated because there are so many issues that we have to deal with, and Karen made reference to that this morning in her talk. Sometimes we feel like we’re going crazy because there are so many changes happening in our lives at this season of life:
- health changes
- your husband’s expectations of you
He may be really looking forward to having you back to himself, or your husband may be absent because of divorce or death, or he just may be emotionally distant, and you feel estranged.
- Perhaps your aging parents need you.
- Your child’s newfound independence and the frightening choices they are making are scaring you half to death.
- You may have a special-needs child who will never be able to leave home.
- You may have a career that is at a sudden dead end, or you’re bored with it.
- Or, in these challenging financial times, you may find yourself now all of a sudden needing to get another job in order to make ends meet for your family.
There are so many things converging on us in the empty nest season, that it makes it a very complicated phase of life.
Susan: What we have found as we’ve talked to other woman who have experienced this is that this season is really complex and diverse. It’s just plain messy. Barbara and I like to paint the picture of this season being a bit like Jell-O. You know how you try to get a mold around a Jell-O, and you get it real neat and it leaks out in one area, and you sort of get it back, and it leaks out in another area? That’s what it feels like in the empty nest. It’s messy. Every time we think we get it sort of tightly put together, it leaks out in a new way. Another thing that happens to us is it hits all of us at different times, and then we think we’ve dealt with it, and it hits us again.
Because we have five children in seven years, we sort of rushed headlong into the empty nest. I remember as our third child was graduating from high school, our first one was getting married within two weeks, and all five of our children married young. In fact, I remember, we had four weddings in three summers, and a friend said to me, “Susan, I’m so glad the Yates’ are all married because now I don’t have to plan my summers around your weddings.” Our twins, in fact, were the last to get married. They were numbers four and five, and they got married within six weeks of each other one summer.
So because of the going off to college and getting married, I didn’t really feel the empty nest hit me in the face until our last child, Libby, one of the twins, was married. The day after Libby’s wedding, Susie, her twin sister, who’d married previously, and her husband packed up the twins’ bedroom—all of the furniture, everything off the wall, and they loaded it into the trailer that they were pulling behind the car for their move. As I said goodbye and walked back into the house and saw this trailer pulling out of the driveway, I walked into the girls’ room, which was bare, except for the dirty marks where the pictures had been on the walls. I sat on the floor, and I just burst into tears. As I sat there, I thought, “This is really it. All of my children are married. It’s over.”
Sitting there, I noticed that the closet door was open, and on the floor of the closet, balled up in the corner, was an old faded blue prom dress. It was there all alone. It was out of style. It was discarded, and as I looked at that prom dress, I thought, “It doesn’t belong there by itself, and that’s exactly how I feel—discarded, alone, and lonely.”
Well, Barbara, you had an interesting coming into the empty nest. Share with our friends about that.
Barbara: I did. I began the empty-nest season having just come through a time of great loss and suffering. We had a daughter who chose to rebel in very significant and dramatic ways. We’d been dealing with her issues for many years, but when her senior year in high school rolled around, things got worse—which I didn’t think that they could. The drama and chaos of an eating disorder and alcohol and drug use threatened to undo our family and our marriage. We felt divorced from real life. We watched our friends celebrate all of the momentous occasions that seniors in high school go through—proms and award banquets and graduation ceremonies—while we sat at home alone, wondering where our daughter was spending the night. Our hopes and dreams for this daughter had vaporized. We were suffering a great loss and feeling a great sense of failure as parents, and we were very lonely.
During that time, we had two lifelines that really made a big difference in our lives. One was a small group of friends who stood with us and prayed with us when we could not pray for ourselves anymore. The second lifeline, for me personally, was God’s Word. In my fear and desperation, I could see no hope and no way out of our circumstances, but I chose to cling to the truth of God’s Word, and it was life to me.
One of my favorite verses was James chapter 1, verses 2-8. I printed out those verses on a card, and I taped it to the center of my steering wheel. It was probably there for about six months. Every day when I would get in the car and drive wherever I needed to go, I would read those verses over and over and over, and I remember saying, “God, You promised that You would bring endurance from trials. I can’t see what You are doing in my life; I can’t see what You are doing in my daughter’s life, but I am going to believe Your Word in the dark.” When we can’t see, we have to depend on God’s Word. I thought this was very appropriate. I felt I couldn’t see at that time in my life, and God’s Word shone on my heart.
I said those verses over and over and over again to make it through each day. It was in those verses that I found hope. There was none to be found anywhere else. I experienced the peace and comfort of God in a way that I had never known before, and looking back on that, I have to say, honestly, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in this world because of how close I grew in my relationship with Christ. I know Him in a way now that I would never have known Him before without that trial.
Many of you will also experience great loss and difficulty as you, too, go into the empty nest, or as you are transitioning into it right now. We have several friends who have experienced these difficulties. One is Connie. Connie, the summer she sent her youngest off to college, discovered that she had cancer. Sue realized that when her last one left home that her parents needed her full-time care. Carolyn needed to provide daily help for a grandchild, and my sweet friend Lisa, her husband decided to leave her at the same time their youngest left home. Then there’s Cindy, who will never be an empty nester, because she has a handicapped son who will never be able to live on his own. Then Mary wants to know, she asked us, “How do I relate to my ex in this new season now that the kids are gone? It’s going to change everything.”
The empty nest is a season of great change, and one of the most important cures is a good friend. Susan and I have talked a lot about friendship over the last few years, and we’ve discovered a few things we’d like to share with you on friendships.
Susan: One of the main things we’ve discovered afresh as we hit the empty nest is that we’re lonely. When we were parents of young children, we were desperate for play dates and other young moms to talk to so we could complete a sentence, and we surrounded ourselves with other young mothers. But then for many of us, as we hit the teen years, and particularly those later teen years, we often pulled back from our girlfriend relationships in order to spend time with our kids because we knew that we were ending a season. We wanted to get as much time with our teenagers as we could before they left.
So often what happens is, the kids leave, and you’re back to where you’re lonely, and you need girlfriends, but you’re a bit out of practice on how to have a deeper relationship other than just the surface relationship.
In our book we share several keys to reconnecting with girlfriends, and I’m going to give you the first three here.
The first is simply to pray, “God, make me a good friend to others.” Ask Him to lead you to one or two other soul sisters for mutual encouragement.
Secondly, take the first step. Make a list of between three and five women that you would like to connect with. Ask them for coffee or for a walk. Become a person who asks good questions. I often think in terms of schedules and relationships. All of us have a schedule in our life, and all of us have relationships. A schedule question might be, “Tell me what a week is like for you at the office. What projects are you working on?” A relationship question might be, “Who is someone who has had a positive impact on your life as you look back? I’d love to hear about that.” Take the first step.
Then a third key is to simply be persistent. If that first gal you asked out for coffee just didn’t click, it didn’t fit right, then call the next one on the list. Don’t give up. It takes time to develop deep relationships.
So as we think this afternoon of four questions that we are all asking, our first question has been, “Am I the only one who feels this way?” The answer is obviously, “No.”
For each of our questions, we want to give you some help and some hope as you move through this transition. For this first question, our help is to become a student of God’s Word, because it alone never changes, and then secondly, become a good friend.
Barbara: The second question that we’ve discovered women are asking today is, “What is happening to my relationships?” We’ve realized that all of our important relationships need to be renegotiated, and that’s a real important concept for us to grasp in the empty-nest season of life. First of all, our marriages are in a different place than they were. We are in a different place than we were when we first got married many years ago. We need to redefine our marriages.
Secondly, our children are now adults, and they want a different kind of relationship with us, too, but neither they nor we know what that looks like because we’ve never done this before. Our relationship with our kids needs to be redefined.
Thirdly, our parents may now need us to parent them, and that relationship also will need to be redefined.
The road ahead is new and unchartered territory for all of us. We don’t know what’s around the corner in any of these family relationships.
Susan: Both Barbara and I experienced significant changes in our marriage, as perhaps many of you have, and I wanted to share with you just a little bit from our book about two different experiences that some of our friends had.
Bess and Gary couldn’t wait for the empty nest. Raising their kids had been tough. They’d had different approaches to discipline. They struggled on a tight budget, and they postponed many of their dreams in order to be with their kids. Now the last one was leaving, and they felt that they had done the best that they could. Finally, they were about to be free from the daily stresses of parenthood. They were excited. They couldn’t wait for it to be “Just us,” again.
Shelly’s situation was just the opposite. She had poured her life into her kids. They had come first. Now as the last child got ready to leave, she was scared, really scared. “I don’t even feel like I know my husband. I haven’t been alone with him since I was 26. Our whole life has revolved around the kids. Now what will we talk about at the dinner table? What will we do on weekends? I don’t even know if I have the energy left to put into this relationship, and I don’t know if I want to.”
Perhaps you identify with one of these couples, or perhaps, as you’ve thought about it, you’re anticipating some awkward adjustments.
As John and I began to go through the empty nest, I realized that I had to be careful personally not to fall into one of two traps that I knew that I could easily fall into. On the one hand, I could fall into the trap of expecting my husband to meet the emotional void that was going to be left in my life as that last child left home. I could expect him to give me a sense of purpose, to appreciate me, to empathize with me, to understand me, and to make me happy. But there’s no way that any man can meet those needs. He was not created to meet those needs. So I had to recognize a great tendency for me might be to have unrealistic expectations of John to fill that emotional void.
On the other side of the spectrum, I could easily fall into the trap that would go like this: “Well, he’ll just spend more time at the office. He’ll get more involved in his stuff; I’ll get more involved in my stuff, and we’ll connect when we can.” I realize there was a great danger in that, too, and that was emotional distance. It would be very easy to begin to live parallel lives that didn’t really connect, and that would only lead to isolation.
I have to be really honest with you all—I continued to struggle with both of these extremes, and I suspect I will for the rest of our lives. You never quite get there, but the benefit comes in recognizing the traps and then trying to stay centered in how you approach the empty nest.
Barbara: The important thing we’ve learned is to drive a stake into the ground and reaffirm your commitment to your marriage. Two weeks after we left our youngest at college, and our prodigal daughter at rehab, Dennis and I left on a trip. We had planned this for a long time and were looking forward to leaving, but we were exhausted. We didn’t feel very excited about the days ahead, but we looked at each other, and we gave each other high fives, and we said, “We’ve made it. We’ve finished the parenting journey, and no matter how we feel today, we’re going to go forward into this new season together.”
Susan: Not only does our marriage need to be renegotiated, but also our relationship with our adult children will need to be tweaked. Our kids know, and they need to know that we’re committed to them, and we’re committed to growing, but that we’ve never done this before, so it’s going to be awkward.
Barbara: All of us worry about relating to our newly released kids, don’t we? We don’t know how to do it. We wonder things like, “How often should I call or email? Can I send them goodies in the mail, or will they be embarrassed? Is it okay to ask about boyfriends and girlfriends? How do I keep a relationship with my child without overstepping my bounds and running them off? And what kind of a parent am I supposed to be anyway?”
Susan: What Barbara and I have realized is that this journey with adult children is constantly evolving, but for our newly released children there are also two extremes that we have to avoid.
Picture with me for a moment a see-saw. You know how, when we were little, and perhaps our kids loved to sit on a see-saw. Part of the fun of sitting on a see-saw is to move up and back so that you can balance the see-saw in mid-air. The heavier one has to move in, and the lighter one has to move back.
Keep that picture in mind for a moment, and help yourself see two different types of parenting that we might fall into.
On one end of the see-saw is what we call the helicopter parent. This is the parent who hovers. This parent loves her children, but she’s apt to be on the phone, “Tell me—are you getting to class on time? What are your plans for the weekend?” and advising where to go to eat and advising on courses to take and checking in over and over and over again.
This parent loves her child, but over-parenting, or being the helicopter parent is essentially saying, “You don’t have the ability to make these decisions. I need to make them for you.” But what that does is it erodes our child’s self-confidence rather than building it.
On the other end of the see-saw is what we simply call the hands-off parent—“Out of sight, out of mind. I’ve raised them to be independent. Now they’re on their own, and we’ll see how they do.” Now that’s an extreme as well because you don’t need to go two or three weeks when that first child has gone off to college without checking in just to see how they’re doing.
We talk about this in more detail in our book, but, again, I think it’s helpful to recognize and identify “Where do I tend to come out on the see-saw? Do I tend to be more the helicopter parent who hovers too much? Or do I fall into the end of the see-saw of the hands-off parent who needs to be perhaps a little bit more involved?”
Then, if we’re married, “Where is my spouse?” And often to balance that see-saw, one is going to move in a little bit, and one is going to back off a little bit.
We found it just helpful to see these two patterns of parenting in that picture.
Barbara: There are two things that we have found very helpful in balancing and renegotiating our marriage relationship, and renegotiating our relationship with our kids.
Number one is become intentional in your marriage and in key friendships because, as Susan said, it’s not all dependent on the marriage. So become intentional in your marriage, if you’re still married, and become intentional in key friendships. Being intentional is the key word.
Secondly, be flexible with your children. That sometimes is really difficult, but be flexible with your children.
Susan: So we’ve looked at the first two questions—the first one being, “Am I the only one who feels this way?” And the second question, “What is happening to my relationships?”
Our third question, and this is where it gets really exciting, is “Who have I become?” We all know the empty nest is a major transition. Transition by definition is awkward. We don’t like them, but the reality is we have grown up with an unrealistic expectation that stability is the norm, when in fact, transition is much more the norm that we live in day in and day out.
Just look at the transitions we’ve already experienced: leaving home, marriage, first baby, new job, new boss in an old job, financial loss, moves, illnesses, crisis with children, a national or international crisis. With each thing that hits us in the face, we sort of keep waiting for life to calm down. The reality is that life will never calm down. We live in transition, and we have to adjust our expectations.
The empty nest transition is messy, and sometimes in order to figure out who we are and what we are to do in this new season, we need to step back and take a break, and Barbara really did this, which has been a real blessing to me.
Barbara: Because I started the empty nest years depleted emotionally, because of our prodigal daughter’s issues, I knew before I jumped into the next thing in my life that I needed some time off. I needed some time to recover and rest and sort of get my strength and energy for life back again. What I discovered was that apart from my own personal recovery, I really needed time to re-evaluate my life. I needed to think through, “What is my purpose? What is my life’s direction? What do I want to do with the rest of my life?”
We have found that other women need that same time of recalibrating that I did. So we want to give you permission to take a break. Give yourself some time off to evaluate your life. Plan a mini-retreat or a long getaway with friends or a time by yourself—whatever you need that will serve you best is what’s important. It can be as simple as a weekend away alone, or with friends, or it can be a sabbatical of several weeks or months.
We give lots of tips and ideas on how to do this in our book, but as you do this—and we hope that you will—we want to encourage you to reflect on a couple of questions as you take this time off.
- “What am I thankful for as I look back over my life? What has God done that I need to give Him thanks and praise for?”
- “What issues are there in my life or in my marriage that I have overlooked and sort of set aside because of the busyness of life that I must not neglect any longer?”
Susan: John and I realized that an important element in transitioning from our past purpose of parenting to our next purpose in life is to take some time simply to celebrate this new beginning. The empty nest is not something to dread. It’s something to celebrate. We women are good at celebrating things. We’ve celebrated so many other milestones in our life. We celebrated with baby showers. We celebrated that child’s lost tooth, the first day of school, graduation, wedding showers, but how many of you have ever been to a party to celebrate the empty nest? Anybody? There’s no one in this room that raised their hand, and yet this is something that we need to celebrate.
Barbara and I asked several of our party girlfriends to design actually three different empty-nest parties that we could give or host. You’ll find these in chapter ten of our book, complete with themes, decorations, food, and discussion questions, because we think that the empty nest needs to be celebrated.
But we have another purpose for these parties, and we want to challenge you all to use the empty nest as a fresh season for sharing Christ with your friends. It’s a season where we’re all hurting, and when we’re hurting, we’re often more open spiritually. I’d like to encourage you to host an empty-nest party as my friend Mary Kay is doing next month in the D.C. area. She is inviting 100 of her friends that she has gone through—they won’t all come—but they’ve gone through all the years of child bearing. Many are not women of faith at all. She’s invited them to a luncheon, a party, to celebrate the empty nest. At the party, she’s going to share some things and then challenge them to read our book and come back in a month.
One of the things that Barbara and I have dreamed about, and really hoped would happen as a result of the book, is that God would use this book as a tool for evangelism because it’s meeting women where they’re hurting. We have a website, and on our website we have discussion questions that you can simply download for a one-time discussion, book club discussion, or for a four-session study. So we hope that God will use this empty nest season as a very natural way that we can reach out to other women, perhaps who are open for the very first time.
As we look for help and hope in answering the question, “Who have I become?” it’s helpful to become reflective about our life, thanking God for the ways that He has been faithful. Then become joyful as you consider the future. I loved it when Nancy said last night that a Proverbs 31 woman laughs at the future. The empty nest is a great season ahead, and God’s got a special plan for each one of us.
So far we’ve looked at three questions: Does anyone else feel this way? What is happening to my relationships? And who have I become?
Barbara: The final question we’re all asking as we enter the empty nest is, “What is my new purpose? What am I supposed to do with the rest of my life?”
One of the benefits of the empty nest is the nature of its transition. It is uncomfortable in one sense because it is a time that is full of change, but the benefit for us is we have the opportunity to say, “Who am I? What am I here for?” Because most of us have many years ahead, we need to evaluate who we are living for and why. No matter where each of you might be on your spiritual journey, this is the best time in life to clarify that direction, to determine where you want to be and how you’re going to get there. We don’t want to settle for mediocrity as believers in Christ. We don’t want to become complacent. The best really is yet to be. This is a good season for taking crucial steps of faith and growing more in our Christian walk.
Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
As long as we women are on this earth, God has a plan for us. He has a plan for each and every one of us, and we need to be asking, “What is that plan, God? How do You want to use me?” So as you transition into the empty nest, or as you already are there, it’s helpful to ask yourself, “What are my gifts and talents?” Look at your life and say, “What am I good at? How might God want to use me the way He has made me to influence the kingdom of God?”
There are numerous assessment tools available on the market that can help you figure out what your gifts and your strengths and your weaknesses are. All of that, and in our book we list eight of them that might be helpful to you, but our goal in suggesting that to you is that you would be intentional about developing your life’s skill and finding ways that you can invest your life for others.
As I’ve entered the empty nest, I’ve taken lots of personal assessments. I realized I’d done a great job with helping my kids figure out what they were good at and what they liked and what they should major in in college. I reached the empty nest, and I thought, “I don’t know what I’m good at.” So I did a lot of this assessment stuff, trying to figure out what my strengths and weaknesses are. In fact, the other night as we went to bed and turned out the light, Dennis said, “I have another assessment tool for you to take,” and I thought, “Oh, I don’t think I want to take any more.” I just kind of groaned.
Susan: The funny thing is that I didn’t take a single one. It never occurred to me to take a test until I met Barbara. I actually, just because of having so many kids so young, and having them all get married so young, I just rushed headlong into the empty nest. Being a classic type-A personality, I was just on to the next thing, filling those gaps. I wish that I had been more like Barbara. I wish that I had taken a break and really looked at my gifts. As a result, I’m tired, and I’m now at a place in my life where I have to go to God and say, “God, I need a new rhythm. I’ve pushed for too long.”
So let me encourage you to learn from my mistake and follow Barbara’s example in this. She did it much better, but one of the things that will be helpful to you are to consider some questions as you do this. Some of the questions that we have found helpful are these. Ask yourself:
- What are my passions?
- What story has God written into my life?
- What are my gifts and strengths?
- What do I love to do?
- What energizes me like nothing else?
- Who are the people I love being around? Is it children? Teenagers? Young marrieds? Peers? The elderly?” You can go in all sorts of directions on that.
Then a final question—and this is a very interesting one, I think, to battle about with some friends, some girlfriends. “What one need would I meet if I knew I couldn’t fail?”
Barbara: Our task in asking all of these questions is to diligently discover God’s purpose for our lives. God will not show me His purpose for you. He delights in doing that one-on-one with each of us. The journey of discovery is ours to take and His to supply, and the beautiful thing about this is that God has a unique, distinct plan for each and every woman in this room. What He’s called you to do will be different than what He’s called me to do because He needs all of us. We each need to find out what it is that God wants us to do with our lives in the empty-nest years. He wants to use you where you are, with the people He has put you in touch with, and with the gifts He has given you. You can live the rest of your years wisely if you know yourself well and how your life can be invested for eternal purposes. Your next adventure can be on a simple scale or it can be on a very grand scale.
Susan: I want to show you three snapshots of three women we feature in our book (actually, we feature nine, and one of them is Karen Loritts, so it will be really fun for you to read her short story in our book), but I want to tell you about my friend Ann.
Ann found herself in a not-so-empty nest as her boys bounced back after leaving—many of you have that, too. She continued to pursue her next adventure, and with a new friend, she has developed the passion to raise public awareness to help bring an end to slave trafficking, which is rampant not only throughout the world, but particularly in the United States as well. Recently, Ann and this one friend sponsored a huge concert in the D.C. area to bring awareness to the problem of slave trafficking.
My friend Julia has been a long-time single parent. She’s faced unique challenges as she’s raised her kids alone while working full time. As her youngest child prepared to leave home, she was contemplating yet another new career. Throughout various careers, she’s always been intentional in growing in her faith and in reaching out to young adults. She has mentored more young women in the D.C. area than any other woman as a single mom.
Julia once said to me, “There have been so many times in the past that I have panicked about what would happen to me and the children, but when I take time to look back, I see God’s faithfulness.”
I want to tell you about a couple that are friends of mine and Barbara’s. Elaine and her husband Bob have always had a passion for internationals. Bob practiced law and served on the Governor’s staff, and Elaine was involved in inner-city and education. After launching their last child, they began to explore a significant life change.
After extensive personal testing and research, they left their jobs, their home, and security and moved to Asia to help equip young pastors starting underground churches.
Three different women—three distinct stories. You may be yourself wondering, “Okay, but how can I make a difference?”
Barbara: God has a fresh purpose for each of us in the empty-nest season, and what this purpose is may change from year to year. You may be doing something one year, and then all of a sudden you have to take care of aging parents. It may change from time to time, so what you started out doing may be different in five years. That’s okay, but what will not change is His desire for us to be involved in changing lives, which will in turn change the world.
We live in uncertain times, don’t we? The financial crisis of the last two weeks has made us freshly aware that we live in uncertain times. Life is uncertain all over the place, and uncertainty creates fear. When we’re afraid, what do we have to fall back on? God’s Word. God loves each one of us, and He has a plan for us in this new season of life.
There are approximately 40 million baby-boomer women. Did you know that? There are a lot of us out there, and most of us are either in the empty nest or quickly approaching the empty nest. We can be a formidable army for the kingdom of God if we’ll take the time to seriously consider God’s call and God’s purpose for our life in the second half of our life.
During the years of World War II, millions of women in the United States and in Great Britain got involved in supporting the war effort through their work and through their sacrifice. One such woman was named Rae Wilson. Rae lived the town of North Platt, Nebraska, population 12,000. Ten days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, she and some friends decided to meet the train coming through town. They wanted to take these soldiers who were coming through their town some cookies, and they wanted to wish them well.
After that train left, Rae decided to recruit and organize other women to continue this service to the soldiers who were coming through their town. In the next 4-1/2 years, the number of women grew to 55,000. I don’t know where they came from when the town was only 12,000, but she was quite a recruiter and an organizer. They met every train that came through that town for the next 4-1/2 years and sometimes up to 33 trains a day. Everyone in those days was on food rations, and yet the baking continued. It reminds me a little bit of the fishes and loaves, doesn’t it? One woman said her job was to bake ten angel food cakes a week.
Six million men came through North Platt, Nebraska, on trains during the war. Usually these men had been on the train for days with only K-rations to eat and no showers. But when they got to North Platt, they were allowed to get off the train for ten minutes. In those ten minutes, they felt a touch of home and a touch of love from people they had never known, never met before, and probably would never see again. They felt loved, and in those few minutes, their fear was gone. One soldier said many years later, “When you’re 18, and you’re scared, and you’re going off to war, and along the way someone shows kindness to you and loves you and treats you with dignity and honor, it marks you for life.”
Jesus said, “As you have done it to the least of these, My brothers, you have done it unto Me.”
Now today, none of us lives in a town that has trains passing through every day loaded with soldiers. The battle in our day feels much more distant than it did in those days in North Platt, Nebraska, and yet there are people groups like those soldiers in every town in America for whom someone needs to organize a relief effort. We as women can do that like no one else.
Susan: Every one of us in this room has two great strengths. Each of us have mothering skills and experience—that’s the first. And each of us has child training skills and experience. It doesn’t mean we did it perfectly; there’s not a single person in here who did. It means God was full of grace, and it also means that we have been in the trenches, and we can empathize with those coming up alongside us.
So if you don’t know where to start in the empty nest, Barbara and I want to give you two challenges: The first is to help and encourage young mothers in your community or church.
We live in the Washington, D.C. area. In our church one of the greatest requests by the young 20-something, early 30-something is for an older mentor who will simply be there as an older friend.
I want to tell you a story of three girlfriends that we have in a small town in Pennsylvania. These women have raised their children together. They’ve walked alongside each other in births and deaths, alongside each other in prodigal children, alongside each other in troubled marriages, and now they’re all in various stages of the empty nest. As has been their habit for many years, they go walking three or four mornings a week up this tall hill and back down, for about two miles. Their reward at the end of the walk is to visit the local Starbucks. They march into the Starbucks, and they get their lattes. They sit at this table in the corner, and they just catch up. This is very early in the morning.
One particular day not too long ago, a young mother walked into the Starbucks, and she was obviously very distraught. She was tearful, and my older friends were sitting in their usual table, and they noticed this young woman. Sue got up and went over and said to the young mom, “You look like you need a hug. Come and sit down and visit with us.” As this young mother sat down, she began to pour her heart out to my three empty-nest friends. They began to say, “I know; I understand, and here’s some advice.”
At the end of about a half-hour, the young mom got up, and her radiance was unmistakable. She said to the three empty nesters, “Oh, thank you so much.” One of the empty nesters said, “Well, it’s just advice. You can take it or leave it.” At that moment a new vision was born—the “Take It or Leave It Club.” Quickly the word spread around in this community that these three women would be at Starbucks several days a week, and they were available simply to hang out, to be there for young women.
A group of women in Michigan heard about what was happening in Pennsylvania, and went to some other empty nesters and said, “Would you start a “Take It or Leave It Club”? We want to simply come and ask you questions.
All these women were simply available and faithful, and God is using them in the lives of the next generation.
Barbara: The second challenge we want to give you has to do with children. Every county in every town in America has a foster care system, and almost every foster care system in this country is broken. The system is in need of Christians to get involved and to help. Each of you, when you get home, I want to challenge you to find out about your foster care system. Figure out who runs it, what happens, how does it operate, do they have enough foster care families, how many children are in the system—just get the facts—and see what needs to be done.
There are hundreds and thousands of children who are removed from their homes annually and are placed in foreign surroundings, just like the soldiers who went through North Platt, Nebraska, were going off to foreign territories—only the soldiers chose to go. These children are taken out of their homes and placed somewhere where they don’t know the people, and it was not their choice; it was not what they wanted.
As believers in Christ, we cannot stand by and ignore this. It is a great need in our country today, and we as mothers have a compassion and a heart for children, and we need to get involved in helping them. We don’t want to let those who don’t have the love of Christ come in and be the ones to rescue.
If you have questions about how to do this and how does it look like, you can go to the website www.FamilyLife.com/hopefororphans. You’ll find lots of information about helping orphans internationally, starting an orphan-care ministry in your church, and about helping in the foster care system in your community.
We women in our generation must unite in living second-season lives of great purpose. We must not settle for mediocrity and mere comfort, but instead we need to live the rest of our lives for the kingdom of God and for His purposes for us.
So in conclusion, we want to give you two more thoughts: One is, in this process of figuring out what God has for you in your second season, become a listener to God’s Holy Spirit and His leading in your life. The only way to find out what He’s calling you to do is to listen to Him.
And secondly, make it your goal to be a world changer. The world is changed one life at a time, and if you’re changing somebody’s life, you’re changing the world.
So we want to encourage you to say “Yes,” to God, and as Isaiah said, “Here I am, Lord, send me.” We hope that you will say to the Lord, “Lord, send me to what You’ve prepared me to do in my empty-nest years.”
Susan: In keeping these two things in mind, also, again, just as a reminder, be aware that the empty-nest season is a fabulous season for self-examination in terms of our spiritual life—to re-evaluate—but it’s also a season in which our neighbors, the gal at the gym, the colleague in the office, perhaps are open for the first time ever to asking questions about God. We are given a tremendous window here in reaching out to non-believers and helping them come to know Christ as they seek to see what their purpose is in the empty nest.
Then we need other women, again, who will rub up against us, who will challenge us to the next great adventure that God has for us. Where would He use us? Where would He use you?
As you leave today, Barbara and I are going to pray for you. We want you to ask yourself, “God, what would You have for me in this new season? To whom can I share the gospel who might be hungry for the first time?”
Father, I am so grateful, and Barbara is so grateful, for this chance to be with sisters in the same place. Oh, Father, we thank You that You have not called us to walk alone, but that You have called us to walk alongside. Father, I pray for each woman in this room that You would give her one soul sister to walk alongside her as she navigates this empty nest. And, Father, I also pray for each one of us that You would give us the passion that You have uniquely created each of us individually for. Oh, Father, this is the beginning of a season in which we can more fully devote ourselves to You, and we don’t want to miss it, we don’t want to miss it. So, Father, on behalf of my sisters, we say, “Yes, Lord. Speak to each one of us and show us Your unique plan for our lives in this season. We beg You.” In Jesus’ name. Amen.
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