Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Leslie Basham: Susan Yates says that if you’re too focused on the next season of life, you won’t live your life.

Susan Yates: On the one hand, we prepare for the next season, but we have the tension of living in the “now.” You have to be very careful to maintain that balance because that can be hard. If you live too much in the “when . . . then,” the emotion that arises is fear, and that’s not of God.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. It’s Thursday, September 11.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: We’re talking today with Barbara Rainey and Susan Yates about their book Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest. I can see Barbara and Susan there on the cover. The subtitle is Discovering New Purpose, Passion, and Your Next Great Adventure.

So here’s a helpful guide for women who are in the empty-nest season, and also for those who are facing it. If you have children—whatever their ages—then, chances are, you’re going to be facing an empty nest. It’s not too early to start thinking about that season of life and what God may have for you.

Barbara and Susan, you’ve written this Guide to the Empty Nest. Does that mean that you have become experts on this subject?

Barbara Rainey: No.

Susan: No.

 Nancy: You’ve got it all down; you’ve got it all figured out, and you’re here to tell us all the answers. Right?

Susan: We’re here to share with you the journey that we are currently on. We have not reached the finished line.

Nancy: Well, we are all on a journey. Thank you for writing this book and for sharing with us out of your journey. I know this is going to be a very helpful resource for a lot of women. I love the fact that you see this as a season where there can be purpose, passion, and adventure. This is not something to be dreaded. You’re honest about the challenges, but you also see purpose and mission in this season of life.

So thank you for writing the book, and thank you for joining us on Revive Our Hearts, with the guests here in the studio today, to talk about this season of life.

I’d like you to introduce yourself, starting with Susan, to our guests. Tell us a little bit about how long you’ve been married, and tell us about your children and grandchildren—now, don’t get carried away; let’s have the short version! Where are you at this season and stage of your life with children and grandchildren? Let’s start with Susan.

Susan: Well, thank you. Thank you so much for having us, Nancy. We’ve been married, John and I, for 38 years, and we have five children. We actually had five kids in seven years. Our numbers four and five were twins. We found out they were twins three weeks before they were born, so it was an overwhelming season for me.

Nancy: You had a very full nest before you could ever think about an empty nest.

Susan: It was a very full nest in those early years. Today, all of our five children are married, which is amazing, and we have ten grandchildren and another one on the way. So we’re in a completely different season. Our kids are spread out all the way from California to Boston to Philadelphia to Virginia to Tennessee.

Nancy: When did you first think of yourself as being an empty-nester?

Susan: That’s a great question because one of the things that Barbara and I have found is that it changes for everybody. For us, because we had our kids so close in age, our third son was leaving for college as our first child was getting married. The seasons sort of felt like they were merging, and there wasn’t real clarity. So for me personally, it didn’t really hit me until the last wedding. Our kids all married young. In fact, our twins married within six weeks of each other.

Nancy: Twin girls, right?

Susan: Our twin girls, so that was really wild. And as the last wedding happened, that’s when I had a real meltdown, and I realized, “Oh, my goodness, this is really over in many ways.”

Nancy: What did that meltdown look like?

Susan: What it looked like was very interesting. Our daughter Libby had just gotten married. Her twin sister, Susie, was cleaning out her room—she had been married for six weeks—and as she took all the pictures and everything off the walls, the U-Haul truck was in the driveway.

Nancy: At your house?

Susan: At my house. When she pulled out of the driveway, the room was bare except for one faded blue prom dress hanging in the closet on one of the old, tiny wire hangers—she’d taken all of the good hangers and left the old, crummy hangers. And as I sat on that bed and looked at the empty walls and the bare closet and saw the van pull out of the driveway, I just burst into tears.

Then, as I looked at that prom dress—that old, tacky, out-of-date, lonely prom dress in the closet that didn’t belong there—I identified with that prom dress. I thought, “You know, that prom dress is all alone, and it represents me. It’s quiet; it’s lonely; there’s nothing on these walls. I’m used to chaos and confusion, the phone ringing, and a lot of company, and it’s gone.”

I think that surprised me, Nancy. And I think what Barbara and I have both found is that you never know how you’re going to react. I wasn’t prepared for that to be my meltdown, but that was sort of the pivotal point for me.

Nancy: And how long ago was that?

Susan: That was six years ago.

Nancy: So you’ve had a chance for the Lord to show you His grace and His mercy and some of His purposes.

Susan: Yes.

Nancy: And out of that journey, you’re now able to minister to other women who may be having their meltdown, or are about to have it.

Susan: Right—and it’s okay to do that.

Nancy: Barbara Rainey, long-time friend, thank you so much for the role you have as the “first lady” of FamilyLife Today Ministries. That ministry is a sister ministry—actually, it’s a mother ministry in some ways—of Revive Our Hearts. We actually record Revive Our Hearts at the FamilyLife studio, so you and your husband and this ministry have been very close to our hearts.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your family and where you are in this season.

Barbara: Dennis and I have been married 35 years, and we have six children. We didn’t have them quite as quickly as Susan did; we had our six in ten years. Life was a blur, and it was crazy, and I thought I would be swamped with children forever. It felt like it would never end—and then it did.

Five of ours are married, and we have a total of 14 grandchildren, I think, at last count. We may have more; I don’t know! It’s just been amazing how quickly my kids have had kids, and how many they’ve had. Somebody is always pregnant, so the number may not be accurate.

Nancy: By the time we air this, it could well change.

Barbara: Yes, by the time we air this it could very well have changed. We have a lot of grandkids. Our five married children live all over the country. Our youngest is not married. She just graduated from college a year ago and is living away from home too. So we have our kids, like Susan, spread from coast to coast, from one end of the country to the other.

Nancy: When did it first hit you that you were an empty-nester?

Barbara: Well, since mine are not all married yet, I didn’t have that final meltdown quite the same way that Susan did. I really felt it when our youngest went to college initially, because that was when it really was over.

We didn’t go to ball games anymore; I didn’t see the same people anymore. The friendships that I had with all of my kids’ friends sort of evaporated because I wasn’t in the same places I had been. I quit going to all those functions where I saw people, and so the loneliness of being sort of set aside—I really felt it that fall.

Then, surprisingly—and this is one of the things that we’ve discovered—you have these moments that you’re not prepared for that just kind of pop up. For me, I had a moment about six to eight months after my youngest had gone off to college that fall.

It was in the spring, and I was helping some other women to host a baby shower for a friend who was having her first baby. She had struggled with infertility for about three or four years, and we were all so excited that she was finally going to have a baby. We’d planned this big event, and we’d invited lots and lots of women to come to this shower. I was there early, and I was greeting people at the door and arranging the food. We were just all celebrating this momentous occasion in this young woman’s life.

After everybody was settled and she was opening her gifts, I went and sat down with three or four women that I had known for a number of years and joined their conversation. They were all talking, and it became really apparent very quickly to me that I didn’t have anything to contribute anymore.

They were talking about their oldest who had had her first babysitting job, and how she didn’t know how to handle this toddler who had had a poopy diaper—she didn’t know what to do with it. Another child had just gotten his permit, and they were talking about the antics of new drivers and how they were going to handle that.

They were all laughing about things that their kids were doing, and I sat there and thought, “I have nothing to share.” I felt so rejected, and I felt so set aside because I couldn’t contribute anymore to this circle of women and their conversation.

So I got up and left and went into the kitchen and thought, “Well, I’m going to make myself busy in the kitchen, and I’ll clean some of the dishes.” There was another circle of women in the kitchen, and they were all chatting about their kids—what one child was doing and another one’s child was doing—and again, I felt that rejection of not being able to participate for the first time in my life.

It was really an odd experience because I was so unprepared for it. I didn’t walk in thinking I was going to experience anything negative. It was a joyous occasion, but I was really taken aback. I was so sad and so aware of my new season, and I didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t know how to relate—I didn’t know what I should say, what I shouldn’t say—and I looked around the room and couldn’t find anybody like me. I couldn’t find anybody I could relate to because they were all in a different season, so it was really an odd experience.

Nancy: We want to talk in this series about seasons, and really, being a woman is all about seasons. Thankfully, God has grace for every season of life. Every season has its challenges, and the empty nest is not the least of those.

One of the things that Barbara and Susan identify in their book is that during the empty-nest season, there are also other things likely going on in women’s lives. There are going to be physical issues, hormonal issues, parent issues, and health issues.

So there can be a lot of things that kind of converge at that season. But thankfully, the Lord knows and is able to give us wisdom and grace to walk through that. Barbara and Susan are going to give us some insight into some of the things the Lord has shown them about His ways and His heart through those seasons.

Do you find, Susan or Barbara, that a lot of women live in the future—and in fear of the future—rather than living in and enjoying the moment? Is this something that you’ve seen?

Susan: Boy, I’ve really seen it, because I’ve experienced it in my own life how easy it is to fall into a “when . . . then” mentality. You know, “When I just get the kids sleeping through the night, then . . .” “When I just get the teenagers out of the house, then . . .” “When I just get a new house, or a new job, then . . .”

I love the way that Nancy always refers to the season that we’re in as having both blessings and challenges, because that’s really true. I think the key to living in the “now” is to identify the challenges—to say what they are out loud—but then choose to focus on the blessings. Then we experience the sense of God’s faithfulness in ministering to us right where we are and using us.

So on the one hand, we prepare for the next season, but we have the tension of living in the “now.” You have to be very careful to maintain that balance because that can be hard. If you live too much in the “when . . . then,” the emotion that arises is fear, and that’s not of God.

Nancy: It is often fear of the unknown, and I think what settles that in my own heart is the confidence that it’s all known to God. These are unchartered waters for me, but God is the one who sees around—because He’s looking from above—He sees around all those corners. I think of Him as the God of the “now,” the God whose grace is very present. That’s what can give our hearts confidence and deliver us from those fears.

Barbara, I know that as you were moving into the empty-nest season, you took some time to reflect. And in this book both of you recommend retreating, though not pulling out of civilization. In fact, you and I had lunch one day as you were early in that season, and you were talking to different people and just trying to listen to what the Lord was saying. Tell us a little bit about how you used some of that quiet in that first year or so to reflect and to let the Lord give you some fresh direction.

Barbara: Well, one of the things I didn’t want to do was to just jump off into the next thing without thinking. I really wanted to know what God wanted me to do. I wanted to hear from Him, and I wanted to take advantage of that sort of lull that came when the last one left, and have some time to reflect.

So I didn’t actually leave and go somewhere, but I just sort of retreated. I was still doing laundry, still had meals to cook and had to go to the grocery store, those kinds of things, but I didn’t travel as much. I just put a lot of things—activities—on hold. I really focused on some serious Bible study time. I’d been doing that, but had been so often interrupted by some needs of the kids or things that I had to do with them. I was really able to focus on it in a way that I never had before, and that was a real gift.

I did some personal development. I took some time to do some personal assessment, some different kinds of profiles that I took to figure out what my strengths were, what I was good at. And I did something that was really fun for me: I went back to taking an art class that allowed me to express some gifts that I had visually that I hadn’t had a chance to do in all those years of raising kids. That was a real gift from God too, to be able to develop that side of how God made me for the first time in probably 25 or 30 years. That was a real refueling time for me.

Part of the reason I did all of that, too, is because I didn’t enter the empty nest with a lot of strength. We had a prodigal daughter that really drained me personally, so as we sent our last child off to college, I was entering the empty nest in a very depleted state. I was emotionally exhausted; I was physically exhausted. I needed to be refueled and replenished before I stepped off into the next thing.

So part of it was because I really needed to recover and to recuperate from those years of struggling with our prodigal daughter—and it wasn’t really over even at that stage. She was in another state, living in another circumstance, so she was removed physically from our lives, but her struggles were ongoing. Yet I had that pause in the action, and our youngest had gone off to college. I used that season, about six months, to really focus on recovery for myself, and I really needed that.

Nancy: As you look back on that, can you identify some of the things the Lord said to you? How did He encourage you? What are some of the things He put into you that are now blessings for this season of your life?

Barbara: I think the biggest thing that I gained from that was—it’s a takeoff from what Susan said—it was a time to rest and to be a Mary and to just listen. There wasn’t really any one thing that stood out to me. It was just that God gave me that season of rest. I knew it was from Him; I knew that it was good, and I knew that it was what He wanted.

There wasn’t a word from God, which I would have liked. There wasn’t really a specific verse or something that He said to me as much, as it was an awareness of Him giving me a season to rest and to recover. I felt very cared for by God in that He did allow me to have that time. It was just a sweet time of being able to rest.

I think a lot of mothers need it. I think a lot of mothers are so Martha-ish because we do have a lot of needs to meet. We have so much that is dependent on us, that many of us do arrive at the finish line of parenting in need of some time of recovery and rest. Even if you didn’t have a prodigal child, it’s a very exhausting journey.

Nancy: I think there are probably many women who don’t even know how to do that kind of rest.

Barbara: Oh, I agree.

Nancy: There’s a sense in which you live on adrenaline, doing the things you have to do. And then when the motion slows down or stops, you may find out you don’t know how to be still.

Barbara: That’s right, and it is difficult to learn how to be still, because we are so programmed. As mothers, we learned how to constantly be meeting needs and going and doing, and it is difficult to pull back and rest. But I highly recommend it, because it does allow us to sort of regroup and to pause and to think, “What am I good at? What might God be calling me to do?” Rather than assuming that it’s something, take a step back and take a break and think about it.

God gave us seasons of rest in the Scripture. He prescribed rest for His people every Sunday, and He had seasons of rest for the Sabbath. We’re not very good for following that pattern in Scripture, so one of the things we did in our book is we have a whole section on encouraging women to do that—to follow God’s pattern of rest, to take some time of rest after the season of mothering and ask Him, “What do You want me to do next?”—and not jump off into something without going to God first.

Susan: I have a confession to make about this. This is a place that I did not take advantage of—being restful—and Barbara has been a super influence in my life because I rushed headlong into the empty nest and just kept going and going and going. Even today, I think, six years into it, I’m beginning to feel a little burned out. It’s been really funny to be convicted by my own writing.

Nancy: Been there, done that.

Susan: And now, I’m trying to figure out how I need to take a step back and be restful. For those of us who are Type-A-driven personalities, it’s easy to neglect a season of rest. One of the reasons that I think this happened to me, and one of the reasons that Barbara and I wanted to write this book, is that most of us grew up with books on parenting young children. There’s so much information out there on how to raise your little kids, on how to work on your marriage, and on what to do in the teen years. But then you hit the empty nest, and there’s very little out there.

All of a sudden, you don’t have the models, you don’t have the mentors, and you don’t have other women being honest about, “Well this is what it feels like,” or “This is what I fear,” or “This is how it might challenge my marriage,” or “Do I need to take a rest?” or “Do I feel guilty about taking a rest?” My personal experience—I wish I’d had a book for me six years ago when I hit the empty nest.

So that’s been a part, for both me and Barbara, of why we wanted to write this book, because there hasn’t been very much done out there to give us some comfort and encouragement and to make us feel normal. We’re not alone.

Nancy: When I hear you talk about rest, Barbara—it’s interesting as I’m thinking about this—not only was there a Sabbath rest, and every seven years, but there was also the 50th year, the Year of Jubilee, where for a whole year the land had to rest. You see the rhythms that God has for life there. But I don’t hear you saying you’re going comatose and going to sleep for the rest of your life.

Barbara/Susan: Right.

Nancy: You’re saying that this is a time to recalibrate and to say, “Lord, You have more for me out there in this next season. I want to get still enough to listen and hear what that is and not just keep running in high speed so that maybe I miss, perhaps, a redirecting that You want to do in my life.”

Barbara: Exactly. The whole meaning of the word retreat is to pull back for a time to refocus. It’s a military term. It doesn’t mean you’re running away and hiding. It means you’re pulling back to regroup so you can go back to the front lines.

I really see that as applicable to us women as empty-nesters because we often hit the empty nest about the time we turn 50, which is our Year of Jubilee. I think that it’s a part of God’s design that we would have a time to retreat and pull back from the front lines in that season of our own personal jubilee, to regroup, and to ask God, “What do You have me to do? Where do You want me to go back to the front lines and work for the kingdom?”

One of the things we’re most excited about is challenging women, because there are literally millions of us, and that’s not an exaggeration. The numbers tell us there are between 40 and 60 million Baby-Boomer women who are in this season, and we are either already empty-nesters or soon to be empty-nesters. We will have the health, the resources, and the time to make an enormous difference for the kingdom of God.

We are not like previous generations who, when they hit the empty nest, were not able physically or financially, or because they couldn’t travel, they weren’t able to have a second life, or a second career, or a second ministry. But this generation is very different in that regard, and many of us will live another 30 years or another 20 years. God can do a lot with us in the years that we have left. It’s important for us to pull back and ask Him, “What is it You want me to do with the rest of my life?” Sitting home in a rocking chair is not one of them.

I think God has a plan for each of us, whether it’s helping with your elderly parents or your grandchildren, or whether it’s going overseas and being involved in a ministry to orphans or AIDS patients. Find out what that is, what is it that God has designed you and equipped you to do, and then go for it. But it means we have to have a season of pulling back, resting, going before the Lord, and saying, “What is it that You have designed for me in this next season of life?”

Leslie: That’s Barbara Rainey. She and Susan Yates have been talking with our host, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, about being purposeful when you approach a new season of life.

Our guests have written a book called Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest. As you approach this transition, whenever it comes, don’t face it alone. Let these women share their experiences and help you navigate. They’ll provide you with practical ideas for empty-nesters who want to use their time wisely and to respectfully invest in their grown children. They will also help younger moms prepare for a time coming down the road and inspire you to make wise use of the time you do have with your child.

When you make a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts, we’ll send the hardback copy of Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest. Ask for it when you call 1-800-569-5959, or donate online at

Entering the empty-nest years affects moms and dads differently. Find out how when our guests return tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.


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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.