The day was hot, but inside, my heart felt cold and fragile. My twin boys were heading off to college, leaving the nest, leaving me. Two decades of daily mothering came to a screeching halt the moment they pulled out of the drive. My nest was empty, except for a few “feathers” they left behind: football cleats, fishing rods, and faded t-shirts.
Emptiness moved in right after they left. My first trip to the grocery store was actually quite painful. Passing up the Gatorade made me feel a little sad. By the time I made it to the barbeque chips, I choked up as I realized there was no need to buy their favorite snacks anymore. When I saw how cheap my grocery bill was, I lost it right there in the checkout line, while the startled cashier stared.
I had been a 24/7 mother almost forever, it seemed, and I did NOT want to change. I wanted to keep my life exactly the same.
About that time, a pair of doves built a nest on my trellis. I watched how patiently the mother sat on the nest, keeping her eggs warm. Every so often, she and her mate would make a soft, mellow coo. Their nest was quiet and peaceful.
But when the babies hatched, everything changed. The nest hummed with activity and noise. The parents flew back and forth constantly to feed the hungry chicks. Now they cooed loudly over their nest, showing their pride. Their full nest seemed to make them feel alive, totally engaged in the cycle of life.
The babies grew quickly. Soon, the small nest became so crowded, the baby birds had to hop onto the trellis. They ate great amounts and fluttered and preened their new wings. They were never still.
Until moving day...
One morning, the nest sat quiet and empty; the job was done. I noticed they had all moved on, not just the chicks, but the parents, too.
God sent the birds my way to show me the importance of moving on. Eventually, He taught me how to leave my nest behind. Like the birds, God designed both children and parents to grow past the nest, to spread our wings and soar beyond it. This is life’s natural order, but at first, it can feel pretty unnatural.
Solomon explains life’s transitions this way: “For everything that happens in life—there is a season, a right time for everything under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, VOICE)
Here are three truths I discovered that helped me soar beyond an empty nest:
1. In order to grow, you must let go.
Growing beyond the nest is so much better than to trying to stay in it. At some point, the nest simply becomes too small—both for children and for parents. Remaining in a doting, hovering, “nest mindset” after the children leave only creates problems. It thwarts our growth and the growth of our adult children. It can backfire, pushing them even further away. As our children transition, we parents must transition, too.
2. Don’t fight change—you will lose.
Once our nesting time is past, it’s just not right anymore. Fighting to keep our lives the same only causes them to become stagnant and impure. At first, I fought having an empty nest by focusing on how unfair it seemed. I reminisced about the past—a lot. I felt so lost. Finally, after choosing to surrender to my new reality, I was able to move on. Accepting the empty nest freed me to grow, to learn new things, and eventually, to soar beyond it.
3. Nests were never meant to be permanent.
God designed nests to be temporary, so He must have intended for parents to do more than only parenting. Learning this led me to explore who God made me to be. I evaluated my gifts and talents. I did a lot of soul searching and praying. Then I started trying different things, having no idea where it would lead. The past five years have been quite a journey! I’ve published a book, launched a website, and have done a lot of speaking. (I’m as surprised as anyone about this.) God has good plans, if we are willing to move on.
You may be facing an empty nest for the first time, right now. Maybe your kids recently packed up their things and moved on to college, a new career, or marriage. You might be feeling sad and a bit lost. You may be struggling to accept change and longing for the way things used to be.
Perhaps it’s time for you to let go of the past and embrace the future.
Remember if God so cares for the birds, then He will also care for you, for you are much more valuable to Him than a whole flock of birds (Matthew 10:31). If you are willing to fly, God has new places for you to go. Draw close to Him as you learn to let go of the past. He can teach you how to soar beyond the empty nest into an exciting future.
May Patterson has been writing and teaching biblestudy classes for years. Her new book, “Seeking a Familiar Face,” was birthed from a Bible study she wrote in 2014 called “A Time to Seek.” She was trained in small group dynamics for over ten years at Bible Study Fellowship, serving as a leader for four years. She has written for several magazines including Focus on the Family, Upper Room Magazine and iBelieve, among others. She is married to her dear friend, Mike, and they have three grown children. She loves to tell stories, laugh, and talk about the adventure of seeking God. For more information, visit http://www.maypatterson.com.
Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/gpointstudio