Monday, May 16, 2011

God's Promises and the Empty Nest

The Lord their God will save them on that day as the flock of his people. They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown. – Zachariah 9:16

The other day, my daughter slapped a large piece of paper onto the kitchen table and, with the intensity of a full-fledged architect, began drawing up plans for her new room. My vague comments about changing our sleeping quarters this summer had apparently found a sticking place among her hopes and dreams.

The bedroom shuffle is long overdue. We have a third bedroom. The girl and I need our space, and the boys’ room is too small for two lanky teenagers. There’s a slight problem, though. I’m not ready for this! She and I have shared a room since she was very small, and separate rooms is another step towards… well, you know what I mean if your kids are growing up and the empty nest is looming.

The children’s departure is especially poignant for single parents, who must remember the past and face the future alone. Some nights the thought of an empty house has forced me downstairs in the wee hours, seeking distraction. Here’s a poem that was given out in a parenting class I took years ago. Get ready to bawl your eyes out.

On the Stair
Thomas Mitchell, early 1940’s

A hairbow on the stair?
Someone must have lost it there.
Little ones hurrying up to bed,
Lisping lips as prayers were said;
Sleepy eyes and lights turned low,
A goodnight kiss… that was long ago.

Schoolbooks on the stair?
Someone must have put them there.
Carefree days and childhood dreams
Soon are past and gone it seems.
Growing taller, and rightly so,
A soft goodnight… that was long ago.

An evening wrap upon the stair?
Someone surely dropped it there.
Dancing feet and laughing lips;
Testing life in tiny sips.
Guide them, God, make them know
What life is… that was long ago.

Silence now, upon the stair,
Though I fancy they are there.
The echo of footsteps reaches my ears,
Sweet, low laughter, unshed tears.
Tempered softly by the fire’s glow
Are my memories of long ago.

Sob, sniff! Painful, isn’t it?

The empty nest is a serious grief trigger. Mercifully, it doesn’t happen all at once. Every little step to independence helps prepare us for that dreaded, glorious day when the parenting mission is complete and the children take flight. It’s appropriate to grieve as our children leave the various stages of childhood behind forever. However, to mope there too long is unhealthy. And God has given us some wonderful truths to help us through. We have an eternal mandate. We have an expectant promise. And we have an everlasting possession.

A Sacred Mission
Our children are God’s assignment to us. “Forgetting the past,” writes Paul, “and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God is calling us up to heaven because of what Christ Jesus did for us.” (Phil. 3:13-14) Paul’s goal was to complete his ministry. Seeing parenting as a sacred mission replaces some of our sorrow with anticipation as our children grow up. We are part of God’s plans for our children, and we want to see these plans realized. Of course, this doesn’t mean we should forget our children’s precious, early years; but it’s exciting to know that God is even more concerned with their growth and purposes than we are, and He has asked us to raise them. After all, they’re really His. When we focus on our eternal mandate, we grieve less and rejoice more with each passing stage.

New Horizons
God did not plan for children to remain under their parents’ care forever. As wrenching as it is, the empty nest is part of the program. With it comes the promise of God’s continued purpose for our lives. “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’” (Jer. 29:11) Hope does not depart with our children.

Parenting changes when our children are grown, but it isn’t over. As we enter the stage of adult friendship with our children, God wants to use us to bless and edify them. This stage can be both extremely challenging and richly rewarding. We may have to make some difficult decisions during the transitional years if our children are struggling to find their place in the world. We may go through some dark nights. This is intimidating, but I love the description of the wife in Proverbs 31:25: “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.” Another translation puts it, “She smiles at the future.” Our prior experience with God’s faithfulness assures us that He will help us with the transitional years.

Our ministry to others can expand with the empty nest. Most of us learn early that parenting is as much about our growth as it is our children’s. Parenting deepens our compassion, increases our wisdom, and develops our relationship with God. These are the very resources that someone else may be praying for.

Grace Forever
In Genesis 17:8, God promises Abraham, “The whole land of Canaan…. I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” This everlasting possession is God’s covenant of grace, symbolized in the Old Testament by the promised land of Canaan. It is wide open to our children. We can teach our kids the Bible’s plan of salvation, pray for them, and show them what it looks like for normal, flawed people to live in the grace of God. God loves our children even more than we do, and He wants them to spend eternity with Him. If they receive His grace, someday we will be together in heaven, where “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4). Although we must accept their departure from our homes in this life, we can anticipate an eternity of unbroken fellowship with them and our Saviour.

If our children are wandering, we have the sure hope that God answers prayer and can reach them with His love. We must never give up on a wayward child, but remember that we too have both failed and experienced God’s ability to restore us. The Bible exhorts us to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that our labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 15:58) We can trust God to intervene as we faithfully pray for our children. Even when they make disappointing choices (which everybody does!), we can remain steadfast in prayer, unconditional love, and healthy boundaries, knowing that God is working, and He is our hope.

We may grieve as we take the outgrown clothes and toys to the Goodwill and watch our children leave to build their own lives. But God’s promises provide assurance and hope, bringing us through the empty nest stage with peace. We can anticipate the joy of seeing our children fulfill God’s plans for them. We can look with excitement for the next phase of ministry God has prepared for us. And, we can look forward to sharing eternity with them, in our Redeemer’s presence.

Now I think I’ll plan my new bedroom.


  1. This is such a beautiful post. Thanks for sharing it. Yes, the poem brought tears to my eyes!
    It would be nice if you posted the link to this on my 'Parenting Teens and Adults" Group over on vB! I'm sure everyone would enjoy reading it! Just go to the groups main page and add the link to a comment!

    New Follower from vB! Hope you can stop by for a visit.
    Thanks, Becky Jane

  2. Thanks, Becky! I'm following your blog too. It's beautiful!

  3. Oh my goodness, this post really tugged at my heart. I know all too well those transitions from age to age, stage to stage. With Faith just turning 6, it become very evident to me how fast the clock is moving and that sadly, I will never get her baby years back. They are long gone. Thankfully, I have many memories and pictures to look back on, but it really isn't the same. Now I'm beginning to fully understand why mothers from older generations always give out the advice to hold onto your children just a little bit longer. Hug them. Snuggle with them. Laugh with them. Enjoy them. Because sooner than you care to realize, those moments will be fewer and farther between.

    Thank you for this post. God spoke to me strongly through your words. I believe tomorrow will be a blogging day off for me...and a mommy's heart will be fully attending to her baby's every desire all day long.


  4. Thank you for this post, and for sharing it with your friends at voiceBoks:-) So many precious moments to remember forever when you're a mom - I wouldn't trade even the hard times for anything!

    RJ, the HOPE Coach

    PS: following you:-)

  5. This is a great reminder, Lisa, to treasure the moments we have now and look forward to the future with grace and dignity. The poem encouraged me to look at my messy living room through new eyes! ha!

  6. Thanks everyone for your comments. I suspected this was a relevant topic for all of us! I know I certainly think about it a lot. It was a therapeutic post to write.

  7. where God closes a door, He will open a window. I found this is very true .


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