Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. — Ecclesiastes 9:9
My wife and I spent last week moving our younger daughter to Pennsylvania, where she’ll be joining her older sister in Lancaster and attending the Bible college there. Becky and I are now officially empty-nesters. It’s the first Monday of the rest of our lives, and I’m looking ahead to this new season of life and ministry with some mixed emotions. Obviously I’m no expert on navigating the empty nest, but I do have some thoughts I’ve ruminated on lately that have encouraged me, and if you’re in the same boat, maybe they’ll encourage you.
1. Everything’s going to be okay . . . but even if it’s not, everything’s still going to be okay.
When we moved our older daughter up north, I worried. A lot. About all kinds of things. What happens if she gets sick, if she has car trouble or gets in an accident, if she can’t make friends, if she struggles in school? On and on and on. And we’re halfway across the country and can’t be there to help her. Not being able to rush in and “fix it” was really stressing me out.
A few of those things have happened in the last two years, but I’m happy to report that everything has turned out okay. We’re glad that our girls will be together in the same city and that our older daughter has a good support system that our younger daughter will get to enjoy, but obviously there are still some anxieties that come with sending the baby out into the wild world. But I have learned the hard way over and over again that worrying about tomorrow robs today of its available joys.
And I have learned throughout my life that God is always good. My fears are often overwrought. I look back at things I worried about in the past and kick myself. Everything is going to be okay.
But . . . sometimes terrible things do happen. I’ve lived long enough to know that’s true too. We are commanded not to worry, but we aren’t commanded to have rose-colored glasses about life. But even then, God is good. He is still faithful in the difficult things, even in the worst things. So there’s a gracious comfort there from his Spirit. I can let tomorrow worry about tomorrow. I can, as Martin Luther said, pray and “let God worry.” Because even if something goes wrong halfway across the country, and I can’t be right there to make it all better, God can be trusted. Because he loves us, in the end — even if not at every point along the way — everything is going to be okay.
2. It’s okay to be sad/happy.
I’ve been a little confused about why I haven’t felt the same level of emotional heaviness this time around as I did when we dropped off our eldest for college. I kept thinking, “It’ll hit me when we finally drive away.” It didn’t. So I thought, “Maybe on the airplane.” It didn’t. After we arrived back at our big empty house, I sat outside in the night and stared at the empty space in the driveway where her car used to sit, and I did start to choke up a little.
When I focus on the memories of our girls as little girls — seeing their little girl playfulness and hearing their little girl voices — I can feel the heaviness of how quickly time passes and seems to slip away. Like a lot of dads, my mental images of my daughters is frozen in time — at about ages 6 and 8. Adding them to car insurance policies, watching them drive away and all over God’s creation, knowing they’re navigating rent and jobs and romantic relationships, etc., — well, it creates a kind of cognitive dissonance. I want to treat them like mature young women while remembering them as little girls. It makes me sad.
But I’m also happy. I’m happy that they’re together. I’m happy that they’re on the big adventure of life. I’m happy that they’re smart, independent, capable, mature. I’m happy most of all that they’re godly. That they love Jesus and they’re committed to the church. I’m happy that they’re happy.
And I’m happy about stepping through the door to this new season of life and ministry with my wife. Recently in the same week I had one friend say to me, “I can’t imagine living so far away from my kids; I’m sorry,” while another friend said, “You’re empty nesters now. That’s the dream.” And you know what? They’re both right. It’s normal to feel sad about watching your kids grow up and move out. It’s also normal to be excited about being “just us” again with your spouse. Beck and I will get to travel more together and, while we’ll never not be “mom and dad,” I’m looking forward to re-experiencing life more as husband and wife.
3. This was the goal all along.
One thing I keep coming back to in the midst of my nostalgia about my kids’ youth — and, admittedly, in my niggling fears about things I did wrong or at the least could have done better — is that watching your kids grow up and leave the nest is kind of the point of parenting. Sending them out was the goal all along. I do hope of course that our kids remain close to us relationally throughout adulthood. But our job as parents was not to coddle them into codependence with us, but to raise them to love Jesus and neighbor, to train them to be mature grownups. All of the raising in the home and the church was training for their followship of the Lord outside. That was the whole point. It’s silly to run the race to the best of your ability and then begrudge the finish line when it approaches.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. — Psalm 127:4