A Separate Life: Thoughts About an Empty Nest

About nineteen years ago, I had a revelation. My youngest son was newly born, and my husband watched him so I could take my first outdoor walk postpartum. I loved my walks. In fact, these walks became a lifeline. I’d taken many of them while pregnant, my son along with me, as he grew inside, safe and warm.

On this day (husband watching newborn son) I was thoughtful as I approached my favorite, nature-laden destination. And I realized, rather suddenly:

“He is starting his life apart from me. This is the first time he has not been with me on my walk.”

It was a strange thought, but interesting,  and not necessarily sad. It represented a beginning. I knew this change was good and right for him, and for me. But I did mourn just a tiny bit, because it also represented an ending, and it illustrated the relentless passing of time.

Life is like that, isn’t it? There is bitter with the sweet.

Yesterday morning, I had a similar revelation, and one that bore more weight. We got home late the night before from dropping the same son off at college, several states away. We noticed the quiet house as we dropped our bags in the mudroom, but we were unpacking, finishing up a podcast, grabbing some dinner. And we were tired, so we fell into bed.

But the next morning, I woke early, and before my husband, which is what happens every day. I haven’t needed an alarm in years. And as I dressed for the day, the quiet grew louder. I ignored the silence, and pushed it aside, diving into my morning routines. But before I left the room where I dressed, realization elbowed its way forward to stand before me and stare me in the face:

“He is not at basketball practice. He is not at church. And he will not be home later.”

Always, when the house was this quiet, he would be home in a few hours. I froze as the thought sunk in, and then, I slumped down to sit on the edge of our bathtub, held my head in my hands, and cried. I thought about how he is no longer part of our daily routines, like waking up in the mornings, eating meals, and watching TV. He has been a good companion, and at that thought, I cried even harder. I’d been so busy for months helping him get ready to go that I hadn’t had time to think about it.

You see, I’ve been a mother since I was 19 years-old. I’ve homeschooled my six children for the past 26 years. And this feels like a strange, new world.

But just as I realized all those years ago, and even as I cried in that bathroom, I also knew that this is good and right and best for all of us. And just like all those years ago, this is a beginning, even though it feels more like an ending. And if it’s love, it’s not about me at all, is it?

In my humanity, more than anything, I want it all to be about me. It’s one of my greatest struggles.

Someone very wise once explained to me that love is about what is right and best for the other person, not necessarily what we or even they want. Yes, my son did want to go to college and play basketball, but I would be serving myself if I held him back, even with my tears. I would be doing myself a favor, and not doing him one.

And if I truly love him, I will do him a favor, and dry my tears. I will get up off the tub edge, put my grown-up clothes on, rejoice for him, encourage him, and support him in any way I can.

Don’t get me wrong:  there’s absolutely nothing wrong with grieving. There’s just something wrong with staying there. So, I’ve decided I’m not.

We have five other children, his nearest sibling being eight years older, and they all felt his leaving profoundly, right along with us. He was their little guy as much as ours, and many of them changed his diapers. But they love him, too, so if they cried, I never knew about it, and neither will he.

We’re all standing on the sideline, cheering him on. As Christians, we have no excuse to do anything else.

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“3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4, NIV)

13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

(1 Corinthians 13, NIV)

17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us.

(1 John 4:17-19)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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