We wish we could say we adjusted easily to the empty nest years. But we didn’t.
For nearly 30 years, Barbara poured most of her energy into raising our six children—and she loved it. When that period ended, she felt somewhat lost. She knew she would always be a mother, and she was overjoyed to now have grandchildren, but it was all different. She looked at her future and wondered, What am I going to do with the rest of my life?
In typical male fashion, I thought I'd help Barbara through this, and then we'd ride off into the sunset together. But I soon learned that the adjustment was difficult for me as well. I still had my work responsibilities, but I became a bit melancholy as I thought of how our lives had changed. I realized I couldn’t go through the rest of my life focusing on those memories.
Moving from empty nest to prime time
It took a few years, but we began to see that the empty nest years should be a time of transition. The rest of our lives were designed by God to be fruitful and purposeful. These are the years of "prime time"—when we can pursue the passions God has given us. For many, these can be their years of greatest influence for the kingdom.
Here are a few suggestions for negotiating the transition to the prime time years.
1. Use the time to work on your marriage relationship. For many couples it's not easy to adjust to being together without children for the first time in a couple of decades. Perhaps you need to starting dating each other again—or take off for a weekend of fun and adventure at some romantic locale. Or attend one of FamilyLife's Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways to focus on understanding God's purposes and plan for your marriage.
2. Take time to reassess and reevaluate your lives. In our case, Barbara evaluated everything in her life—how she's going to relate to her kids and to me, what she is good at and not good at. She also took some watercolor classes to reawaken an important part of her life that lay dormant for quite awhile.
3. Determine your mission for the final years of your life. You may have several decades ahead of you, and it's important to ask God to give you some direction on how He wants to use you during these years of prime time.
For many of you, grandparenting will be part of this mission. The influence you can have on your children is profound, and we encourage you to take this seriously.
Yet remember that this is only part of what God has called us to do. Consider two challenging passages of Scripture in the Gospel of Matthew. In Matthew 22:35-40, Jesus is asked, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?"
And He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets."
In this passage Jesus tells us that nothing is more important in life than loving God and loving other people. Now, look at Christ's words to His disciples just before He ascended to heaven in Matthew 28:18-20:
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
Here Jesus articulates the greatest job assignment ever given—the Great Commission of proclaiming the gospel of redemption and reconciliation to those who are lost. Each of us will be used in different ways, but I want to challenge you with this thought: If your mission does not include the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, you're going to miss life.
For Barbara, her mission has involved creating the Ever Thine Home® collection of resources for FamilyLife. These resources grew from her love of art and her passion for helping mothers raise their children.
Fortunately the empty nest years didn’t last long for us. We’re solidly in prime time now. And we’re loving it.
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