FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Discovering Your Purpose

with Barbara Rainey, Susan Yates | September 17, 2008
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The kids are gone. The house is empty. What will you do now? Today on the broadcast, Dennis Rainey welcomes his wife, Barbara, and family friend Susan Yates, to talk about the second half of life called the empty nest. Barbara and Susan, authors of the book Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest, encourage women to develop those interests they may have put off while raising children and to remember that there’s still plenty of time to impact the world and future generations.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • The kids are gone. The house is empty. What will you do now? Today on the broadcast, Dennis Rainey welcomes his wife, Barbara, and family friend Susan Yates, to talk about the second half of life called the empty nest. Barbara and Susan, authors of the book Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest, encourage women to develop those interests they may have put off while raising children and to remember that there’s still plenty of time to impact the world and future generations.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

The kids are gone. The house is empty.

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Discovering Your Purpose

With Barbara Rainey, Susan Yates
September 17, 2008
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Bob: If you've been a mom for 20-plus years, and now the kids are gone, it's a great opportunity here for you to reconnect with your husband and start doing the things he's been doing for all those years, right?  Barbara Rainey says yes, but …

Barbara: If I'm only doing what my husband is doing 100 percent, and his purpose is my purpose, and his calling is my calling, what am I going to do if God takes him home someday?  So I need to have some things that I know I'm good at that God has built into my life that I can fall back on someday.  So it's really I need to know what my gifts are, I need to develop them, I need to see what God is calling me to do, because there will come a day that God will take one of us home and, statistically, more women are left as widows than husbands as widowers.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, September 17th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  What does marriage look like once the kids are gone?  We'll talk about that today.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition.  You know, it just occurred to me.  I've been sitting here, we've been talking all this week about the empty nest and about the transition into the empty nest and particularly how it hits a woman, how it hits a mom, but I've been thinking about summer vacation, and you know how the first few weeks of summer vacation when you don't have a schedule, and you can sleep a little later, and you can just kind of – you can just relax a little bit. 

The first few weeks, you're going, "This is great."  By the end of summer vacation, you're thinking to yourself …

Dennis: Oh, yeah.

Bob: "I need some schedule back in my life."

Dennis: Bring on the purpose and …

Bob: Because there's something about having to get up and do something that makes life meaningful, and it hit me that the empty nest, especially if a mom has been a stay-at-home mom, all of a sudden, she's wondering, "Well, what do I need to get up for?  There are no kids to take care of.  I can just lay here as long" – she could be on permanent summer vacation for the rest of her life.


Susan: But that's depressing.

Dennis: That really is.

Barbara: After a while, it's depressing.

Dennis: And we have a couple of ladies who have worked that through.  They are now sleeping in until 9 without depression.


Susan Yates and Barbara Rainey join us.  Welcome back, ladies.

Barbara: Thanks.

Susan: Thanks, it's fun to be with you all.

Dennis: They are the co-authors of "Barbara and Susan's Guide to the Empty Nest" …

Bob: And one of them is married to the host of the program, right?

Dennis: That's right.  The other one is married to John Yates, who is an Anglican pastor in Falls Church, Virginia, and together Susan and John speak at our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences and let's talk about the purpose of the empty nest.

I've done a good job of not making a wisecrack about the empty nest, but I do not like the symbol of the empty nest.

Bob: You don't like that metaphor?

Dennis: No, I think the metaphor is fine.  The picture of an empty nest, to me, speaks of what was, what will never be again, what is without purpose …

Bob: Yeah, it's useless.  It's up there in the tree, and it's going to get blown out pretty soon.

Dennis: The only usefulness for the empty nest is for an antique store – somebody to gather it down and to sell it as an object of art.

Bob: Right.

Dennis: And I think God goes way beyond the empty nest, and He gives us a purpose for the next season in our lives, and I know that's why, Barbara, you and Susan wrote this book.

Bob: Well, now, wait.  Do you have a different symbol?  If it's not the empty nest, have you come up with something you think is a better picture of this phase of life, this chapter?

Dennis: Yeah, but it doesn't fit women.

Bob: Well, what is it?

Dennis: Half-time, fourth quarter.  You know, both are male – are male metaphors, and they don't work.  So maybe our listeners can give us a good metaphor for what is beyond the empty nest that has purpose, adventure, passion, because I think God has that for every woman way beyond the empty nest.

Bob: Well, I just think it's wise that neither of your wrote "Barbara and Susan's Guide to the Fourth Quarter" because that's probably …


Barbara: That probably wouldn't have worked, would it?

Dennis: You know, it is the best description we have. 

Susan: Actually, I'm a real football fan.

Barbara: I am, too.

Susan: I'm the one in the family that stays up watching "Monday Night Football."  So I could relate to that.

Dennis: So you could go with "Fourth Quarter?"

Susan: I could go with fourth quarter.

Bob: Well, talk about purpose and what you think God had in mind for this season of life and then how you figured out what God had in mind for this season of life as you got there?

Barbara: Well, I think just to continue on our little discussion about the nest being empty, I think what God wants us to do is fill it with something else.  I don't think He intends for it to stay empty.  It's just that season is over of raising the chicks, and when you get them out of the nest, then you need to decide what you're going to fill your nest with.  I don't think God wants us to keep it empty. 

So it could be that you're going to mentor some other young women, and those women are going to come and go in your life, and so your nest is going to be full with that.  Or it could be all kinds of things, but I think the metaphor of the empty nest, the picture of the empty nest, only works so far, and then you've got to kind of rethink it, and I think what Susan and I are saying is that God wants us to have a new purpose beyond raising our chicks and scooting them out of the nest.  He wants us to find another purpose that fills our nest.

Dennis: I'm sorry, I can't get beyond the chicks.  We raised four chicks and two roosters.


But you do kick them out, they do leave.

Barbara: That's right.

Dennis: Where do we start, then?  Where does a woman begin the process of learning what she needs to fill her nest with, Susan?

Susan: Well, I think she looks at how God's used her in the past.  That's what we have really discovered as we've talked to women across the country who are into their new vision.  One of the disciplines that they took was to look at how God has used them in their past, and, you know, some of it goes back to the old "Chariots of Fire" movie, you know, Eric Little, when he said, "When I run, I feel His pleasure."  When do you feel His pleasure?  What drives your engines?  That's a very good question.  A very good question is asking your husband, "What do you see my gifts are?"  Asking your girlfriends or those who know you well, and also asking your children.  Now, that can be very fun as well as enlightening to ask your kids.  "Okay, kids, as I'm thinking about my next season in life, I love you all, I'm grateful for who you've become, I am excited about your future, and now I'm thinking about what God has for me now that you all are all launched.  I'm so thankful for you.  As you look at me, you've grown up with me.  How do you see my gifts?  I would love your feedback.  Shoot me an email, let me know the ideas you might have for how God might use me in the future."

Not only does this give you great feedback, but what this does is it's you going to your children for advice, and that is always a good thing.

Bob: It's also you letting your children know that your life is going to be about more than them, which may give them a sense of relief that Mom is not going to be here meddling all the time, or it may give them a sense of "I need to be responsible for my life because Mom's not going to be here taking care of me for the rest of my life."

Susan: Right.  And then the step 2 of that question, which Johnny and I have talked about doing but haven't done yet but want very much to do is to say to our kids, as I know Dennis and Barbara are thinking in the same vein, "Okay, gang, as you look at us, if God gives us 10 to 20 more years, how do you see us on a mission together?" 

So, first of all, it's your own personal mission as a woman, as a mother, what do you see my gifts are, but then a second question at some other point, would be how do you see God using us together as a team perhaps in ways that we haven't been able to be used in the past?

Dennis: And, Susan, I think what that does is model for your children, I think, a biblical picture of what it looks like to move into the golden years of life.

Susan: And it also puts a layer on that they want to do it together, which also screams to them, "Boy, marriage doesn't die in the empty nest.  Marriage gets revived."

Bob: Barbara, let me ask you about that, because as you were trying to think through, "Okay, what's my purpose for this season of life," did you have to think, "What's my purpose just for me," and then "What's my purpose for Dennis and me together, and how am I going to balance both of those, and which do I give a priority to," and were you thinking along two tracks while you were thinking about it?

Barbara: Well, I was, but primarily I was thinking about what am I good at first?  Because I put so much of that on hold for so many, many years.  I've put my interests on hold and my talents on hold and just personal development on hold.  I've spent most of my time and energy trying to figure out how to develop my kids, how to help my kids figure out what their talents and gifts and interests were and how to grow their talents and gifts and interests – not mine.

And so I felt like I needed to figure out what I was good at first, and so one of the things I did that we recommend in the book is to know your story, which is what Susan was talking about, know what you've been good at in the past, what are some of those threads that have been a part of your life from the very beginning, and maybe you haven't had a chance to develop them, but it's been an interest that's been there for many, many years.

So as I look back at my history, that's one of the ones I want to pull forward into the future because it's a part of who I am, and it's a part of what's important to me.

Bob: Our friend, Dr. Dan Allender, has written a book.  You may have seen it – a book called "To Be Told," and the thesis of that book is that we need to examine our story because a part of what God is doing in our lives is found in our story.

Barbara: Exactly, in fact, we quote Dan in our book in a couple of places because that is a part of figuring out what God wants to do with you is what has He written into the story of your life in the past that He wants to continue to write in the future.  So I highly recommend that book.

Bob: Well, what if you're thinking about, "Okay, my gifts and my abilities and my talents and these things I've put on hold, and I want this personal development," and then you go, "And, you know, that doesn't leave a whole lot of time for this mission together with my husband thing, so I'll do my thing, and he does his," is that okay?

Barbara: Well, I think that's a temptation, but I don't think it's the best choice.

Dennis: No.


Barbara: No, I mean, the whole purpose of it is for me to figure out what my strengths are and how we can work together.  Now, it may be that I have some interests in some things that I'm doing on my own, and he has some things that he's doing on his own, but where can we merge our talents and our vision and our purpose so that we have things that we're living for together.  If I'm only doing what my husband is doing, what am I going to do if God takes him home someday?

So I need to have some things that I know I'm good at that God has built into my life that I can fall back on someday.  So it's really a both and.  I need to know what my gifts are, I need to develop them, I need to see what God is calling me to do.  I need to do it in conjunction with him, but I don't need to just pattern my life totally after my husband.  I'm going to do everything he does, because there will come a day that God will take one of us home and, statistically, more women are left as widows than husbands as widowers.

Bob: Do you agree with your wife in this area?

Dennis: I do, I really do and, personally, I think what she's talking about here could bring enormous impact to the body of Christ around the world.  If we could see a generation of women unleashed with their own purpose as well as a generation of couples who have a common mission and vision together, it leverages both the men and women together, their gifts, their passions, and what God is up to in their lives and, personally, I think the family could be the major place that benefits the most, because in every church in America there are couples right now listening to us challenge them to consider what their mission is. 

What if they focused locally in their church?  Women becoming Titus 2 women, mentors who mentor younger women around how to love their husbands and how to raise their children and how to balance the pressures and demands of life.  And what about a generation of couples who become mentors and models and coaches to these young couples who are starting out their marriages together?

I personally believe this is one of the greatest opportunities for ministry, and it's why FamilyLife has started to develop a new ministry to churches in partnership with Dr. Robert Lewis and a ministry called Life Ready, to really, I think, equip laymen and women to make a difference in their local communities, their local churches.

Bob: Susan, what about the Mom who says, "Okay, well, I've thought about what my meaning and my purpose in life is, and I know what it is, and it's to be a mom, and I don't have any kids at home anymore, so it looks like my meaning and purpose is over.  What if she feels like that's what God made me to be, and now I can't be that anymore.

Susan: Many women will feel that initially.  It's what do you do with that feeling, because the reality is God has something else, and so while we may feel one thing, that doesn't necessarily make the reality a fact.

And I think you will find many women, particularly those who have homeschooled their children all the way through, that has been their focus, and they need particularly to begin to think what am I going to do when they leave before they leave?  Barbara and I have both found that a wise woman will think about the empty nest by the time her last child is a sophomore or junior in high school and begin to move and begin to do some exploratory testing, begin to do some dreaming with her husband as to what she will do.

Now, she may wind up, perhaps, mentoring other homeschool mothers.  She may wind up teaching, if that's her passion.  But she needs to begin to think about her career after the children leave.  It can, in some cases, be a lot harder for homeschool moms to navigate the empty nest than it can be for a mom who has worked outside the home.

Although Barbara and I want to be careful to say it hits you both, whether you have worked full time in the corporate world while raising your children, or whether you have been at home, because we're moms.  We're going to feel this.

So my point really is – carefully begin to consider it before it hits you and begin to be proactive and intentional in taking some tests to evaluate what you might do with your gifts.

Barbara: I would just add to that those women who feel like being a mom has been my call, and I can't imagine doing anything else – there are lots of ways that God would use that passion for children because, really, that's what that is, in your empty nest years.  There are so many children who could be mentored and who could be loved and, as Susan mentioned, teaching.  But there are lots of ways that God would want you to use your heart for children and that passion that you have for mothering outside of parenting your own children.  So I don't think that's a thing to be looked down on at all.

Bob: Did you feel some of that?  Like, my best thing is being a mom and now I can't do that anymore?

Barbara: In some regards, but I didn't feel it so strongly that I wanted to go adopt an orphanage.  Even though I have a heart for orphans, I didn't personally want to go back to that to such a degree that I was actually parenting again.  But I do think that God allows us the opportunity to love on children in other ways.

I mean, having grandchildren gives us a wonderful opportunity to love on children, and we're not having to parent them and train them.  We just get to love on them, and that's the fun part.

Dennis: One of the things you talk about in the book is you actually list a number of resources that women can tap into to discover their strengths, abilities, gifts, passions.  In fact, one expert you quote says that the average person has between 100 and 150 strengths, abilities, talents – that's remarkable.  I don't think most women think of themselves in those terms.

Barbara: I don't think most people think of themselves in those terms, because that is a staggering number.  We might think we have a talent or two, or a strength or two, but anywhere near 100 sounds staggering.

Dennis: So what are some of the tests or resources that you point people to to be able to better uncover what they're good at?

Barbara: Well, we list several in the book – some of them are books to read, some of them are online assessments that you can go online at, sign in, pay with a credit card.  They are not that expensive.  Some of them are $15, some are $25.  It's not that much money to go online to some of these sites and take a personal assessment that will measure your strengths, your weaknesses, your personality type.  We list one for spiritual gifts.  If you've never done a spiritual gift inventory of the gifts that God has given you as a believer in Christ, that resource is free.  You can go online and find out what your spiritual gift is.

But it's taking an assessment of who you are spiritually, who you are in your gifting, and who you are in your personality strengths, and then putting that together to see how has God packaged me and what are the unique abilities that I have to offer to the world, and how might God want to use me?

Dennis: And I promise, for the man who doesn't know what to say to his wife and isn't quite sure how they're going to have a conversation, have your wife take these tests.  It will give you plenty to talk about.  Barbara and I have been talking about some of the results of her tests and what she is kind of mulling over in her mind, and it really provides for some great conversation to affirm your wife in these areas of gift.

Bob: Well, and, Susan, you encourage women to develop a mission statement for this season of life, as well, don't you? 

Susan: We do, and also to develop one with their husbands.  It's helpful, too – I love the fact that Dennis has been so encouraging with Barbara in this, but it's also great for the men to take some of these tests, and then …

Dennis: It's not a test, Susan, Barbara just wrote me a note.

Barbara: We don't want people to be frightened and say, "Oh, I …

Dennis: I can fail!

Barbara: They are assessments and profiles.

Dennis: Assessments and profiles, I stand corrected.

Bob: All right, corrected publicly, I might add.

Barbara: Well, we just don't want people to shy away from doing something.

Susan: No, they're helpful hints, and I think it's great to hear the two things that Dennis and Barbara discovered about each other as Dennis took the assessment as well, and it showed up some rather humorous differences.

Bob: Oh, really?  I didn't hear about this.  What were some of the …

Dennis: I'm not sure what they're talking about.  I have convenient amnesia.

Barbara: Oh, yes, you do.  Oh, yes, you do.

Bob: What were some of those differences, Barbara?

Barbara: Well …

Dennis: Go right ahead, sweetheart.

Barbara: We took the assessment together, and the thing that we learned about each other that we've continued to laugh about and tease each other about –

[Dennis makes static noise]

Dennis: Hear the static?  Can't hear it, can you, Bob?

Barbara: You don't want me to talk about it?

Dennis: No, go ahead, it's fine.

Barbara: Anyway, by taking this one assessment, what we discovered is that we have a different pace in life, and my husband is fast-paced, and I am slow-paced.

Bob: Oh, now, hang on.  You had to take an assessment to figure that out?


Barbara: Yes, we did, is that not remarkable?

Bob: You've been married 35 years and …

Dennis: We paid cash money for that assessment.


Barbara: Oh, I think we knew it.  I think what it did for us is it gave it a name.

Dennis: Oh, it did, it quantified it.

Barbara: And so now we talk about our differences in pace all the time, and he's outrunning me, and I'm panting to keep up, and I'll say, "I just travel at a different pace than you do."

Bob: Okay …

Barbara: He'll go, "Oh, yeah, that's right.

Bob: I'm here to tell you, for $25, I'll tell you some other ways you can …


Dennis: Well, I feel like I have to summarize, because we've talked about a lot of good stuff.

Bob: Do it quick, do it at a fast pace, if you can.

Barbara: I think he can.

Dennis: Number one, God has a purpose for every person.  Ephesians 2:10, "We are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which He has prepared beforehand that we should walk in." 

Secondly, you need to pray and listen to what God's Word has to say to you about your mission and purpose in life.  It does speak to that.

Number three, look back over your life, take a look at the story of what God's done, relive that story with your spouse, talk about it, and I'm been talking to husbands at this point – take a good look at that story in your wife's life, and help her discover her purpose.

And, finally, fourth, listen to others, and I think Susan's advice in writing an e-mail to your kids once they're adults and say "What do you think I'm really gifted in doing as a mom, as a woman, and as a follower of Christ?"  And then the observation of what you're good at as a couple.  I think those are two great questions and, frankly, we haven't done that, and I'm looking forward to seeing the e-mail traffic that will create, because we will get some opinions, I promise you, we will get some opinions.

Barbara: And they won't all be honest.  I think we'll get some good jokes and laughs out of it.


Bob: Well, but the point is that you may get some insight, and you may have some of your kids who step up and take the assignment and they provide you with some clues as to what they think God might have you do, and it's a part of the process that you go through.

You know, we mentioned the book earlier that Dr. Dan Allender has written called "To Be Told," where you take a hard look at your own story.  That's one of the books that we have in our FamilyLife Resource Center and, in fact, if our listeners are interested in getting your book on the empty nest and Dan's book, "To Be Told," we're making that available in a special offer.

You can go to our website,  On the right side of the home page, you'll see a box that says "Today's Broadcast," and if you click where it says "Learn More," that will take you to an area of the site where you can get more information about Dan's book and about Susan and Barbara's book on the empty nest and about other resources we have available to help women and couples during this time of life.

Again, the website is, and you need to click on the right side of the home page where it says "Today's Broadcast" in order to get more information about these resources.  Or simply call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team will let you know what's available and how you can have the resources you need sent to you.

In addition, we'd like to invite you to call us this week.  We have a CD that we'd love to send you.  It's a message from our friends, Linda and Jody Dillow, and they were speaking to a number of couples a few years ago on the subject of marital intimacy, and we thought the message was particularly good, and we thought we'd make it available to FamilyLife Today listeners this week. 

All you have to do is call and request it.  The number is 1-800-FLTODAY.  Ask for the CD on "The Four Flames of Marital Intimacy," and do us a favor, if you can – let us know the call letters of the station on which you hear FamilyLife Today.  We always like to know who is listening and where you're listening.  Again, the CD is called "The Four Flames of Marital Intimacy," and you can request it when you call 1-800-368-6329.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  We're happy to send this free CD out to you, and we hope you find it helpful.

Now, tomorrow we're going to continue our weeklong look at the issues couples face during the empty nest years.  I hope you can be with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow.  


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