Instead of waking up to the drone of my daughter’s fan vibrating through the floors or the “ch-CHK” of the bathroom door closing behind my son (How can one person make so much noise shutting a door?), today I was awakened by… nothing.
I am an empty nester now.
We recently dropped off one daughter to fly across the world and join a mission team. Instead of heading home to no one, Rob and I jumped back in the car to go to the other daughter and son at college. We told ourselves we were going because they needed the stuff they’d forgotten to pack. I told myself they needed my homemade cookies after a couple weeks of cafeteria food. We spent the afternoon in Starbucks watching them do homework. It beat the alternative of the empty house.
I bought a half-gallon of milk today, instead of a full gallon. When I came home from running errands, everything was still where I left it. I didn’t trip over anyone’s shoes on my way in.
The question of what to do with ourselves looms. I borrowed videos from the library to give us evening options, since “do something with the kids” is no longer on the table. Nor is “have a conversation with the kids” or “ask the kids where they’re going and when they’ll be home”. When the phone rings, I always hope it will be one of the kids.
Watching my kids come into their adventures is exactly what I raised them to do. But the question remains: if my most important purpose has been fulfilled, then does that mean I no longer have anything important left? I tend to throw myself into what I focus on, and for 20 years it’s been my kids. Even the volunteer stuff has had to do with the kids: youth group leader, homeschool co-op teacher. My life has revolved around them. I don’t regret it. I am not a multi-tasker.
The trick has been to find a new purpose without feeling like I’m lessening my childrens’ importance in my life. It’s sort of like losing a loved one. How do you edge toward happiness without betraying the ones you lost? My thinking says, If my greatest purpose has been raising my kids, how can I search for another great purpose that doesn’t include them? If they’re supposed to be my greatest achievement, then how can I wish for another great purpose to come my way? I’m afraid of success. If I find something else that catches my passionate focus, it might be like saying that raising my kids wasn’t enough.
But the thing is, motherhood is supposed to be a relationship that results in letting go. I do my children a disservice if I think my life is still supposed to revolve around them. They’re not even in the same state as me, for Pete’s sake. It’s counterintuitive: by releasing them to the hands of their Heavenly Father, I am doing them the greatest service I can at this stage of their lives. I know I need to let them move on… and move on myself.
I was chatting with God about all this and heard His whisper drift across my thoughts: “You had purpose before you had kids, and you still have purpose now… because your purpose is based on who you are, not what you’ve done.”
I tend to get so caught up in tasks that I equate accomplishment with purpose. The more I get done, the more sense of purpose I have. The busy-ness of child rearing has led to my sense of worth. Now that I’m not as busy – let’s face it, I could sit in bed all day and no one would know – my sense of identity has taken a hit. If I’m not a full-time mom, who am I then? The relentless loop in my head has wanted to accuse me of purposelessness.
But no one can live with insignificance. It’s not in our nature. My cultural view of purpose based on accomplishment isn’t making sense for me anymore, so I am driven to God and what He says is purposeful. God usually leaves me to my own devices just long enough to see they’re not working. He’s been using this empty nest time to take me back to the fundamentals of who I am in Him. The more I understand how God views worth and purpose, which is practically the opposite of how our culture views it, the more I can see He has me right where He wants me.
And slowly, my daily life has begun to seem purposeful. The ordinary acts of meeting a friend for coffee, or leading my Tuesday Bible study, or having a garage sale to hand off the stuff I can’t use anymore to people who can… these things are enough because they are feeding my soul. And my original plan to (finally!) head for the corporate ladder, which I thought I needed to do, has been shelved in favor of continuing my small at-home bakery.
Oh, and when the kids call, I will have time to answer. Always. After all, some things don’t change.