Inside the Empty Nest

By Steve Silver—Mature Living Magazine, August ’15

Here’s the scenario. You and your spouse will soon be empty nesters. Maybe you’re already there. Until now, your focus has been on nurturing, raising, loving and launching your children. You’ve thought about this time over the years, but it’s now becoming a reality. You may be a little excited by this sea change, but sad there won’t be kids at home at night—and a little apprehensive about how the empty space will be filled. You may be talking about the getaways you’ll enjoy, friends you’ll spend more time with, hobbies you’ll take up. Possibly even about retirement down the road.

These are normal considerations, but are you including God in your plans? Are you asking Him “what’s our purpose now that it’s just the two of us?” You’ve fulfilled your greatest of all privileges and challenges by preparing your children to enter the world grounded in the Lord. That was huge. While there’s fine-tuning left in that job, the major work is done. Now it’s time for God to lay out the rest of His plan for you two.

Yes, it’s to love each other in all the ways you have and will. Yes, it’s to continue cultivating the faith and character of your children. Yes, it’s to help each other grow in your relationships with the Lord. All good. But there’s more. There’s the next assignment.

You might be thinking: Assignment? Can’t we just enjoy our newfound freedom? Take a victory lap? Concentrate on each other?

I get it. That’s a normal reaction. When your last child leaves home something big happens. You have more TIME. A break makes sense. But think about it. If you were God, what would you want to do with YOU as a couple at this stage of life? Do with your time? How are you uniquely cut out to serve Him?

When you sit down to explore this together, some possibilities will arise. Through deliberate prayer and honest discussions, you’ll begin to discern in a few months or in a year or two exactly what the two of you are equipped and excited to do. Don’t look for or expect something extraordinary or out of context with your current routine. The “bloom where you’re planted” principle is usually God’s way, although anything is possible. Write down ideas. Hold on to the ones that stick and seem to make the most sense. Pressure test those with your pastor, close Christian friends and even your children. Seek their opinions. Ask God to eliminate ideas that don’t align with His plan. He’ll honor this process and give you a clear path forward.

Now, no exploration of how to serve Him together can avoid questioning the quality of your relationship. God can’t use you effectively together if you aren’t really TOGETHER—emotionally, spiritually and physically. What you’ve settled for and into over the years may not be adequate for God to use you as a team. If it’s not, and you’ll know that if you’re honest, His first order of business will be to get things right between you. You may not have been motivated to address the bad habits in your relationship before, but you will be now. God will see to that.

What are the impediments, the stumbling blocks? Competition? Selfishness? Anger? Resentment? Bitterness? Inconsideration? Disrespect? Criticism? Hurtful comments? Withholding affection? Self pity? All marriages have built up barriers. Pride is huge! Tear down that wall and most of the other stones will follow.

I won’t sugar coat it. The “quality of relationship” part is tougher than “mission exploration.” It requires unusual levels of honesty, willingness to see your faults, take blame, and an earnest desire to change. Not easy for most couples. Even Christian couples. However, the benefits of representing Him well together and finding renewed closeness in the process are well worth the effort. The juice is worth the squeeze.

After my wife and I became “just the two of us” about 20 years ago, God had to shovel garbage out of our relationship that had built up over the years. It took a while. Suffice it to say, we were down for the count more than once. But we learned the “art of apology” (a big bulldozer) over the decades. We were motivated by our common desire to be used effectively together. God was faithful and made us stronger and better equipped for our assignments.

My assignment turned out to be starting and leading a men’s golf ministry. My wife’s is as an author. She’s been by my side and helps me every day. I only hope I’ve been half as helpful to her. We also see our jobs as being emotionally and spiritually “there” for our grown children and grandchildren whenever and however they need us. If there’s a “sweet spot” in life with your spouse, family and the Lord, I think we’ve found ours.

So here’s another scenario. One in your future. You’ve been empty nesters for over 20 years. Your children are now adults with families of their own. Your grandchildren remind you of your children at their ages. They’ve more than filled that empty space. Your relationship with your spouse still has some friction, but the rough, sharp edges are in the process of becoming smooth stones. Most of your marriage is great. The parts that aren’t are manageable, improving and not interfering with God’s work. You have peace in knowing you’re in the Lord’s glide path. You see the fruits of your labors. Your lives have shifted well from building your family to enjoying and enhancing your children’s families. You two are well into fulfilling the assignments God revealed to you decades ago. You’re where you belong. That gives you great joy.

This isn’t a pipe dream. If you involve God at this critical inflection point, trusting Him with the rest of your lives, asking Him to fill your empty nest with His plans—then this scenario will become your reality.

That’s His promise!

By Steve Silver—Reprinted from Mature Living Magazine, August ’15