Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The stuff of middle life: the quiet hours

In 2012, my youngest child went away to university. I thought I was used to having kids away; after all, I had watched my other two leave for school. I figured this empty nest thing was pretty much old hat for me.

And then my husband went on a business trip. It's one thing to adjust to having no one coming home at 3:00 p.m. It's another when there is no one coming home at all and you shut the lights out and go to bed in an empty house with only a neurotic Beagle for company. Those three days felt very long, indeed. I can, however, report I was much more prepared for this year's selection of business trips.

For those of us with children, this is the stuff of middle life: the kids don their wings, fly the coop, and leave you in the silence with the dog. This was more of an adjustment than I anticipated. It wasn't those first few days that I struggled with, but rather the months following, as I learned (and am still learning) to live a new normal.

When I mentioned this struggle to friends, I was advised to get a job. I thought about it. As I considered my friends who had returned to work, I was well aware of the sacrifices they made in their lives in order to go to work. I wanted to keep teaching, to be able to drop everything when the kids visit, and to have time for reading and study. And even if we do have a job, it doesn't change the reality that when kids leave home, they leave a space in our lives, and that takes getting used to. It is the way it supposed to be. We raise them to release them.

As I  continue to adjust to their absence, I find Psalm 16 a great comfort. David is completely confident in God. The God of Israel is his Lord, and David has no good apart from Him (Psalm 16:1-2). God is David's "portion," and has given him an "inheritance." When David is at God's right hand, he will not be shaken (Psalm 16:8). His heart is glad (Psalm 16:9). He trusts God not only for his present care but for his future hope (Psalm 16:10). The Psalm ends with these words:
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
David's confidence can be my confidence; your confidence. And confidence in the Lord is what we desperately need when we face new circumstances. We may not know what is coming, but we can know for a certainty that if we are at God's right hand, we will not be shaken.

Certainly, we can get a job, or volunteer, or take on any number of activities on when our kids leave, but those may not completely eliminate the loneliness that can accompany their absence. We are lonely for their fellowship, their companionship, and they are gone. Being busy is good, but only God can properly fill the empty spaces that may be left when our kids grow up and become independent. We have to learn to rejoice in His presence no matter how many people are (or are not) coming home at the end of the day.

Derek Kidner comments on these last verses of Psalm 16:
The joy (lit. joys) and pleasures are presented as wholly satisfying and endlessly varied for they are found in both what He is and what He gives -- joys of his face (the meaning of presence) and of his right hand. 
God is wholly satisfying. We can rest in His presence. We find joy and pleasure because of who He is: entirely good.

The solitude He gives me is good, and because God is omnipresent, I am never alone. For now, the quiet hours are good, and they are filled with the joy of being in his presence, where there are pleasures forevermore.


  1. Parents of disabled children face the opposite circumstance: our adult children are never able to leave the nest. There is great sadness in that---even loneliness---but our hope is the same as yours. In our circumstances, "God is wholly satisfying. We can rest in His presence. We find joy and pleasure because of who He is: entirely good." We trust God for our/our child's present care and our future hope.

    1. Rosemary, I actually thought of you when I edited this yesterday. We have friends who have a disabled child, and I know that is their burden as well. And yes, our hope is the same as yours. When I am tempted to feel sorry for myself, I try to remember that others have the opposite circumstance.