Looking ahead with joy
With their children grown and independent, Michele Morrison and her husband Don decided to mark this new season of life with a second honeymoon
Many parents feel their purpose in life is over when their last child leaves home. ‘Empty Nest’ is a recognised syndrome and there are a plethora of websites dedicated to giving advice and information on what can prove to be a difficult time of adjustment. Some of them I found very good: such as Focus on the Family’s www.troubledwith.com site, encouraging Empty Nesters to focus their energies on their partner rather than their children, and an Australian site (www.betterhealth.vic.gov), which suggests some antidotes to low self-esteem or lack of purpose, such as returning to work, retraining, or taking up volunteer work.
There was a startling statistic on www.marriage.about.com, showing a steady increase in the number of divorces among couples married for 30+ years, and it was on this site that I encountered a couple of wonderful appellations: ‘boomerang kids’ (suggesting the empty nest won’t stay that way for long!) and the ‘sandwich generation’ (caught between ageing parents and kids who have come of age). So now I’m not just a Baby Boomer and an Empty Nester, but I’m also in the Sandwich Generation!
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. A recent study undertaken by a professor at Wheaton College in the US has found that not all Empty Nesters are inconsolable. In fact, her results indicate that a high proportion of parents relish the greater freedom, the time to renew their friendship and love with their spouse, and the opportunity at long last to pursue their own goals.
One point common to all the sites I scanned is that it is important to recognise the milestone which has been reached, to realise that in terms of years on this planet, you’re only in mid-life, and to make positive plans for the future.
I smiled when I read that because it so closely parallels the word which my husband and I were given by God recently. “Look ahead with joy. Anticipate what I’m creating…” (Isaiah 65:18, The Message)
Don and I celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary last September (blissfully unaware of that divorce statistic). Thirty years of bringing up children, the first born 12 months after our wedding, the fourth coming along 11 years later. Thirty years of only a few rare, snatched breaks as a couple alone, and those with a travelling companion of guilt at leaving the children behind. Co-incident with our anniversary, our youngest son left home for university – making us Empty Nesters. Rather than haunting silent bedrooms, we opted, rather gleefully I must confess, for a second honeymoon.
I noted on the websites that this is one suggestion for easing the transition from full to empty nest, though there was a caution that a romantic holiday might reveal that somewhere along the road of bringing up children, the romance had died. A timely warning against complacency for young couples!
Princess Diana, heartbroken, once famously complained: “There are three of us in this marriage”. There are three of us in our marriage, too, but I am relieved that the third is not a rival but an enabler, a buffer, a voice of reason, a source of love. We were delighted that God kept the dates of our honeymoon free, for we had many confirmations of his loving presence with us throughout the two weeks.
We went to Italy and it was terrific. We ate when we were hungry, in bistros with esoteric menus and no whiff of burgers or chips. We could drive all day with no voices piping up, “Are we almost there?” We lingered for hours in the hot sun exploring the ruins of Pompeii, and nobody rolled their eyes in exasperated boredom. We imagined ourselves back in the first century, with the apostles, confronting the debauched pagan society and preaching Christ. We visited Herculaneum and walked up Vesuvius, without the distraction of clucking tongues or seismic sighs. It was bliss!
Best of all, we talked. Instead of sound-bite exchanges about business or family concerns, we shared big ideas and small. We laughed and acted silly, or enjoyed a tete a tete over a coffee, a glass of wine or gelati.
Our loosely planned itinerary allowed for the spontaneity which was impossible when travelling with four children and, halfway through the trip, we jettisoned our original plan altogether. We would see Florence another time. Having lingered longer than anticipated around busy Sorrento, soaking in the history, boating round the breath-taking Amalfi coast, and making a frightening foray into the grid-locked one-way street system that is Naples in an attempt to reach the best archaeological museum in Europe (which, incidentally, has no car park!), we fled to the Adriatic in search of a quiet spot on the spur of Italy.
Vieste was what we found, and it captured our hearts for four days, or maybe forever. It was there that God opened his arms and drew us into a great bear hug of love.
We had been thankful for God’s protection a few times during the holiday, such as the time when we were mugged by two women, a nursing baby and a young boy. They made a very creative and nearly successful attempt to lift Don’s wallet, but amidst a lot of shouting we emerged unscathed from the ambush.
God was definitely with us in the cute little Noddy car we hired (though where he sat, I can’t imagine!). The standard of driving on the Sorrento peninsula is shocking. Motorcycles swaybacked with man, woman and baby, overtaking cars overtaking buses on cliff-top corners. Traffic moving bumper-to-bumper at speed, drivers impatiently darting into every safety gap with millimetres to spare. Yet we returned the car in pristine condition. God was with us for sure.
In Vieste, our close encounter with God was intimate and loving. Despite neither speaking Italian nor being Roman Catholic, we dashed out of our hotel on the Saturday night when we heard a church bell ringing. We expected to sit with our own meditations while a Catholic mass in Italian swirled round us. Instead, we came into a group of about 40 believers holding hands and swaying reverently, singing, “Jesu, Jesu” to the tune of Amazing Grace. We grabbed their outstretched hands and joined in.
After a while, the worship leaders began to circulate, laying hands on people and praying. Three approached us and we understood they wanted to lay hands on us. One of the women had a word from the Lord about us, and an English speaker was found to translate. It was a word of love for Don and me, and a charge for us to let his love flow out through our lives.
Then there was the Scripture from Isaiah 65:16-25. It was a word of hope, and a vision for the future. Somehow this word was appropriated to us, to Don and me, at that moment. We were on the threshold of a new chapter in our lives, and the Lord was rejoicing in us; he had forgotten the former troubles, chaos and pain (anyone who has raised four children – or even one – will be grateful for this!). He assured us of his love, of our part in his plan, and encouraged us to look ahead to what he was doing, not back at what had been. Gesu ti ama. Hallelujah!
Don and I shared many moments of intimacy and many moments of hilarity in those two weeks. Our second honeymoon deepened our faith, renewed our love, refreshed our joy and recaptured our youth. As honeymoons go, it far outshone the first, because this time we had the humility and life experience to appreciate God’s presence with us – and because Don left his briefcase at home! But that’s another story.
Each season of our lives has its own beauty and challenges, joys and sorrows. The empty nest is a milestone, not a tombstone.
Our children, as my mother has often said, are only loaned to us for a time. God has a plan for each of them (Jeremiah 29:11) and his plan may take them far from us. (But hopefully they’ll be boomerang kids, who will always come back!) God also has a plan for us, for you and me, and it doesn’t finish when the kids leave home. He calls us to serve him right up until he takes us home to heaven, where we will carry on but in a new body (whew!), in a new home.
Jesus assures us that he will never leave us nor forsake us. Empty nest? Not really, for God has already settled in.
“Look ahead with joy. Anticipate what I’m creating.” The future is glorious, because the future is God.
Are you Empty Nesters?
Katharine Hill from the National Couples Support Network has the following advice:
- Take the opportunity of this new season to go on a marriage course or marriage weekend
- Relearn the art of conversing together
- Talk and listen to each other about how you feel
- Recognise that you might feel differently, identify and acknowledge feelings both of loss for the past and of excitement for the future
- Take up a new hobby or interest together
- Plan times both together and apart
- Make new opportunities for romance, be creative
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