The Empty Nest

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The Empty Nest

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As little as fifty years ago, a large proportion of people lived on farms and in small communities. Each family consisted of parents with about four children, and parents looked forward to leaving their lives’ work to their children. Farmers hoped at least one of their sons would take over the family farm. That meant that the other three children would be somewhere else (girls, for instance usually married and moved to wherever their husbands lived). The farm always remained “home” to all of the children—a gathering place. There were many small towns around and school was within walking distance. The development of huge pieces of farming equipment and the ability to work far more land than any ten farmers could handle in the past has changed the landscape of our society. People have flocked to larger and larger cities, and small towns are dying out and the family farm is quickly disappearing.

People have flocked to larger and larger cities, and small towns are dying out and the family farm is quickly disappearing.

In the modern world, there is often no farm to take over and thus all of the children will often leave the family home and live elsewhere. Parents are left with an empty nest, and since the average family has dropped to two or less children each, parents battle loneliness. Just as in the past almost 70% of people lived in small towns and on the land, today 70% live in large cities. Many factors have changed the demographics of our world. Huge industrial complexes beckon the young into careers that often take them far away. Educational opportunities in foreign lands and distant cities are appealing.

A growing international interaction has made the whole world almost like our back yard. Added to this scene is the requirement for years of schooling to obtain a good job. Young people are putting off starting their marriages and families until they are well settled in a career, and that means until they are 30-something years old. The result is that many parents rarely see their own children. Parents who are growing old and who ought to be enjoying the fruits of their labors are left to wonder if their children are well, seeing their grandchildren only on rare occasions and for short periods of time. The grandparents often have little impact on the grandchildren, and visits to their children’s homes can be strained. Only parents who have experienced the empty nest will truly understand what I mean.

Psalm 128 is a wonderful enumeration of the blessings God wants people to enjoy. To see your own children grow up like olive plants around your table (verse 3) and then watch your children's children grow (verse 6) are about the greatest blessings any parent can have. Proverbs 17:6 says that children's children are a crown of old men (and women, I might add). The glory of children is their father. Words like this from our Creator show us why so many adults have an empty feeling within themselves. They yearn for interaction with their children and grandchildren. As a matter of fact, God includes as one of His great Ten Commandments the admonition to “Honor your father and mother.” I can see no way on earth that you can do this from a great distance if you never go home. The nest is still empty and the hurt is there.

We live in a world of reality. And reality is that jobs exist in cities, which are not always, of our own choosing. Our children marry others from another area of the land and, in many cases, another nation. What are the solutions? Children who become adults and develop a nuclear family are also at risk of missing out on rewarding spiritual values that God has developed. Loneliness is a mental condition, brought on by the sense of loss and longing. “The best things in life are free” is an old saying. That is true. You cannot buy love, friendship, trust, concern, hope or truth. These are outgrowths of living according to the directions of our Creator. Honoring your parents is a deed or act that brings about love, appreciation, contentment and the spiritual gifts we all truly treasure. God does indicate that in marriage we are to leave our parent's home (Ephesians 5:31). There are times when we have no choice. Wars, famine, economic factors and the will of God all play a part.

As a matter of fact, God includes as one of His great Ten Commandments the admonition to “Honor your father and mother.”

Running after the physical gains and spurning the spiritual is a mistake that we feel in the inner core of our beings. Considering the self above all others is a source of true unhappiness. All humans focus on their personal needs, but the scriptures admonish us over and over again to avoid doing that to the exclusion of others—and especially to the exclusion of our parents and grandparents. It would be better to take a slightly lower paying job and stay within reach of home than to reach for the highest income and disregard the nest we grew up in. Yet, we must live and care for a family.

There are two wonderful stories in the Bible about men who had to leave their homes and families. The stories of Jacob and Joseph tell of long periods of time in which they were far from home and out of contact with their parents. Times were very different then. No telephones, poor highways and slow travel, no postal services and no means of recording the movements of others. If a person moved, it was rare that anyone knew where he or she finally ended up. Families lost members all too often. Jacob was forced to leave due to his own act of deception towards his brother and betrayal of his father. He must have suffered within himself all the years he was away. He faced the danger of his brother Esau's wrath by returning to the land of his father Isaac.

God instructed Jacob to do this (Genesis 31:3,13), and though Jacob returned with fear and trepidation that was well-grounded, both he and his brother Esau could not restrain themselves from rejoicing together after a twenty-year separation (Genesis 33:4). No doubt there was great jubilation as the wandering member returned to the nest. Joseph had somewhat of a different story. One wonders if God was reminding Jacob of the pain he caused his own father when God allowed Joseph to vanish for many years. Jacob was heartbroken and God did not whisper one word of encouragement to him. The story that unfolds is one that brings tears to the eyes of parents who have children living a long way from home. Joseph's question in Genesis 45:3 was, “Does my father still live?” One can readily see the emotion and deep love that existed in the family. This was an unusual family to be sure, but the events of life reminded them that they were indeed family.

Empty nests are often our own design. Loneliness along with the pain of the loss of this love stays with us and only fades with time. God indicates it ought not to be this way!