Changes of the Empty Nest Years

There are many things that seem to go along with the empty nest: Sometimes we need to downsize, moving to a smaller, lower-maintenance place. Some of us moms will begin working for the first time since our oldest was born, or find new opportunities for service. Regardless of the changes taking place at this time of our lives, there is one transition that all of us will have to deal with at some point: Our parents will pass away. My own parents have both been gone for nearly a decade now, and I still have that hollow feeling when I think of that loss. Whether our parents have been gone for years, are near death, or are still enjoying good health, the fact remains: When they are gone, we are orphans.

It is a strange reality to think on that fact. Who will we go to for help or advice? Who will anchor us when we feel lost in this life? What happens to our history and our roots when our parents are gone? Siblings are a blessing, but not everyone has them, and not everyone who does have them is on good terms with them. For most of us, our parents really are our roots and grounding in this world, and when they’re gone, who are we, and to whom do we belong?

The Answer to Our Losses

The answer is the same for us as it is for true orphans of this world who start life, for whatever reason, without parents: We belong to God. Created in His image, we are His. He determines everything that happens in our lives, and the timing of it. He knows when our parents will die, and He knows how He will sustain us in the months leading up to it, as well as the moments, days, and years after. The Psalmist tells us that God sets the lonely in families. Since my own mother’s death, he has tenderly cared for my need of mothering by sending a series of older widows into my life. Each one has mothered me and given me the opportunity to reprise my role as daughter.

Brothers & Sisters

Some of us have siblings who continue that rooting and grounding that was started by our parents. Some draw closer to their siblings after the death of their parents. Others, though, don’t have good relationships with their brothers and sisters. Perhaps there is a great divide in lifestyle or worldview and they’ve never gotten along. Some unbelieving siblings turn on their Christian sisters, becoming distant and harsh with them. This can intensify that feeling of being alone in the world after the death of the last remaining parent.

While there is no earthly substitute for the memory-rich relationship of siblings, God has provided brothers and sisters for His children by creating the Church. Within the body of Christ, we have siblings who were fore-ordained to be so before the foundation of the world! Just as He knew who would share our DNA, God knew how those relationships would play out. He provided His own blood to give those of us who would need it, a different common family. As Jesus began to prepare His disciples for His departure from this world, he comforted them with these words:

I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you (John 14:18).

Fellowship in the Body of Christ

Jesus will return one day, but in the meantime, He comes to us in friendships. As His Holy Spirit dwells in each of us, we seek out fellowship with one another, and sisterhood is the result. Regardless of the particulars of our family of origin, there is no substitute for the bond of love that we have in the Body of Christ. There is an understanding and a familiarity among Christian women that rivals and sometimes surpasses that of our earthly families; and there is a special appreciation for Christian sisters among “orphans” whose parents have passed away and who do not have believing siblings.

Though the loss of our parents will never be without pain and a sense of loneliness, we must take comfort in the truth: With God as our Father, we need never see ourselves as orphans. Rooted and grounded in Him, our family identity is secure.