The Nest May be Empty, But the Heart is Full

A Basking Butterfly

Talk about pondering! I’ve been pondering this thing (or era, or phase, or freedom, or time of life) everyone calls “empty nest syndrome” for quite a while. Just like that, in the blink of an eye, in a mere twinkle, in a breath, 25 years of fairly intensive mothering morphs into the next phase, on to the next chapter. It’s something I’ve known would and should happen, but not something I’ve been eagerly anticipating. It’s now the day after Labor Day – most schools are now in session. It’s time to put this pondering to rest.

Several of our closest friends are experiencing their youngest children heading off to college this fall.  A few months ago our girls suggested we should all get tattoos displaying an empty nest. Not to be left out, I even posted a picture of an empty nest just for fun as our family’s “Back to School” picture on the first day of school for our county school system.

But the more I’ve thought about the dreaded empty nest, the more I’ve realized what a misnomer it really is. Once little baby birds break free of their shells, are strengthened and taught to fly by their momma and poppa birds – they take off – after a short while they don’t return. Usually the nest is quickly abandoned entirely by the family.  Not so our homes and our families!

The Bible likens children to arrows filling our quivers. I’ve thought about baby birds, I’ve thought about arrows. Mostly, I’ve been thinking about butterflies. And what do they all have in common – they fly!

So, in this somewhat anticipated melancholy time of transition in my life, I’ve decided I’m  going to choose to focus, not on the emptiness resulting from my children moving away from me, but on a heart that is amazingly full because of their very existence and presence in my life.  Those blessings aren’t ending, they are just being adjusted and broadened and lifted to new heights.

Have you ever mistaken the lyrics in a song? The group Casting Crowns has a song entitled “Thrive.” There is a line in the song that says, “We were made to thrive.” Yet, every time I hear it, I think it says, “We were made to fly.” Either way – thrive, fly – our children were created and given to us as the sweetest gifts to love, protect, nurture, teach, train, correct and then release – to thrive – to fly!

Either way – thrive, fly – our children were created and given to us as the sweetest gifts to love, protect, nurture, teach, train, correct and then release – to thrive – to fly!

That’s why I’ve been thinking about butterflies. They are nurtured and grown in the protection of a cocoon designed specifically for them. Once they have reached the stage of development to head out on their own, they begin to break free of their special home. But there is one interesting fact about butterflies – they cannot fly without the sun, they can’t fly without warmth.

Whether a nest, or a quiver, or a cocoon – our homes are the shelter in place for our sons and daughters until such time as they are ready to fly away from us – to thrive on their own.

This “fairly intensive mother,” together with her “less intense” husband, has sought to create a safe haven for our children. One that has nurtured and loved, had fun alongside correction, hoped, dreamed (and sometimes screamed), laughed and cried, accused and forgiven. We have attempted to provide a place of warmth (which anyone who has spent any time here will know is an oxymoron because we keep our heat so low – but we do provide blankets!) We have pointed our girls toward the Son in the hopes that He will truly be their sheltering rock and source of everlasting warmth. We have prepared them for this time – even if we failed to fully prepare ourselves.

And the lesson I’ve learned – the upshot of my ponderings about this new stage of life?   – – We shouldn’t wait until they are headed out the door to train them. We can’t expect them to fly victoriously and thrive magnificently – and then return willingly and expectantly – if we haven’t prepared them for their “flight” from the very beginning.

You mommas of younger children – you with the messy quivers and overflowing nests – start now! Start when your children are young – talking, spending time, connecting, questioning, inquiring, listening, focusing, enjoying, loving, hugging  – creating that warm, nurturing environment that will strengthen and steady their wings for future flight. No moment is wasted, no loss of energy and self remains fruitless.

And the best part? Do you know the term for butterflies as they are warming or sunning their wings for flight? It is “basking.” What an absolutely splendid word! If you look up the word “basking” in a thesaurus other words that are synonymous are enjoying, savoring, relishing, luxuriating, wallowing, soak up, delight in.

Take a minute and think about your home. Do you and your children enjoy, savor, relish, luxuriate, wallow, soak up and delight in one another? Is your home one in which they can truly “bask” in warmth to ready their lives for the future God has prepared for them? Do things need a bit of adjusting to get to that sunny spot?

This past month has been a sweet orchestration of good-byes as our youngest daughter and her friends headed off to their respective colleges.  Our middle daughter “landed” at home for a few days before taking off for her last year of college. Our oldest daughter began a new school year in the front of the class.

I’ve thought and thought about all of this.  And, surprisingly, I’ve not been as sad as I thought I would be. Why? Because they really haven’t flown away for good.  They haven’t abandoned the home that awaits them whenever they can stop by – be it for an hour or a night. They’ve returned with their friends, significant other and one husband. They’ve landed for rest and nourishment and togetherness.

The fallacy of an “empty nest” has now been eradicated from my mind. I watched some butterflies in my garden today. They circle and land. Feed a bit, then circle again.  They will often merely touch down before they are flying off to other, sweeter horizons. Sometimes their wings are open, sometimes they are folded.  Sometimes they just sit and bask in the warmth of the sunlight, regaining strength for their journey.

I pray my home will continue to be like those sun-drenched flowers in the garden; a place of rest, warmth, nourishment, sweetness and strengthening. A place my children yearn to return to when time enables them the luxury to do so.

Bye-bye empty nest! You won’t do anyone any good!

Hello sweet basking place! You are the gentle home of blessings and hearts that are warm and full!

Thought to Ponder: Are my children basking in the warmth of a home that joyfully loves, nurtures, strengthens, protects and trains them? Or are there some chilly spots that may hinder the future flight God has planned for them?

Comments (2)

  • Very nice writing. I’m still struggling with this empty nest.

  • Love your heart, Marcia. Your children will always fly happily back to your welcoming nest!


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