When the Last Fledgling Flies

Common Issues in Biblical Counseling, Part Five

For most of us, years seem to fly by. When the last child leaves home, it’s common for parents to meet reality with contradictory emotions. You might be asking yourself, How did we get here? This particular life transition comes with major change. It can be confusing to sort through feelings that are up one minute and down the next. The adjustment struggles are hard for some parents. You might even be asking, Why does God give to us and then take away what was given? Many individuals become anxious at even the thought of a future empty nest of the home. It’s not unusual to ask someone to walk alongside you in this adjustment, whether they be a friend, mentor, or counselor. God delights in the details of our lives. When the last fledgling flies, it’s crucial to think on things beyond the home nest.

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Php 4:6–7). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

In the worst of cases, the transition can become Satan’s playground; parents dwell on disappointments, regrets, and shame. In severe cases, this time comes with loss of purpose or identity. In the best of cases, the parents are in tune with the voice of our Creator God. For these individuals, the transition becomes a time for learning wisdom, humility, and patience. With wise transition, some Christians see this change as an opportunity to serve church and community in a greater way because of their more flexible use of time. There is no doubt that this can be a joyous time when marital intimacy and life satisfaction peak, but empty nesters are a more vulnerable group than we tend to think. It’s not uncommon for parents to feel lonely and isolated at first. After so many years of fulfilling the roles of mom and dad, many couples are uncertain of how to relate to each other once the nest is empty. Although the kids have grown and flown, God still has a purpose for your marriage. It’s important to talk honestly about the challenges of this season.

Author and child-care expert Grace Ketterman says, “Releasing young people into today’s world is a panicky process. This process can be made more reassuring when parents remember that they are transferring them from the shelter of their parental wings to the perfect care of the heavenly Father” (emphasis mine).

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Php 4:8). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

When parents are first left to their own, they often reflect on what had become the norm for their home. They begin to miss the busyness of ball games and piano lessons. The silence of the home can be startling, the day’s laundry no longer fills the washer, the refrigerator is overrun with leftovers, and food in the cabinet expires. The empty nest might seem like a time of loss. In many ways, that could be true. It is normal to grieve when there are changes in meaningful relationships, but this time is meant to draw us nearer to the Lord. God truly understands.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 4:15). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Let’s look at portraits of a recently emptied nest:

• Veronica has been depressed ever since Jamie, her youngest child, married and moved away. She is a proud mom, no doubt about that, but now she feels like she has no purpose left in life.

• “The house seems very quiet,” Anthony said to his wife, “and very cold.” “I know what you mean,” she replied, “It’s just not the same without muddy sneakers by the door and the crazy music coming from Jake’s room.”

• Ralph and June just sat and stared at one another in the counselor’s office. Then June noted, haltingly, “It’s like we don’t know who each other is anymore … Worse yet, if we are completely honest, neither of us really likes who the other has become …”

 Clinton, T., & Trent, J. (2009). The Quick-Reference Guide to Marriage & Family Counseling (p. 135). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Our goal as Christian parents should be to raise our children so that when they leave home as mature, God-fearing adults, they are prepared to one day establish their own home. What is God teaching us in this time of adjustment? Author Elyse Fitzpatrick writes, “Change and season have been part of our world since the first day of creation. God caused a variation between day and night and called this change ‘good’…After the flood, the Lord promised Noah there would be changes, but he would sustain the earth through them all…This promise was meant to reassure Noah (and us) that seasons would come and go, but God would maintain his creation until the end of time.” The changing seasons are a reminder that we are not the ones in control.

He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, 

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 78:5–6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children to another generation.

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Joe 1:3). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” 

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ge 8:22). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

How can we honor God in how we handle the last child leaving home? Facing the empty nest is a difficult season, but we are not alone. God provides for us as we experience everchanging seasons of life, and we can go to Him knowing he hears and answers our prayers. Could it be that God intends for us to use this time of change to draw near to him? God is teaching us about himself and ourselves. We are in need of Him. In times of life adjustment, we better understand we are weak and dependent on Him (Psalm 90:12). God is complete within himself, self-sufficient and independent. We can depend on him to be unchanging (Hebrews 13:8).

even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save. 

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Is 46:4). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. 

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 55:22). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Truth is, the relationships with our children were always meant to change. The end of being a parent isn’t in the launch phase. It’s important to realize that parenting has simply taken a new focus. Keep the lines of communication open. You will still have opportunities to give advice to your children (when asked) and offer prayer. Empty nesters can provide encouragement for spiritual and professional growth, encourage strong marriages, and celebrate when new family members come into the picture. At the same time, parents will want to guard against becoming harsh, opinionated, and controlling. Remember, God is teaching us about what is to be the primary focus of our lives.

The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, 

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 92:12–14). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

You’ve not said goodbye to your children forever, but you’ve completed the final call of good parenting if you’ve brought up your children in the way of the Lord. We are responsible for letting them go into the world with independence and Christ-like mindsets, even though it might be a frightening time for us. Doing so with integrity requires that you look beyond your children’s lives and set a new course for your own. Be intentional.

How can these truths be practically applied? You have some choices to make: What will this season of life look like for you? Will this be a time of sorrow and unending grief? You can choose to dwell on the past, but this won’t move you forward. Instead, will it be a season of growth, a renewal of relationships? You can choose to fill this time with good things – invest in your marriage for a time of renewal, spend time with friends, serve others through volunteer work, or pursue hobbies. Honoring God means focusing on the future while still treasuring memories of the days behind. Ultimately, God supplies new mercies each and every day (Lamentations 3:22-23) as He teaches us to live every day in His steadfast love.

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Php 3:13–14). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

For additional study:

Matthew 6:25-34

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