When Your Home Feels Empty

“One day when the kids are gone, we will sit quietly by the fire and listen to the laughter in the walls.” For years a printed version of these stanzas from “Laughter in the Walls” by Bob Benson hung on a wall in our home, reminding me of a someday that, at the time, felt as far away as eternity. His ode to the daily ups and downs of a family of five resonated well in our home.

But one day, just like all the overwhelmed mothers before me who had longed for soul-replenishing peace and quiet, the still and quiet came.

Suddenly.

With too much finality.

Like the reluctant closing of a wonderful book when the last sentence has been read.

The best books leave me longing for more chapters to the story. As the last page comes into view, I slow my reading, savor every word, and will the book to last just a little longer. Yet, always, there is an end.

In my youngest daughter’s last year of high school, my last chapter of kids-at-home, I savored every single event, lingered in conversations longer than I dared, and wished to slow the days as the last page of the calendar turned. Graduation day was brightly circled. Followed by lots of blank squares.

The end was in sight, but I hoped it would never arrive.

Dennis and I cried like babies when we left our oldest at her college dorm. We knew our nest would never be the same and it wasn’t. Then one day the last child left, the tears came again at the final departure. Then the peace and quiet so absent in those mommy years rushed in and filled the vacuum my flown-away children left behind.

It was an unfamiliar, unwelcome sound that demanded I make peace with it.

If your home is newly emptied or nearing empty you understand this stew of mixed emotions.  From a little nest the two of us built one fine spring day to the needed larger house crowded with our six children as they maxed out the space in our home and in our hearts; home changed over those two decades. It had become a dwelling beautifully crowded with memories and meaning.

But suddenly it was just the two of us again. How did that happen and who were we now? Certainly not the same two who began this story.

The familiarity and warmth of home nurtured us as we returned from the last drop-off at college. The comfort of home helped us create and adjust to a new normal. Our dwelling place gave us the safety to rest, reflect, and learn to dream again.

Now that we have grown to love being just the two of us again, home is still our refuge, our haven and our embassy, our launching pad to God’s calling and purposes in this new season of life.

Hebrews 13:2, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to others…” reminds us there are many who need to see the grace and feel the love of God that lives in our homes. But sometimes we need help knowing what that looks like when it’s been so focused on our children for several decades.

Thankfully, I had a wise friend who modeled this for me, a widow named Miz Kitty. I was in my late 20s when I first met this smartly dressed, 50-something woman living alone in her empty nest. As I got to know her, I experienced the warmest, most welcoming home I’ve ever known.  Miz Kitty refused to become isolated with an empty nest; instead she opened her door to a steady stream of women. She listened and prayed and encouraged and, in return, was loved deeply by a small army of people who helped meet her needs until she died in her late 80s.

Another example that encourages me is a pastor and his wife, both in their 50s, who invited a young Syracuse University professor, Rosaria Butterfield, over for dinner. Rosaria was not just any professor. She was, at the time, a very radically-minded feminist who had expressed strong antagonism against anyone who believed in God. The pastor and his wife weren’t deterred. They persevered in a desire to show Rosaria that Christians weren’t angry, narrow-minded people, but were those who had experienced and wanted to show others the love of God. God used the warmth of this home and the two who lived there to soften a heart into the Kingdom of Light.  This miraculous story is now a book called The Secrets of an Unlikely Convert.  And if you’d like to hear Rosaria tell the story about this couple’s impact on her life, you can listen to the FamilyLife Today radio interview with her.

Then there is Sue. She lived in Charlotte, North Carolina, and as a new widow at 86 began a Bible study in her home with a group of 12 young women in their early 30s.  She taught them the Bible, even gave them tests, and took them on a retreat with their young husbands. The group became known as “Sue’s girls.” Every week for 12 years these young women came to Sue’s home to learn from her until her death at 97! Though I never met her, her example has remained an inspiration to me and I want to be like her when I’m in my 90s. Don’t you?

Even if your home feels sadly silent because your almost-mature little birds have flown away, God still wants life to be nourished in you and in your home.

An exciting transition to a new adventure is ahead.

I pray you will take the time you need to rest and literally recover from the long work of mothering. I challenge you to pray for ideas, dreams, and clear guidance from God Himself on His next steps for you. His plans and purposes for us on this earth extend to our very last breath.  And that in itself is an exciting reality!

For more encouragement about empty nest, listen to the FamilyLife Today broadcast and check out my book on the empty nest, Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest.

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17 thoughts on “When Your Home Feels Empty”

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  2. After 4 kids the nest is empty–it feels too quiet and too neat. The refrigerator has extra space. We are still adjusting–grieving the loss of having the kids at home. God has new things in store and we are expectant.

  3. My husband left just over a year ago. He’s an unbeliever, but I love and miss him terribly. My son is dealing with depression and not able to do his uni work at the moment and my twin daughters are in their last week of school.
    I just don’t have the words to describe this period of my life . Instead of looking after my beautiful kids I am now caring for my almost 93 year old mother ( tho she lives semi independently)
    I don’t know where I’d be without Jesus… he is carrying me through somehow … but I also feel like I’m floundering. So many question marks ahead. “ Many are the afflictions of the righteous… BUT the Lord delivers them out of them ALL!”
    I hope in my God.

    1. I’m so sorry about this hard adjustment for you and your children with your husband’s absence. There is nothing easy about loss of any kind.
      So grateful you are leaning hard into Jesus and modeling that for your children. May God work redemption in your husband’s life and in the struggles you are all dealing with. It’s His specialty!
      Thanks for reading.

  4. After four wonderful children entered our lives, as easily as they came in, they made their exit. My husband and I often spoke of the ease of entering full retirement, but deep down it was hard and painful letting our chicks fly. We encouraged them to pursue their dreams and we stood back and watched. While very gratifying to watch them fly, it was a painful reminder of the end of a part of our life that had very long days, but even shorter years. How quickly it all went. THere is a rift today between our first born who has our only granddaughter. She married an nonbeliever and that makes life so challenging for her. She had to choose her husband over us. While we have always loved him his insecurities have taken its toll on the family. Our hearts are broken! Because we are believers we see hope in Jesus. He is the great healer of all relationships. We await the day when we can say all is well again. Thank you for this uplifting reading. How well God has used you Barbara and Dennis! You are blessing so many lives. Loved your book on empty nesters, Barbara. Such a blessing at read at just the right time. Thank you!!

    1. thanks for writing Norma. You are viewing this season with wisdom and God will honor your faith in Him with your daughter. Jesus is the great healer. And we do understand family rifts. We are not immune to that pain.
      Grateful for you.

  5. We have a son that is 30, 3 grandchildren, and a daughter who will graduate high school in two years. (I’m 50) We also adopted a boy who is almost 7 so kind of starting over here. We are so thankful for what God has done in our lives and hope that others could pray and consider if it is God’s will, to foster and/or adopt. It is a blessing! :-) Whatever the Lord will have you do in your empty nest years, do it with passion and as unto Him.

  6. What a beautiful article. I’ve been an empty nester for 5 years now. The same year our last child left home we moved across the country and my husband retired. It was three major life events all at the same time. The first year we renovated our new home, so that kept me busy. The second year I tried to go back to work after 27 years as a stay-at-home-mom. The third and fourth year I submerged myself in church ministry to try to find my new role in life. With everything I have tried to do, I keep feeling that something is just not right. I’m not where the Lord wants me. It has only been this last year that I have truly stopped to grieve the loss of my mommy years. I wish I could say I find comfort in the “laughter in the walls” of our home, but it’s a new home, not where I raised my kids. And I wish I could open the doors of my new home to minister to women, but my husband is home full time now and is not a believer. I continue to pray and seek God’s will for who I am now and what plans He has for me now. But for some of us, we face challenges that make that very difficult. I continue to trust Him, but it’s just hard.

    1. I just spent time in prayer for you Julie. May our tender-hearted, All-Powerful Father carry and encourage you. I pray He will clearly guide you to discover your specific purposes He has for you now. May you know His rest and peace and joy. God give you great strength in coming alongside your yet to be saved husband. Lots of love to you sister.

    2. Grateful for your comments and for sharing your story. It sounds like it’s time for you to take a break, a time of rest, as you adjust to all this change. We wrote about the need for that in our book, Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest. It’s so easy to get busy too soon, even with inevitable changes that can’t be avoided like a move.
      Bless you. God will guide and He is at work even when we can’t see it!

  7. We are a family of eight and I feel I may have put my house on the market for this same reason. I have my last coming through in high school (my caboose!)The reality of a big lonely space. This will really help me pray and yearn for God’s plan and not my own. Thank you Barbara and Susan!

  8. Lovely post. Thank you. We LOVE the deeper, closer relationship with one another as a couple in these years. The best is certainly the last. Never could we have dreamt our love would be so beautiful. I wish younger couples who struggle could realize it is worth it to persevere.

    But I remem the time our birdies (4 daughters) all flew away. We had also “roughly lost” the ministry we both so dearly loved at the same time. All was torn out of our hands at once. I remember wandering in my home not knowing who I was or which way to turn. But our God is so faithful and caring and compassionate and in time all has been restored 100 fold in relationship. And grandchildren :) But it was through that incredibly hard time that my relationship with JESUS deeply incredibly also, I would not trade that difficult time for anything . . .for with it came JESUS.

    1. I’m wandering around my home right now not knowing which way to turn. I feel lost. Thank you for sharing that there’s hope and the best is yet to come!

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