Three Thoughts About Empty

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Empty Nest

I am the mother of three young men. When My husband and I were raising three boys, it seemed as though that part of our lives would never end.

The days of sports practices, piano recitals, Civil Air Patrol (like boy scouts with a focus on aviation), and epic games of capture-the-flag felt like they would go on forever.

I cried when the eldest left for college. And the middle one. And, of course, the baby.

I worried about them. I wanted them to be independent, but I wanted to hold on.

Then, they were gone. Just like that. The youngest to his own apartment, the middle one to the other side of the country for graduate school, the oldest half a world away to Zambia for the Peace Corps.

Suddenly, my husband and I were empty-nesters, and I was sad. So sad.

For about 10 minutes.

Running had long been part of my life. When the boys left the nest, I began running in races. Then I joined a running club and started traveling to destination races. I reconnected with an old friend when I bumped into her at a race. We were both surprised to learn the other was a runner.

Bill and I were young and poor when we got married. When our nest emptied, we had more disposable income and initiated some adventures of our own. We began exploring. We rekindled our friendship and our romance.

The event that we (or maybe just I) had been dreading was wonderful.

The emptiness I feared turned out to be liberating. If I had tried to hold on to those fledglings, all of us would have been miserable. Letting go allowed us to soar.

Image by truthseeker08 from Pixabay

Empty Hands

Bill and I are the type of people who hang onto things.

When we decluttered the basement last year in anticipation of downsizing, we discarded checks from the year we were married – 1978.

When we cleaned out our filing cabinet, we discovered owner’s manuals from blenders, toasters, vacuum cleaners, and electric corkscrews that have been taking up space in a landfill for decades.

We met many of our closest friends half a lifetime ago.

Bill worked at the same architect’s office for over 40 years; I worked at the same school district for over 30.

And yet…

Our social and political views continue to evolve. We read and educate ourselves. We think about consequential topics.

We recently had to let go of some long-held views after much consideration and evaluation. Desperately clutching attitudes and beliefs that no longer serve us can feel like a weight dragging us down and holding us back.

Emptiness feels good. Letting go is empowering.

Empty Self

I have recently begun a practice of doing a short meditation before prayer. It empties my mind and helps to silence my internal narrator (for a few minutes, at least).

Selflessness is what I seek.

It may seem like a paradox, but I believe that selflessness is best achieved through self-confidence.

It takes a certain amount of conviction to deny the small voice in our head that clamors for recognition. The voice that whispers in our ear asserting our superiority is not easily denied.

It has been my experience that the opposite end of the spectrum from self-confidence is self-righteousness. The more we have of one, the less we have of the other.

When full of self-righteousness, we believe we have the authority to judge others and ourselves. In our self-righteous judgment, we are usually the winners. Others may be judged more harshly.

I believe self-confidence comes from God. Joshua 1:9 says, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

Self-righteousness, on the other hand, comes from our inclination to camouflage our own perceived weaknesses.

Emptiness depends on having enough self-confidence to let go of our need to judge, to always come out on top.

You can find the places I link up here.

86 comments

  1. I am glad you are enjoying your time as an empty nester and were able to start running again. It’s interesting how things change during the various stages of life. I always dread those changes, but, eventually, find joy in the new chapter that wouldn’t have happened had I held on.

    I had never thought of self-righteousness as being the opposite of self confidence, but you are so right. It is easy to be like the Pharisee in Luke 18, and thank God that we aren’t like “those” people. I try not to be, but know I fail at times.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, we do go through different stages, don’t we? I am enjoying the one I’m in right now. I was thinking about Pharisees when I wrote the part about self-righteousness.

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  2. Oh Laurie. How is it that you write about topics that I so often think about? It’s like you’re reading my mind but writing it out for me LOL Totally agree with what you said about self righteousness vs. self confidence. Unfortunately, we witnessed far too much of that these past 12 months 😦

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  3. I like your “empty” series, Laurie!

    I think I’m quite good at decluttering (much to my husband’s dismay). We live in a very empty apartment – so empty that most visitors think we are moving.

    But getting rid of outdated attitudes and beliefs is just as important. It’s something I never thought about. I really like that idea!

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  4. Oh yes, emptiness is liberating. I, too, figured that out along the way. The empty spaces in your life make the filled spaces more special. But like you said you have to have self confidence to embrace emptiness. If you don’t believe in yourself, emptiness is frightening.

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  5. I had a liberating feeling when the kids were all out of the house as well. We have two of them back again but it is different. I don’t need to find a babysitter or change my plans because of them.

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  6. What a marvelous post! I laughed that you were so sad for 10 minutes.

    We let our children go, and we’ve been blessed to have each of them live with us from time to time after they lived independently. I found it thrilling to have a grown child to play with. We have also lived alone and enjoyed that. Letting go was essential.

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    • All of our boys returned to the nest from time to time too. Now they are all independent adults, which is the whole point of the endeavor. Sometimes learning to let go is a hard lesson to learn.

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  7. Gotta love a good clean out, lol, so glad you & your Hubby transitioned well into your empty nest. I love that scripture it is such a driving encouraging force. It is wonderful to read that your boys now men are doing well. I was never much of a crier empty nest feeler, when it came to my 2. With all their little challenges, comprehension coordination autism OCD & other still very challenging traits. Each milestone was & is a huge achievement. Hence I was the only Mother not crying first day of school for both my treasures, lol. Now they are grown my daughter has been away to Uni for a few years & back home finding which direction her life will take & my son has moved a few hours away adjusting beautifully. I hope I wasn’t too chatty. Great topic as always.

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    • I love the encouragement I get from Scripture too. Not too chatty at all. I enjoy our conversations. All of my boys actually returned to the nest briefly after they first left. Sometimes it takes a while, but now they are all independent, which is what I want for them.

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  8. Laurie, you brought a smile this morning. During this past year, we began going through things and disposing of them as well. The question we found ourselves asking was, “We saved this … why?” It feels good to let go of things both in our homes and in our hearts.

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  9. Visiting you in the morning and hearing a new point of view and possibly a little discussion can really make my day. Thank you for another walk in your life. I was there with you. Letting go is so hard even when we know it is what is good. I send you a smile and hug and admiration for your continued growth.

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  10. Laurie, great thoughts on empty here. I totally identify with your story of the empty nest, having experienced it much the way you did. Did the downsizing thing two years ago, and need to do it again…LOL. I find emptiness truly empowering also, even intoxicating. A freedom I never knew existed. I agree with your comments on selflessness is best achieved through self-confidence, another form of freedom.

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  11. Laurie, I appreciate your thoughts, “Emptiness depends on having enough self-confidence to let go of our need to judge, to always come out on top.” And, “We recently had to let go of some long-held views after much consideration and evaluation. Desperately clutching attitudes and beliefs that no longer serve us can feel like a weight dragging us down and holding us back. Emptiness feels good. Letting go is empowering.”

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  12. You’ve grown through the years on your own, and as a couple Laurie. The wonderful thing is that so many couples have successful careers like each of you did and then retire and seem like strangers to one another … this has not been the case with you and Bill. You grew from being empty nesters, grown closer and not apart since retirement and your relationship will truly be the *golden years* that so many people hope to, but never attain.

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    • I think Bill and I are very fortunate to have similar interests and we both like to run together. One of our friends wanted to retire a few years ago and his wife (who was already retired) told him she didn’t want him at home all day with her! Wow! Now if only we could start to travel more…we would love to explore more places on the globe.

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      • I know a similar story about wife/husband retirement woes. Our neighbors across the street are both gone now – they were married for 60+ years and he died of cancer and she developed dementia shortly afterward and died in a nursing home. But, they had never been apart in their marriage except when she gave birth to their four kids. She never worked after the kids came.
        When he retired, he had no hobbies at all and did not like to read, they had never traveled outside of Michigan and neither had any desire to travel and their kids were all married with kids and long gone from the home. She was an avid walker, loved to garden, sew, read and she soon began to resent him “being on her tail all the time” which is how she described it to my mom. He would turn on the TV the minute he got up and left it on until bedtime. He was hard of hearing and didn’t like his hearing aids in, so left them out and the TV was blaring throughout the house. When the TV wasn’t on, it was the stereo on full blast. They had no basement. She used to tell my mom she thought she’d lose her mind. So see how lucky you both are Laurie. You are losing valuable travel time as this pandemic lingers on. Do you still have the travel plans the end of April (if my memory serves me correctly)?

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      • The TV being on all day would drive me crazy too! I can’t stand the noise. Bill watches more TV than I do, but not to the point isis annoying. Bill and I were just talking today about how lucky we are. Being together, just the 2 of us, is a very low-stress situation.

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      • My father was a tool-and-die maker and worked six days a week. Every Sunday he would take all the albums and stack them on the stereo … when they were done, he’d flip them over to the other side. The entire day. Drove my mom and me crazy. After he left blessed quiet seven days a week. It is even quieter now with just me. I’ve never liked a lot of noise. The dog next door starts whining as soon as my neighbor walks out the door for work at 8:00 a.m. – it continues all day long. I sometimes think I will lose my mind. On the weekend, the dog doesn’t bark, but on the corner, the dog is out all day and barks incessantly. I love dogs, but barking drives me up the wall.

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      • I like dogs too, but incessant barking would drive me crazy too. My son’s dogs used to whine when they all left the house. Now they are working from home since the pandemic. He told me they sometimes don’t realize anyone is at home and start crying. He has to leave his office to show them he is still home.

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      • That is funny … well they are quiet while at work so they forgot. Pets are so precious sometimes. Yes, the noise drives me up the wall. Soon we will have the firecrackers going off every night. The stores already have the variety packs on display. The City ordinance says “shooting off fireworks is permissible the day before and day of a holiday” … they shoot ’em off any chance they get.

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      • Yes and by the time Memorial Day gets here, every single night as soon as it is dark – there’s an ordinance, but you’d never know it. It is obnoxiously loud and these are the large firecrackers and not necessarily all in my neighborhood. They shoot them off at Council Point Park on 4th of July night. Lots of people go into the parking lot – you should see the parking lot the next day. I’m sure the birds and squirrels are scared to death of the noise. But that is a mile away and still very loud.

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      • They start selling them for Memorial Day which I have NEVER understood – it is to be observed as a solemn holiday, so I don’t get it. Our former governor wanted Michigan to have fireworks as everyone crossed into Ohio to buy them, so we started having them legitimately. They are trying to repeal the law and get them banned again since Snyder is gone. Likely that has gone to the wayside due to COVID as they have other pressing matters.

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      • My mom used to love fireworks. She would buy them even when they were illegal. She had her sources! She would only put them off on the 4th, though. Or my oldest son put them off for her once he was old enough.

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      • I remember the sparklers from when I was a kid, but I don’t remember fireworks so not sure if we had them in designated areas or they were not allowed. But then again, Canada did not become independent from Britain until the early 80s and we were long gone by then.

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  13. We live in a big house. As the kids left I just took up their space.

    I tend not be a saver besides too many clothes. My hubby on the other hand does not throw anything away. Such a struggle to de-clutter someone else’s stuff.

    I think We will have to die in this house.

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    • We live in a 2-story house and only use 1 story of it! The only reason we ever go upstairs is to do laundry. My hubby and I are much the same as you – I am a pitcher, he is a saver. We both agree the house takes too much upkeep inside and out, so we both are ready to move.

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  14. Laurie, good morning! Emptiness never looked so full, so purposeful, and so wise. I love what you’ve done with this word and the message of release and faith that are springing forward.

    And yes, I absolutely understand the 10 minutes.

    ;-}

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  15. Hi Laurie – we prepared for the empty nest and were really happy to see our kids fly and flourish – I don’t think I shed a single tear (although I did worry about them occasionally and the nest was always there if they needed to return). I’ve also allowed my black and white views on life to mellow over the years and have discovered many shades of grey as a result. Truth will always be truth, but kindness and grace in how you apply it can make all the difference.

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    • All three of my kids did return (briefly) to the next after they fledged. Now they are all independent adults. Whew! I agree with you about the shades of gray. Much better than black and white.

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  16. Loved reading this. Have gone through this as well and the onslaught of emotions was crazy, especially since it meant 2 of my 5 moving across country. But I am loving the quiet and freedom of an emptier house and, ultimately, a quieter mind. There’s room for so much more!💕

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  17. Whew–there are LOTS of wonderful points to ponder here, Laurie! Fantastic post on empty! “If I had tried to hold on to those fledglings, all of us would have been miserable. Letting go allowed us to soar.” I was sad a little longer than 10 minutes when mine left, but I did eventually get over it too. 🙂 There has been so much freedom with the empty nest!

    And like you, I have let go of lots of my old belief systems too. Sometimes they felt like they were being ripped away more than me simply handing them over, but in the end, I had to mentally assent to beliefs that needed to grow and change. It’s been incredibly liberating on the other side of it!

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    • Thank you, Lisa. Yes, Bill and I are enjoying our freedom. We had kids very young so we really didn’t have much of a taste of freedom then. I think a lot of us have evolving beliefs. It may be a painful process, but I do feel better on the other side.

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  18. It is really hard to imagine, when you’re in the middle years of parenting, that life will ever drastically change its shape the way it does when your kids fully launch. Sometimes it would be fun to go back in time, for about ten minutes. There is a great feeling of relief when the youngun’s are making their way successfully in the world, and I enjoy our current freedom. And emptiness, in the sense you explore, is an excellent state to cultivate.

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    • You are right, Jan – for 10 minutes. We got a taste of it this week while babysitting for our youngest grandson (age 5) while his school was on spring break and his parents worked. Whew! Exhausting but fun!!!

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  19. Laurie, what a beautiful post. Letting go is scary, but so necessary. We did that this year with our home. We were already empty nesters, but we made a complete break, got rid of most stuff and moved 500 miles away. Your 1978 check made me laugh. Ours didn’t go back quite that far, but I had to sort through all of his real estate transactions for nearly 20 years and separate recycle from things that had names and needed shredding. Twenty-five years of teaching materials – same thing. So good for you. I’m glad you have resized your life and found your new identity.

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    • Thank you, Marsha. You are right – letting go is scary but necessary. I don’t think we will move far away because grandchildren live close but we do want to travel when we are able. I didn’t keep any of my teaching stuff. I threw it all out before I retired.

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  20. While we are still several years away from any sort of empty nest I am already noticing how much more time I have on my hands as the boys get older and more independent. I’m trying to figure out how to keep hiking once they’re gone (with still feeling safe alone in the woods) and what other activities I’d like to take up when my time becomes my own.

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    • Oh, you are right in the think of things, parenting-wise. I know what you mean about feeling safe in the woods. I hope you can find a friend to kike with once your boys have left the nest.

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  21. This was exactly what I needed to read this morning. It hasn’t been a great week – day job stuff has been affecting me inordinately, so much more than it usually does & I find I’ve been hanging onto the anxiety levels. I need to actively let go of a few things that I’m hanging onto, so thanks for the read.

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  22. Congrats, Laurie, on raising three boys who are capable of living independently. Now you have time for self-care, friendship, and romance (and blogging, hehe). #WeekendCoffeeShare

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  23. What a wonderful share this week. Yes, emptying out the closets (both literal and figurative) are great things to free us. A body that does not continue to learn eventually dies for lack of inspiration, creativity, and knowledge. It’s good to be continually learning something new. It keeps our brains and our bodies actively living. My Hubby and I dated for 3 years before we married… we took the time to become the best of friends. When we married, we passed around a journal for people to record litttle tidbits of advice in. then, we actually read it. We learned that the people who had been married the longest had one major piece of advice in common… communication! Sounds simple enough, but with our busy lives, it’s sometimes difficult. We’ve often found that when we’re not communicating things get tumbled about. All else fails, we take a road trip… stuck in the car for a few hours with no radio… there’s nothing left but talking. I think we’ve made a lifetime of important decisions from the car, now that I think about it. Now, as we are at an age where we are considering such things as retirement, moving to a place we intend to live out our last 20 or so years, etc. We are ever so thankful for those first three years of courting where we learned to be friends first. We just celebrated our 25th anniversary during the pandemic and are looking forward to our 26 in a few months.

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    • I am hoping to be a true lifelong learner. The journal that you did at your wedding sounds like the Chilean tradition of people giving advice to the new bride and groom – just not in written form. My son married a Chilean and we followed this tradition at their wedding. I like your plan of riding in the car to work out important decisions. We will celebrate our 43rd anniversary this year!

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  24. I love how the Holy Spirit fills the void as we are washed clean from stuff!
    Also, I understood your lament on wanting our children to be independent & yet missing them when they reach that point in their lives. But we do have a new season after the nest is empty & what an exciting season that is Laurie!
    Blessings,
    Jennifer

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  25. This was so great. We are not quite empty nesters yet. We have one daughter still at home, but she’s 22 and has quite the life of her own…lol. It will be interesting when she moves and moreso when we retire. Hmmm….so much to think about

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  26. Hi Laurie.

    Another thoughtful essay. I’m still thinking through your point on self-confidence versus self-righteousness. I found this to be somewhat counter-intuitive as opposite ends of one spectrum (reciprocals ?) because often with self confidence comes pride which is a foundation to self-righteousness. Does this not put them on near-parallel vectors?

    I’m recovering from a very busy week and weekend, so resolving the question may take much more caffeine than I’ve consumed thus far today.

    Thanks for the mental wake up call.
    Blessings.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Our youngest just moved out last month. As with his brothers, it was painful in some ways. But it’s also a necessary part of their growth and even ours. It’s been so fun getting to know them as adults, even while missing the little guys they used to be. And, there are perks. Less laundry! Fewer dishes! 🙂

    We want to go through a lot of our things before our kids have to. I tend to hang on to things, too. I figure, if we have room to store them, that’s cheaper than having to buy them again down the line if needed. But you get to a point in life when you don’t need so much stuff. I’m more inclined to hang onto sentimental stuff. But the more I have of it, the less I look through it. So I am trying to keep representative pieces.

    I had not thought of self-righteousness as the opposite of self-confidence. A lot of self-righteous people seem over-confident. But then I guess their confidence is in whatever they are feeling righteous about rather than truly in themselves and in God.

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    • I now enjoy interacting with all my boys as adults. It’s kind of cool that we raised such interesting people! I think you are right about self-righteous/self-confident people. I believe “seem” is the operative word: “A lot of self-righteous people seem over-confident.”

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