The phrase “empty-nester” has been used repeatedly in recent days to describe me. Each time I hear it my stomach turns and I feel a twinge of pain in my heart.

I have treasured the days of having my children at home. For years I have, in a sense, dreaded their leaving. But, as with every passing season of raising our children, I find launching them into adulthood and independence has held blessings, beauty and privilege that overshadow the sadness of the passing of the previous savored seasons. My heart delights in seeing two of my adult daughters thriving away from home, and one adult daughter soon to complete school and ready to do the same.

I struggle with the term “empty-nester,” though. Not because my children have matured and left our home, but because one of them never will. Each time I hear that phrase my mind and heart are pierced by the involuntary thought of our enemy intent on stealing, killing, and destroying, physically snatching her from “our nest.”

This week I finally looked up the phrase “Empty-nester” in Merriam Webster. They define Empty-nester as “a parent whose children have grown and moved away from home.” Validation. I am not actually an empty-nester. The unsettling I felt with the term is appropriate because it does not fit me. That term will never truly fit me because one of my children will never grow up and move away from home.

I have read and been told that parents who have experienced the death of a child are not, and should not be, defined by the loss of their child. While I agree we are not wholly defined by the loss of our children, I disagree that we should not be partially defined by it.

Merriam Webster lists the essential meaning of define as “to show or describe (someone or something) clearly and completely.” It is impossible to clearly and completely describe me without including the fact that I bear in my soul the trauma of the physical death of my child and the sorrow of my ongoing separation from her.

If the loss of my child alone wholly defined me it would be a tragic and hopeless definition. But I am more than that, much more. If I could choose only one descriptor to define me, it would be follower of Jesus Christ. That is the most important determinant of who and what I am, and how I am shaped by every circumstance. The shaping force of every other aspect or descriptor of me is filtered through my relationship with Jesus Christ, including that of child loss.

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the [life] which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Galatians 2:20 [NASB95]

I am being wholly transformed through my relationship with Jesus Christ. That transforming work, however, does not remove the painfully defining impact of Sarah’s death on my life. He allows that painful mark to remain, and He radically uses it in His overarching work of transforming me. I have been and continue to be profoundly shaped by His redemptively using the defining mark of Sarah’s death on my life.

To deny the ongoing defining impact of Sarah’s death on my life would wrongly silence my testimony of His ongoing work and provision through it.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to [His] purpose.” Romans 8:28 [NASB95]

I have been refined in innumerable ways through Sarah’s physical death and ongoing absence. The most prominent is undoubtedly in shifting my attention away from the pleasures and comforts of this world to a much more Biblical perspective focused squarely on the eternal.

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” [2Co 4:16-18 NASB95]

Through Sarah’s physical death I have been made undeniably and continually aware of the reality that this world is not my home. Her absence sharply guards me from a temporal focus and daily reminds me I am just a sojourner here.

“we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:8 [NASB95]

The sorrow of Sarah’s absence remains and absolutely plays a pivotal role in defining me. I feel its sting daily. But in the weakness of that persisting sorrow I am given the indescribable gift of daily experiencing Him powerfully strengthening and sustaining me through His overflowing grace and abundant mercy.

And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 [NASB95]

The sorrow and the sustaining redemptively merge, powerfully fanning the flames of my desire for Him and my ultimate homegoing to Him (and Sarah). In the meantime that fervent desire to be at home with the Lord, and the eternal focus that longing provides, enables and compels me to live hopefully, eagerly, urgently and fruitfully.

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if [I am] to live [on] in the flesh, this [will mean] fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose.” Philippians 1:21-22 [NASB95]

I recently read that many migrating birds migrate alongside rivers and steams and sit or stand on rocks alongside the flowing water to rest and replenish as they migrate. I love that image. “Empty-nester” does not appropriately define me, but perhaps “nestless” does. A nestless one migrating Home, soaring on wings like an eagle, standing on The Rock, and daily being refreshed by streams of living water.

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:28-31 [NIV]

Come, Lord Jesus.

Artwork: Sarah Harmening

One thought on “Nestless

  1. “Nestless” seems a good descriptor for me as well. I am a mother with a daughter soon to be 51 years old, and I’ve lost my mate. I am forever looking for the red cardinal and the photos that sit around this house that assure me that Buddy was here and lives in my heart and mind. I live above an abyss. The parent organization you and Scott work with to help parents move through their stages of grief and cope with the loss of their children is called “When We Becomes Me.” We are never the same once we suffer loss of our loved ones. It doesn’t matter what the relationship is, if we loved that person and they were important to our world, we will always miss them. Yes, we know where they are, and that knowledge can comfort us.

    My next-door neighbor lost her husband on Christmas morning after two weeks of hospitalization for COVID. He was my pastor and one of my husband’s closest friends. I imagined the two of the greeting each other and my husband telling him he had arrived just in time to celebrate the King’s birthday. My neighbor told me she had a friend who told her flatly that God is Sovereign and can do as He wishes. If He calls us home, He calls us home. We accept His decision. Yes, we know He works all things for good. We can accept this and move ahead working toward assignments He chooses for us and look forward to seeing those loved ones again. I don’t think I’ve quite mastered that. I have moved closer to the Lord through reading His Word and daily Bible readings and devotionals. I will never fully understand how you and my daughter have pushed through your losses of your children. Each of us miss loved ones dearly and continue to do the best we can. Loss and love are realities everyone deals with eventually. I thank the Lord for His provision to reunite us at a time of His choosing.

    As always, your writings give me comfort, Karen. Thank you. My husband would tell me, “Don’t be anxious for anything!” You know the rest.💖💖💖🙏🙏🙏

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