This time of year, children fly from the nest as they graduate and move on to summer jobs, college, or other adventures that begin their adult lives - the beginning of new and exciting horizons.
But what about the parents and family who are left behind?
Years ago when our daughters were in grade school, I was reading to them from the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder. These stories, based on Laura's years of growing up in a pioneering family in the 1800s, culminate when Laura marries, leaves Ma and Pa, and moves to a homestead with her husband.
As I read aloud the final chapters of Laura's departure, silent tears streamed down my face. I sniffled, and my daughters asked, "Why are you crying, Mom?" I hugged them to me and said, "I'm crying with Ma and Pa. You're thinking with Laura about her new adventures, but my heart is with her parents who now have to adjust to her being gone." That was my first more-than-intellectual realization that one day our daughters would leave the nest. I wasn't at peace with that prospect. So I prayed about it.
It wasn't an everyday topic of prayer, but in the normal course of my daily prayers, I would come upon Bible passages or other ideas that helped me see more clearly that God had always held our daughters in His love and would always be with them wherever they would go.
I loved this passage from Psalms: "Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me" (Ps. 139:7-10).
Such ideas assured me that a love beyond anything I could feel as a human mother for my children, God's love, was holding them in the security of an infinite embrace.
I also came upon ideas that helped me know that there could be no vacuum of Love for me, my husband, or anyone else, as children move away from home. This passage, for instance, from Mary Baker Eddy was very helpful: "The depth, breadth, height, might, majesty, and glory of infinite Love fill all space. That is enough!" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 520). I began to catch inklings that God, as Love, is so vast, so complete, so all-pervasive that there could be no sense of emptiness, separation, or loss in this infinity of Love.
The first testings of my growing trust came when one of our daughters asked to spend Thanksgiving with a boyfriend's family. Without hesitation I said, "If you get a better offer, take it!" She threw her arms around me. "Thanks, Mom, for understanding." And I did. I felt no sadness or loss that Thanksgiving, only joy that we were all held perfectly in relation to one another as God's, Love's, ideas.
"If you get a better offer, take it" became a good-humored family slogan as we all practiced releasing one another over the years, and it cut both ways as our daughters found they had to release their father and me for new adventures as well.
Last Christmas at a family gathering, we shared thoughts of what Christmas means to us. One of our daughters said, "Mom always tells us, 'If you get a better offer, take it.' You know what I've discovered? This is the better offer!"
With joy I realized that as we release our children without fear of loss or disappointment, they feel the divine Love that undergirds this release, and they come home naturally when it's a blessing to all to share together in this freeing family love. It's as Mary Baker Eddy put it in her poem "Love":
Brood o'er us with Thy shelt'ring wing,
'Neath which our spirits blend
Like brother birds, that soar and sing,
And on the same branch bend. ("Poems," p. 6)
No empty nests here, just brother birds, soaring and singing!