Filling the empty nest with joy

A Christian Science perspective: A story of prayer helping a mother overcome empty-nest syndrome.

My husband and I huddled over the computer screen to see our son’s first instant message (IM) from college. This was before the advent of texting, and we were so excited to be able to connect with him. We had been constantly checking our IM all evening in hopes that we would hear from him.

After a few back and forth messages, my husband pointed out that we really shouldn’t be too quick to respond. Our son might think we were too eager and didn’t have anything else going on in our lives. So we sat there and watched the clock until two minutes had passed. Only then did we feel we could reply, and at least give the appearance of nonchalance. Sounds pretty pathetic doesn’t it? Well, it felt pathetic!

Whether your child is off to college for the first time, taking that first bus ride to elementary school, or simply going back to school after a leisurely summer, those left behind can be left with an empty feeling. Those little suggestions may sneak in: “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?” “How will I face Friday nights without all the kids in the house?” Silly questions? Perhaps. But they came to my thought in those first quiet hours. How was I going to cope with the deep-seated ache that came from the fear I felt about turning this page in my family’s life?

The basic premise of all these questions lies in the notion that a specific person is the source of joy in the house. But is a person – any particular person – really the source of joy?

I found wonderful instruction from the teachings of Christ Jesus as I was thinking about my own situation. He often spoke of the “kingdom of heaven” – peace, joy, a sense of well-being – as being within, and not something outside us that we need to find (see, for example, Luke 17:21).

John’s Gospel tells of a time when Jesus shared with his listeners the wonderful news that God’s love and blessing are always present and enduring. He was showing us that the love of God is the real source of any and all good, including joy. Jesus assured them, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:11).

The study of Christian Science has taught me that joy, which is evidence of the kingdom of heaven, remains with us continuously. It is not something that is “out there” somewhere. Happiness is not dependent on the presence of another person. Instead, it is part of our very being as the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26, 27). And we can each expect this joy to be full – running over, fresh, and constantly renewed.

Recognizing that all the good, all the joy, all the adventure I could ever need were already present, I began to watch for new ways to help others. This approach was inspired by a statement from Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science: “Happiness is spiritual, born of Truth and Love. It is unselfish; therefore it cannot exist alone, but requires all mankind to share it” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 57).

Boy, have I found that to be true! By claiming the joy that needs to be shared expansively, both my husband and I opened ourselves to new activities we’d never even considered before, which turned out to bless others.

I found it helpful to remember that our son was growing, changing, and expanding exponentially while away at school. And my husband and I were continuing to grow, too. We naturally broadened our involvement in our neighborhood and larger community. We became more accomplished at previous interests, and found new activities that kept us fresh and moving forward. My husband was interested in some of the subjects our college student was studying, and he eagerly read the books our son was reading. This gave them interesting conversation points. Very quickly, we found life tangibly feeling full and overflowing with a joy even greater than any we’d known before.

Understanding that all of us already include the contentment and peace of infinite Love opens the door to new ways we can enjoy the joyful purpose God has given each one of us.

This was adapted from an article in the Oct. 27, 2008, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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