May 6, 2011

What Now?

empty nest

It didn’t start out being such a good day. I don’t like getting out of bed. It may be May but it’s still cold and my internal heater doesn’t kick in till toast and tea and oatmeal are in the tank…But getting up is critical if I’m to catch the quiet hour before everyone else is stirring and looking for breakfast. Hmpf. Everyone. These days that means just Jim, Rachel and me. The nest isn’t empty but the fledglings are mostly out and about in the work-a-day world and come home only to roost. Which has something to do with why today didn’t start out so very well. Seems my life’s calling is undergoing a radical shift and I’m not sure I’m ready or able to do the manual transmission thing in real life. If it’s all up to me to figure out and get in gear… well, I’m a little uneasy about that. Once upon a time life happened and duty demanded a response.

I watched a sweet video today of robins feeding their demanding young. No sooner was a worm shoved down the chute then the baby bird demanded more. Baby birds are like that—dependent on parent birds to supply their every need. The sad picture was when the nest was suddenly empty and mommy bird returned with some berries, but alas, no mouths to put them in. She dropped the berries in and just perched on the edge running her beak about the nest absent-mindedly as if she were thinking “what now?”

Good question. Meals are scarcely needed. Leftovers last too long. Laundry does itself it seems and noone’s home to make the incessant clutter that used to offer a full-time option for idle hands… What now? I don’t mind ‘free time’. I’ve always coveted it. Tis a luxury to read a book, or better yet to have time to study a book and make notes and write commentary and journal and read some more…I am at heart a student. Fortunately Rachel lets me help her still with Algebra. That helps. I get to do a little Grammar too. Science I could do without but I keep being forced to learn along with my student. That’s good, I suppose. So is this my calling? Studying. (And a little teaching on the side.) But to what end?

Gardening. I love digging in the dirt, watching seeds grow, and even weeding, to a point. But to what end? Is it a waste of time in view of eternity? It’s time consuming to keep up a garden and really more a hobby than a practical gain…

Hiking is good. Capturing pictures, a delight. Savoring creation absolutely inspires me. But for what useful end?

Well, you get the idea. I’m a mom working myself out of a job and into a new stage of life. It’s not like it’s an unheard of dilemma, but it is a new prospect for me and some days I don’t like it. The routine is less routine. The critical tasks are less critical. The need to get out of bed is debatable on occasion. A less introspective person would go with the flow, enjoy the opportunity to find new uses for time, and revel in the freedom of an uncharted day. Sometimes that’s me. But the ‘responsible’ me lurks just beneath the surface questioning whether I’ve spent my time well, invested my ‘minas’ properly, gained eternal benefit from my day, made the best uses of my energies. It’s beastly. Have I done enough? Am I wasting my life? What am I supposed to be doing?

My best friend and ever-wise counselor suggested I look at my situation with a different question in mind, rather than coming at it from a position of doubt, assuming I couldn’t possibly be doing what God intends for me to be doing… why not consider
1) What if I am doing everything I’m meant to be doing? Or even one step further, consider my unrest and discontent as perhaps indicating something else:
2) What if I’m taking on (whether mentally or actually) things God never designed for me to do—things I only think that I should do?

Oooo now that strikes closer to home. I am the grown replica of a Grade A First grader who always set out to meet teacher’s approval but acutely remembers a coloring page that was met with disapproval. I had colored all the tidily stacked squares in an array of bright colors as per instructions (or so I thought) but something was somehow wrong with the way I’d done it. Must have missed an instruction. It was so confusing to see her frown and not understand where I’d gone wrong. The feeling of it sticks with me to this day. And the lesson:  Follow the instructions. Don’t dare to strike out on your own or color in the wrong boxes…. But alas my life at present looks like that big mimeographed sheet of empty squares waiting to be colored upon. And alas, there are no instructions at the top. Can I really do what comes naturally or would that be selfish? And what is the Teacher saying?

Some days it’s ok to sit in bed a little longer and consider these things. My answer this morning was this: “Walk by the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.” The Spirit is my teacher. The sheep hear the Shepherd’s voice. He promises to lead His sheep. I too can learn to listen and to follow His lead…I am not destined to be a confused First-grader with crayons in suspended animation. I can color to His glory. ‘Lead me in paths of righteousness for Your name’s sake, Lord.’

A second confirming response came with the first song that played as I started getting breakfast ready. Gulp. How obvious, and how needful to hear this right that moment:

You and I are made to worship.
You and I are called to love.
You and I are forgiven and free.
(When) you and I embrace surrender,
(When) you and I choose to believe,
You and I will see who we were meant to be.” (Chris Tomlin)

Here’s the big picture. I’m called to worship God with my life, to celebrate the forgiveness and freedom He’s given, to surrender my life to Him and trust Him to lead me into all He means for me to be. Where’s the pressure in that?!

But you know, I seemed still to need a ‘pick-me-up’ by mid-day, with afternoon looming full of uncharted potential but short on energy. And it came in an unexpected way, with a calling that drew me right away from my dreadful introspection. I had a short e-mail waiting from my Christian brother on the atheist forum asking if I would send a message to a new person that had appeared and was in need of advice. This was the plea he called to my attention:

I'm 16 years old and i fear death. It's coming to the point where it's all i think about. Up until about two years ago you could consider me a Christian, my family members are all Jehovah's Witnesses. I started questioning my faith after reading many books such as “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins, and "God is not great" By Christopher Hitchens. I've also read a lot of discussions on this site on matters such as Creationism and Evolution.
I've come to the point where one could consider me an atheist. But i miss being a Christian, i really do. I miss knowing that my late loved ones were in heaven and that there was nothing but good things coming for me after death. I miss not having to worry about things such as the meaning of life, or if my life has any meaning at all. Some days i just try to believe in Jesus and God and the bible, but it's just not the same. My question is is there any hope of anything other than an oblivion of nothingness after death? If not, how do you cope? Do you just not think about death, or have you come to accept death without fear ( if so how).
Please help, if not i fear the worse, going back to being a sheep.

Suddenly it didn’t matter if I knew my ‘calling’ in a general sense. I knew it for this afternoon. To pray for this lost sheep and to write a note of encouragement… And that was enough. I was reminded my life has purpose and God will weave it into others’ lives as He sees fit. That’s His business. Mine is to walk in the opportunities He gives. And literally, I did just that—put on my jeans and headed up Scout talking to God about this one He’s pursuing, asking for wisdom to respond, and singing His praises for such a time as this in my life!


P.S. Thanks for listening to my moaning... (and not laughing at the thought of me worrying about an empty nest when my house is really still quite full!  God must chuckle sometimes too.)

If you love a great home-made video, this is it—complete with empty nest… Click here for the baby bird video:


A Daughter of the King said...

Linda, as you know, I can absolutely relate to this. I might be a little further along on this journey (at the point of acceptance and rediscovering delight) but it is still uncharted territory and so new. I love the way you have explained it. Interestingly, I thought of you early this day and of your beautiful, studied ponderings and gift of writing. And at the end of my day, I read that your husband has given you a key to unlock the door to your future and your Heavenly Father has faithfully provided your task for today. That's our God !

Linda said...

Thanks Becky--another practical key has been to clean off my desk and make space for new ideas and projects...

You are an inspiration as you 'go before' and I love your Rachel's blog and the peek into your journey it gives me. I hope it's ok to read over her shoulder like that...

A Daughter of the King said...

I'm sure Rachel is honored. And I know she reads yours, too.

Rachel Lohrman said...

I loved this post. So open and honest and so true. Well said and encouraging :)

A Daughter of the King said...

"Follow the instructions. Don’t dare to strike out on your own or color in the wrong boxes…. But alas my life at present looks likes that big mimeographed sheet of empty squares waiting to be colored upon. And alas, there are no instructions at the top. Can I really do what comes naturally or would that be selfish? And what is the Teacher saying?"

Linda, I feel the agony in this dilemma. Two things came to me when thinking about your memory of the coloring page. 1) What stands out is that you CARED and STILL care about doing the RIGHT thing. This is why the memory was not lost like so many others. As a parent, doesn't it bless you when you KNOW that your child wants to do the right thing? 2)Why not try for a time being content to do things naturally. Since we are created by God to do good works that he is ultimately in charge of, doesn't it stand to reason that what comes naturally, i.e. the task at hand (filtered through prayer and good conscience) will be pleasing to the father. And doesn't it stand to reason that the Father is willing to make the instructions visible to the eager hand? IE> how did the bird KNOW how to build the doing what God created it to do? Is the bird selfish for doing that?

Of course that is what he made clear to you when he presented the next task to your eager, diligent hand. BTW, I'll just bet that coloring page was beautiful, just like your post.

Linda said...

Thanks again Becky...still chewing on the 'what comes naturally' and the distinctions between myself and mother bird... To learn contentment with imperfection is probably a piece of the puzzle. I super appreciate your thoughtful words... and thanks to Rachel too. Your open-faced posts inspire me ( :