Rethinking Rest in an Empty Nest

Are you nourishing your soul and experiencing peace or do your diversions drive you to discouragement and negativity? This is a hard question to ask and might be even harder to answer 

Many of you know about my addiction to buying notebooks. The one I am using as my prayer journal these days must have been purchased as insurance against the future day when I was feeling a little discouraged.  

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Some days this advice is easy to follow…other days, not so much. Change is funny, sometimes it brings excitement and blue skies. Other changes feel like storm clouds and rain. The words from my notebook cover are probably good ones to write on a notecard and tape to your mirror if you are looking ahead with more dread than hope. Yet, pithy aphorisms alone are not quite enough.

Surrounding yourself with encouraging and uplifting quotes is a start. But, what fuels your optimism once you walk away? How do you remember that good days are ahead and today is the beginning of a new adventure when your feelings don’t align with this hope filled outlook? 

One step back.

We might think diving in to work to distract ourselves is the way through. Find a new job. Get involved. I have tried this and it works for a little while. But this remedy does not bring the long lasting peace and joy filled outcome that I desired when rushed.

Instead, I suggest taking a step back before you take a step forward.

Our mind, bodies, and souls need fuel if we are to survive. The right type of fuel in adequate amounts is necessary if we are to thrive. While we are diligent about eating healthy meals when possible, we are not always aware of the impact our entertainment diet has on our soul and consequently on our daily outlook. 

The hummingbirds are back and I love to watch them fly back and forth from their feeder to the Lantana. Syrup made from sugar and water is the twin of flower nectar, satisfying the arial acrobat’s appetite, fueling them in the exact same way as the nectar. 

photo courtesy of Unsplash @jerang

photo courtesy of Unsplash @jerang

But you need the right ingredients in correct proportions for the fuel to be effective. Creating the concoction using a sugar substitute is catastrophic. The chemicals are toxic and could be lethal. The hummingbirds might be drawn to the feeder’s red color, but the liquid does not contain the calories they need to make it to their next food source.

The same thing happens when we try to rest and refuel with activities that are the equivalent of empty calories. If you are approaching a time of transition that is altering your schedule, I invite you to join me in Rethinking Rest.

Now, tell me to rest and I go into a low grade panic. The thought of a long haul flight drives me to action creating a list of things to occupy myself. Boredom doesn’t stand a chance to snuggle up next to me. Slowing down feels unproductive. Resting feels like a waste of time.

Before I entered my new “season” of empty nesting, imagining all those days unwinding with no sense of direction made me uneasy to say the least. I began to notice this same feeling bubbling up in a very small, but similar way at stoplights, check out lines, and in waiting rooms. 

What was it about free time that did not feel so liberating?

When you have free time, a moment here or a moment there what do you do? Are you like me, digging out your phone and scrolling through unread emails? Do you check your social media feed or return a text message? 

In looking at how I respond to a few minutes of stillness, I began to realize that I was running away from rest. Looking around I know that I am not alone. Our eyes are trained to screens and hearts are distracted from what it happening right in front of us.

There is something about a pause in the action that is just a beat too long which invites us to compulsively seek something to grab our attention. Rather than allow ourselves to take in all that surrounds us or immerse ourselves in gratitude for the present moment, we look elsewhere for something to quiet our inner angst. When we don’t find it, we keep looking in all the wrong places.

What is driving this? It might be the dopamine hit we get when we see an unread email in our inbox. Or, the little bit of affirmation we feel when we see someone has liked our most recent post on Facebook or Instagram. When what is going on around us is not quite stimulating enough, we search for something else we believe will fill the void. Raising our stimulation threshold even higher.

During larger stretches of time, we mindlessly dive into what it easy— Netflix or a movie on TV. Other times, we absently scroll until something catches our attention. We pause and move along. 

I do not mean to decry the wonderfulness that is the internet or video streaming. It’s the compulsivity with which we access it that concerns me. We are like squirrels looking for the next shiny thing to grab our precious attention: the new release, the fantastic click-bait pictures, and outlandish headlines floating on the sidebars of our screens. 

We are exhausted and we don’t understand why.  

Our attention spans are shrinking as we scroll and stream and like and bookmark. We are feeding our souls on the equivalent of cotton candy and root beer as we wither from the inside out because of lack of nutrition and attention. If you are like me and have spent the past several decades focused on achievement and busyness you too have probably forgotten how to rest in the way that nourishes your soul.

We sense that our bodies and souls need to rest. So we fill little bits of free time with diversions which we call rest. Unfortunately, these counterfeit substitutes are similar to the chemical sugars found in so many things today. Not only do they fail to recharge us, often they decrease our energy leaving us sluggish. As we spend more and more time ingesting this fake fuel, we exhaust ourselves chasing different distractions to calm our inner chaos. 

Solution: Flow and Awe

We each enjoy activities that, when we are doing them, time passes almost without you recognizing it. In Flow we are connected to God. Yet, we set these activities aside in order to achieve other goals we think are more important. 

Awe is the feeling you get when you experience a deep connection with another person or nature. The inner knowing that we are all interconnected and that we are a small part of something bigger. It’s how you feel as you stare out into the ocean, gaze across a valley, talk deeply over rich coffee, look at the spires of a soaring cathedral, or stare into the eyes of a newborn baby. Awe reminds us of our place in God’s kingdom and reinvigorates our soul.

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You have a choice about how to structure all or even part of our day. You might be at a loss about how to fill the time unless you have a long list of to-do’s. Incorporating more of what brings you into Flow and sets your heart on fire with Awe imbues the blank spaces on your calendar with a sense of wonder rather than dread. Where and how will God show up in the blank spaces when I am participating in activities that draw me closer to Him and other people?

Pondering what fills your free time is the first step in Soul Forward Living. 

You decide what you invite into your life and allow to capture your attention.  Does what enters your mind nourish your soul and bring you to a place of peace or does it drive you to discouragement and negativity?

Be intentional about doing things that fuel your soul with Flow and Awe in order to nourish your soul. Ask yourself: Does what fills my free time bring me to flow or fill me with awe? Flow and Awe increase peace and joy. Flow and Awe decrease anxiety. Connecting with God, He reminds you of His immense and unfailing love for you, right where you are.

What brings you to a place of Flow or Awe? Add your thoughts in the Comment section below. Your ideas will help someone else discover a new way to Rethink Rest.

This is part 2 in a series on Facing the Empty Nest Without Fear. If you would like to go back to the first post in the series you can find it here.