Composing a Life vs. Drifting in your Empty Nest

August puts many of us in back to school mode. If you are in the United States, it is hard to miss the displays of notebooks and pens in just about every store. South Carolina schools just started back and there was a collective exhale from many parents as the buses rolled up to take the precious ones away for the day. While I have always loved shopping for school supplies, I do not always enjoy the end of summer because fresh notebooks means the end to lingering over dinner and late night ice cream runs.

I felt empty driving south across the state line as I returned from dropping the second child off at school. It seemed as though 2/3 of my heart was left behind. The previous forty-eight hours were a blur of shopping, packing, driving, Starbucks, hauling, evading detection of campus security, unpacking, shopping, building new furniture, and more shopping. I was reaping the benefits of having my two children attend school 30 minutes from each other and it was a tad bit exhausting.

While the physical exhaustion was real, I knew the emotional hangover was still to come. To stave off the inevitable wallowing and wandering from room to room wondering what to do next, I knew a plan was needed.

So how do you manage the transition to an empty nest when all you want to do is pack your bag and move into the dorm/apartment with your child? Whatever transition you are facing, I hope the following thoughts will help you navigate your new normal if you have more time on your hands than in previous seasons.

Heart shaped stone, Spain.

Heart shaped stone, Spain.

Composing a Life v. Drifting

When my children were home, a lot of my free time was dedicated to supporting them. We feel the need to be all the things for our people so that they know how much we adore them. Like many women, I revealed my love for them through activity. Room mom, team mom, volunteer, etc. If you are working outside of the home, this burden is even more amplified and free time can seem as mythical as a unicorn.

This way of managing my time was rendered obsolete when our second child left for college two years ago. At the same time, we moved out of state which deleted all standing commitments from my calendar. When she packed her pillow, I woke up with a lot of time on my hands and no plan about how to fill it.

If you have devoted all your time in the past to your children’s activities, it is easy to imagine that the future is a little darker this new school year. If you are facing an empty nest or a time of transition, there is hope that you can fill your heart with joy by rethinking how you spend your free time rather than focusing on all that you feel like you have lost.

Resist your first instinct.

It is easy to drift into a life that you did not intend. How you spend your time is how you spend your life. Haphazardly filling your calendar with a mish-mash of what seems fun or good at the time will not allow you to craft a life that nurtures your soul.

You might be tempted to immediately fill all the spaces in your planner because the thought of unstructured time can be intimidating. Others are tempted to leave their calendar unsullied by commitments savoring all the memories we find when we pull out old pictures or stalk our children and their friends Instagram/Facebook/Twitter.

Finding balance between these two extremes is where the composed life begins and requires a little bit of pondering. Imagine how you want the next season of life to look. Press pause on whatever your default response might be when thinking about committing to something new.

Imagine life in 5 years.

Rethink how you spend your free time. Your gifts, strengths, talents, and wisdom are vitally necessary and you are the one who has to figure out how best to share them with other people.

Where do you want to be in 5 years? This question is not so much about geography but about soul space. What condition would you like to find your heart and soul when you revisit this moment in 5 years? If you are coming out of a busy season, you may have pushed this question to the back burner for years. It might even make you feel a little squirmy to consider. Discovering the goal helps you craft your plan.

Look at your investments.

No, I don’t mean to look at your finances. With the market as crazy as it is, this would only generate more anxiety. Instead, I want you to look at how you invest your free time. A position of transition affords you the opportunity to add new practices to craft the life you would like to inhabit. Investing in not only your physical health, but your mental and spiritual health, as well, are vital for you to love more fully and recognize the path God has created you to travel.

Many of us invest heavily in one category, give a little time to another, leaving the final completely untouched.

Where have you invested your free time? Does the soil of your schedule support your mind, body, &/or soul?

Is your time somewhat balanced so that each area has the opportunity to remain healthy?

What can you do in the coming months to invest in the area that has seen the least attention?

What are your gifts/strengths/talents?

Which one would you like to focus on developing in the coming months?

What life experience of wisdom do you have that someone else needs?

From Manager to Composer

Transitioning from being the Manager of Many to being Composer of your own Calendar takes time. Looking forward with hope that the future is full of opportunity rather than a space of time to grit your teeth and muddle through is essential.

Pausing, resting, and recharging your soul is vital and allows you to embrace your new normal. Consider dusting off the cute notebook you bought for the journaling practice you never fully embraced. Take some time to remember what makes your soul sing so that you can compose your calendar rather than drift forward without a plan or purpose.