“Do one thing every day that scares you.”
Mary Schmich, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune (June 1, 1997) wrote that advice to newly graduated students. Even though I graduated decades ago, something about that quotation stuck in my heart. I ruminated on it for days.
“Do one thing every day that scares you.”
Interesting advice for 20-somethings. But certainly not applicable for a woman like me in the midst of empty nest. Right? Maybe . . .
I have lived the busy life of driving kids to practices and rehearsals and volunteering for class parties and field trips. I’ve led Bible study groups and meetings and earned paychecks. But now I have an empty nest and finally some sustained quiet. Surely now I can just rejoice in routine and comfort, and slow down and savor the quiet.
Why should I get out of my cozy chair, stretch myself, set myself up for the pain and disappointment that inevitably comes with trying something new, something scary? Age has perks, right?
The Eerie Quiet of Empty Nest
Because I spent much of life working at home raising children, when they left, my world became quiet. At first I cherished the time to write and think. My favorite chair, my favorite coffee, my favorite music, my furry dog. My introverted soul felt at peace.
Until it didn’t.
The quiet in my house began to echo. The questions bounced off the walls and in and out of my mind and heart: What shall I do with this time? Do I really have anything to offer this world? And can I handle the complications of relating to other people outside my home?
I felt weary of a lifetime of interactions. Certainly God would understand if I just curled up in my comfortable chair.
But I knew better.
I knew that God calls us all to connection—to living shoulder to shoulder with people. I knew that he did not create any of us to hide from the world of people. And I that knew that by snuggling into my comfortable chair in my quiet home day after day, I would not honor the God who created me and gifted me.
I knew that I had to get out of my house. It had become a place to hide.
I committed to a writer’s group and planned regular coffee dates and lunches with friends. I exercised, ran errands . . .
But I also found reasons to cancel plans and stay home. Back to the chair. Back to the known. Back to letting fear and comfort win.
I needed to do something else. Something drastic. I finally realized that I needed to get a job.
I could too easily quit a volunteer commitment, trumping up some excuse or another. But if I took a job, my responsible self would feel bad about leaving when challenges set in. And a regular paycheck would certainly help the family budget.
The Daunting Task of Job Hunting
I started applying for part-time jobs. The last time I did this people still printed out resumes and handed them to a person. No more! Everything happens online with electronic applications and video interviews. And I had large gaps in my resume. Sigh!
On so many job-hunting days, I thought, Enough, already! I will never get a job. I want to quit. I’ll just stay home and write from my cozy, safe chair.
But then fear would win. I could not, would not, let that happen!
And I began to realize that I truly wanted to give God the chance to show himself strong in my empty-nest life by helping me to face something new, something frightening for me: a job.
I returned to some verses I first discovered in my 20s when life felt scary and full of unknowns:
This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:6-7, NLT
How interesting that decades later, these verses still spoke truth to my heart. In some ways my empty nest seems similar to launching out in my 20s: Lots of options. Lots of unknowns. Lots of self-doubt.
After many months of electronic applications and electronic rejections, I finally got an in-person interview and then, amazingly, a job in healthcare—a totally new field for me.
I learned the new language of healthcare. I learned to navigate and enjoy the personalities of my coworkers. And much to my surprise, I discovered that all those years of trying to listen to my children and understand their needs now translated into knowing how to listen and hear the needs of sick and stressed patients in my new workplace. Granted, my job involved mostly clerical tasks, but every day I also encountered multiple opportunities to act as the hands and feet and eyes and ears of Jesus. And my heart sang. What a surprise!
And I thought a scary new thing would simply add stress and anxiety.
The Joy of Meeting God in the Scary
God has used this job, my “scary thing,” to “fan into flame” the gift of empathy, which he planted within my heart a long time ago, and which I had buried deep in the cushions of my cozy chair, nestled safely in my quiet, empty house.
How like God to match my step into something frightening with a step of his own, meeting me in the midst of this new place, a place I could never have found from my overstuffed chair.
Stretching—reaching, risking—comes harder at this age than it did when I was young. And yet it still matters. God still has things he wants me to learn. And he can still work through me to connect to other people as his hands, feet, eyes, and ears. He can bring joy in the midst of “new.”
Doing something that scares me every day feels a bit much, even for my over-achieving self. Doing something once a month that scares me seems a bit more doable, and something truly worth setting as a goal.
Even in this empty-nest era.
Afton graduated from Wheaton College with a degree in literature as well as a teaching certificate in secondary education. She and her husband John are the parents of two adult children.