Sitting in the waiting room with dilated eyes, I could only make out pictures and headlines in the magazine I thumbed through. I saw a set of bullet points—some sort of symptoms—and as I squinted I recognized one after another.
- Feeling more sad than usual;
- Often aggravated;
- Crying easily;
- Experiencing a loss of meaning and purpose; and
- Avoiding social interaction or activities.
I ticked through each item on the list—reading between the lines when I couldn’t read the actual lines—and determined that it was an article on depression. I set the magazine down and was called back for my exam where I read a paragraph with a wooden spoon over one eye, struggled as I always do not to giggle when the eye doctor zoomed in with his bright light, and answered the “which is better” question a thousand times.
After the exam I saw the magazine I’d been reading, and it was open to the same page. Only now I could read the title of the article: Surviving Empty Nest Syndrome. I scoffed and kept walking.
I winced when I heard myself use a sharp tone with the person who helped me check out. I walked to the parking ramp, held the door for two different people who silently passed through, and sarcastically muttered, “You’re welcome” to no one. And in the car, I heaved sigh after annoyed sigh when I failed to clear a traffic light or had to dodge a pothole.
Not long after I got home I was almost knocked over by waves of sadness that left me sobbing and heaving for breath. I wept for no “good” reason and when I could deny it no longer, I wept as I resonated with every part of Empty Nest Syndrome. Every part except the name.
In a world that is consistently viewed through the lens of parenthood, I’m not an Empty Nester; I’m a Never Nester. In addition to being in the Notta Momma Club, I’m also single. Worse—divorced.
I am among the one in five women born in the 1960s who reached the age of 45 without having had kids. (Technically, I had one or two in utero several times before I miscarried them.) So, while 80% of my peers are in various stages of raising their kids and sending them off into the world, I am transitioning into another phase of wondering where I fit in.
In my 20s and 30s when others were bonding over sleepless nights and exhausting days, I looked on with hope and expectation of getting my turn. In my 30s and 40s when friends were challenged with navigating their children’s grade school plays, puberty and teenaged years, I looked on with envy and anxiety at being left behind. In my 40s and now mid-50s I struggle to find a place where I belong in a world that is consistently focused on the nuclear family. Narrow that world to the Church, and the focus becomes as laser sharp as the eye doctor adjusting my prescription lenses.
There are few places that are more family oriented than the Church—which is as it should be—to provide families a way to encounter Jesus. A local church community is vital to growing one’s faith and I’m incredibly grateful for mine, as well as the many families with whom I worship.
However, beyond the Church’s tendency to treat marriage and parenthood as a “blessing” and singleness as a “gift” is a lacking awareness of those who may never be parents and whose hearts break as a result. Those who are childless not by choice—married or single—often walk a lonely road. Roads within the Church are not perfect; they are traveled by broken, imperfect people. But the Church’s roads should be a lot less lonely than those outside the community of believers.
Even when we don’t recognize someone else’s path, we are called to journey with one another and provide the support and love of Christ along the way. We were created to live in community with the Father and commanded to live in community with one another.
The Bible mentions “one another” (from the Greek allelon, meaning reciprocally, mutually) over 100 times.
Love one another. John 13
Honor one another. Romans 12
Accept one another. Romans 15
Encourage one another. 2 Corinthians 13
In addition to living dependently upon God, we are called to live interdependently with our brothers and sisters. Jesus doesn’t tell us to be in community only with those we understand or to whom we can easily relate. He repeatedly tells us to show up for one another.
Teach one another a lament. Jeremiah 9
Wash one another’s feet. John 13
Be devoted to one another in love. Romans 12
Offer hospitality to one another. 1 Peter 4
I don’t know how it feels to have a houseful of children become increasingly independent and move on to lives of their own. I imagine it’s bittersweet. You may not know how it feels to live with the disenfranchised grief of infertility and miscarriage. Or maybe you do. But we don’t need complete understanding to show mercy, to accept, to encourage, or to love one another.
That phrase alone appears in Scripture a dozen times. As if to put an even finer point on it, the author of Hebrews tells us to keep on loving one another. Whether life has us filling our nest or watching it empty, may God the Father bring us peace and guide us ever closer to Jesus as we love one another.