Encouragement for Parents with Kids Moving Away to College – the Spacious Nest Syndrome

[From the archives.]

Our son Kyle recently came home from college for a long weekend and brought three friends with him. For spacious-nesters like us it was quite a crowd. (My wife Liz and I figure we’re not empty-nesters since we’re still here for crying out loud!)

Each night after dinner we all sat together at the table and talked. We didn’t necessarily talk about anything in particular; we just talked. There was a lot of laughing as we told stories about Kyle when he was younger. He’s a good sport and came up with a few stories about us too. His friends were very entertained and kept looking at Kyle and saying things like, “Well that explains a lot!”

They also asked us questions, mostly about God and faith and the Bible. Apparently Kyle told them ahead of time they should feel free to ask us whatever they had on their minds when it came to God. He knows us well, because Liz and I are not likely to back away from a discussion about God things.

Eventually the conversations turned to their plans for the future. Kyle is the only one graduating this year, so the others were talking about what to do this summer, whether to apply to study abroad next year, what their major might finally end up being. In all of this there was a subtext of faith. At times it became explicit such as when talking about opportunities to serve on a summer mission, but even when not so explicit it was always there under the surface. These kids know that their lives are wrapped up in God.

They left after dinner on Monday, and the next day I was reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers. I don’t know how many times I’ve read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I know it’s enough to have lost count by now. Yet every time I get to the part where Aragorn and his friends Gimli the Dwarf and Legolas the Elf meet Eomer, I am struck again by the timelessness of the tale.

Aragorn explains to Eomer that they are traveling through his country on a quest to save their Hobbit friends from a large band of marauding Orcs, and he seeks Eomer’s leave to continue their pursuit. Eomer struggles with whether to help these strangers or not and says:

“It is hard to be sure of anything among so many marvels. Elf and Dwarf in company walk among our daily fields …! How shall a man judge what to do in such times?”

“As he has ever judged,” said Aragorn. “Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear, nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among men.”

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That’s what got me thinking about Kyle and his friends. They are all judging what to do with their lives, even if that’s not quite how they’d put it. But his friends are in just their second year of college. Where are they supposed to get the ability to discern good from ill, right from wrong? Well, as timeless as Tolkien’s portrayal of good judgment may be there is an even more timeless resource for them (and us) to turn to for guidance.

“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” (Proverbs 16:3.)

God himself is the one we can trust our plans to. Does it matter whether the plan is to go to summer school or serve on a mission to South Africa? What about making a final decision on choosing a major? Is a choice of roommate and housing for next year something to exercise good judgment over?

The answer to each of these questions is the same: Yes. How is this done, though? What does it mean to commit our plans to the God? The Bible tells us. “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31.) We’re also told that God’s will is that we “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.)

Those are our guides for committing our plans to God: seek his glory, and do it joyfully, prayerfully and with thanksgiving. On top of all this, the Bible also gives us a wonderful reason to trust God with those plans: his eternal and unchanging nature.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8.)

Even more than Tolkien’s assurance about the unchanging qualities of good and ill, we can rest assured that God himself has not changed since yesteryear. That’s why committing our plans to him is always the best plan we can make.

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19:21.)

I’m planning on it.

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[My thanks to Adriana of Classical Quest for creating the LOTR quote-graphic for this post.]

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4 Responses to Encouragement for Parents with Kids Moving Away to College – the Spacious Nest Syndrome

  1. Linn says:

    The church where I came to faith had a strange notion that it wasn’t God’s will unless it made you feel miserable and caused great distress when you felt God asking you to commit your life in that direction. I never felt that way about missions and/or teaching. I felt like the proverbial duck that takes to water. After 15 years of missionary work, woven in with a 40-year teaching career, I’m the happiest, quackiest duck on the planet. No, it hasn’t all been easy, but it has been a joy. When I look at the future, I know there will be retirement, but I’m also plotting the ways I can work with the under-served in my teacher/missionary sort of way. God has been so gracious to let me do what I love for such a long time.

  2. Thanks for this fascinating insight into your family dynamics and how God-talk weaves in and out of your family interactions. (Your children and mine are at a similar stage of life.)
    I so appreciated your take on Eomer’s and Aragorn’s conversation. I have also reflected on Aragorn’s words. (J.R.R. Tolkien expert in my teens/high school here. *raises hand*) While these words were set in a time of crisis in Middle Earth, there are crises that continually arise in this world, of various kinds. And, people need to judge what to do, how to act, and what to hold dear – as they have ever done. Thanks, too, for these powerful verses that inform us of the timeless truths that God sets before us.

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