Lately I have been feeling some sadness at growing older. After living a very active life for over sixty years, emotions similar to “empty nest syndrome” have been creeping in. Nothing really desperate, mind you, just thoughts like: “Is this all there is to life at this age? Why am I already feeling lonely, as if I were truly alone, as when a spouse dies?” My husband and I enjoy each other’s company, and we are busier than ever this summer, with the garden overflowing; but there is a longing for something else. I ask myself if I am being discontented, which I consider a sin, or if there is something about aging that I am just discovering for myself.
When my first husband and I were married long ago in North Carolina, we received a beautiful set of china from the church members. We packed them away carefully and took them with us wherever we moved. One year we moved five times! When we finally settled down long enough, my husband told me that whatever of our possessions we did not use in six months would be discarded– except of course, seasonal items like winter clothing, etc. Not wanting to break our expensive china by constant use, we had kept it in its packing box, but my husband said if we did not use it within six months, out it would go! So we used it often. Even after my husband died I used the china many times. Four years after he died, I began to feel like the packed box of china– someone with an abundance of valuable life experiences which were not being used or shared with others. I spoke of this to my pastor and his wife– “Is this all there is to life, now at this stage?”
I remember when we had to take the car keys away from my parents (who lived next door to me) when they became too incapacitated to drive safely. That was a traumatic moment for them, and a sad one for me, to admit that my parents were really getting too old to perform some tasks that had been second nature to them. I laughingly told them that now we could pretend they were very wealthy and could afford a chauffeur– me! I believe my parents probably felt that was the beginning of the end of their lives. Am I at that stage of aging where I begin to think life is past and there is little reason to live, too? (My hips are now bad enough that I can no longer ride a motorcycle with my husband. "Old" has set in.)
Not wanting to resort to psychology, I began wondering what God’s Word has to say about my encroaching “swamp of despair.” Does God have anything to say about what women feel through the various stages of their lives? I did not know for sure, but I was willing to search. And so, I went to the beginning– Genesis.
Genesis 2:18-24 And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
Aha! Of course! Adam needed a wife! Eve was needed. That is what I am feeling– a need to be needed. But I know my second husband needs me– he tells me every day that I am the perfect wife for him. Do I need any more than him? (Proverbs 31:10-31 describes a perfect wife and how her husband and children praise her.)
“Children.” My husband and I have five– three of mine and two of his. God’s Word also shows the biological urge in women–the need to have a baby. In Samuel 1:2-20, Hannah yearns for children. In Genesis 30:1, “... when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die.” (A desperate need to have children!) God did answer both Hannah and Rachel by opening their wombs. Psalms 113:9 He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. Praise ye the LORD.
Another way women are needed is stated by the Psalmist: Psalms 22:9 But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts. Psalms 22:10 I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly. A baby needs its mother for sustenance– in the womb and for nursing. After weaning, most mothers yearn for another baby. Women love being needed!
God’s Word also tells us children need mother and father to teach them about God and His Word: Deut. 6:7 And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. Parents are to teach children every minute of the day how to love and obey God.
Okay! I have been there and done that! But does the Bible say anything about “empty nest syndrome?” Every empty nest woman needs to be needed, but her children are gone and no longer need her. God does address the issue, though not as I thought. Husband and wife are to maintain their own relationship of marriage throughout the child training years. I saw that a woman needs God’s Word to be implanted deep in her life. Here is God’s plan for husbands and wives:
Eph. 5:15- 27 See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
I Tim. 5:8-10: But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work.
Families are to provide for their own households in physical and spiritual ways. My first husband and I maintained our relationship during the child training years by having “date nights” when we would spend time together assessing the spiritual and physical needs of ourselves and our children. When I was 52 years old, he was killed, and I was at a loss. No one was left at home who needed me! That was when I spent a lot of time with my pastor and his wife for encouragement in the Word. Then I discovered how an overlooked passage in Titus could apply to me:
Titus 2:3-5 The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.
I discovered a new need I had --older women need to pass on life skills to younger women. I was to be like the good widow in I Tim. 5:10. What a blessing God has given older women in meeting this need! I have had many years happily encouraging younger wives and mothers, even having young ladies sent to me by my sister in Brazil for “mentoring.” Sadly, many churches do not avail themselves of this plan of God for encouraging their younger women. Some younger women think they will be looked down upon if they are not “super-woman,” so they do not ask for help or advice from the elder women. And even more sad it is that many older women shun this plan of God. They say, “I have done my share of taking care of house and children, and am going to take care of my needs now!” How they miss out on the blessing that comes from encouraging other women in righteousness, so that God’s Word is not blasphemed!
Another blessing is thrown away when children no longer need, or value their parents in their own lives and in the lives of their own children. Dear friends of ours lament the fact that their children have no room in their lives for them, except as guests at Christmas to bring gifts to the grandchildren. These friends are missionaries who have rich experiences which may bless their children and grandchildren, but their own offspring deny them the chance to visit more than once a year! The children “take out the good china” only at Christmas! They are content to be “an island unto themselves” the rest of the year.
As we get older, we need to be needed by the younger generation, especially the grandchildren. We hear of so many younger people professing their need for the older generation for the financial aid they can give, especially for “college”. There is certainly nothing wrong with needing financial aid, but the need to be needed goes much deeper than “money.” Praise the Lord, my husband and I have children who welcome our interaction with our grandchildren! Psalm 78: 1-8 is one of my favorite “multi-generational passages:
Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God.
So where does all this bring me to at this time in my life? What about my desires to be needed? Granted, I am needed by my husband, though we are not part of a bustling family life like I yearn for as I remember my childhood. So what does God say about where I am right now? I am finally brought to:
Ecclesiastes 3:1-14: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth? I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it. He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end. I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life. And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God. I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him.
There is a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing. God has made everything beautiful in His time. Though I need and desire the companionship of our children and grandchildren, my greatest need is my need of God’s presence, in whom alone all my needs are met at every season of my life, to God be the glory!
"My sin, o the bliss of this glorious thought; my sin not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, O my soul."
(Note: The china above was hand painted by my mother-in-law on Bavarian china! A truly talented woman!)