Here I am into my fourth week of being an "empty nester." So far, so good. I've had my moments when I wandered around aimlessly, but those were occasions when my husband had to work late or was at a meeting, and I found myself having to cook for no one but myself. I'm pretty sure that eating licorice or popcorn for dinner on those occasions will not be a continuing trend, and I've actually been very busy between de-cluttering and preparing for teaching each week.
I find keeping busy as I face change is a practical way to focus less on myself, hence, preventing self-pity. For many, the question "what will I do?" can feel a bit daunting.
One thing we can do is return to work. I never had a "career" as such, so there's nothing to "return" to. I've had a few people express surprise when I say I'm not job hunting. And no, I don't want to be a greeter at Wal-Mart. I appreciate those folks very much on the extremely rare occasions when I visit there, but I am still committed to my home as my primary focus of service. Besides, I have a very unruly Beagle, and I'm hopeful that at some point in her life, she will come after being called just once and will stop howling at people on the other side of the fence. That being said, many women return to work, and that is a legitimate way to live for God's glory.
For those who don't return to work full time, we have innumerable opportunities to serve. I thought today I would mention a few I've either been involved in or seen worked out.
- Teach. You'd be surprised at how many young women want to be taught. Have a bible study with a nursery provided. That is by far the most common reason young women offer when they are asked why they don't attend bible studies, child care. Another related option is to offer to babysit for a woman for a couple of hours so she can stay at home and read her bible and study. Take the kids out of the house for a while or stay there and tell her to go the public library. I had a friend who actually paid a babysitter on occasion so she could go to a park and read her bible uniinterrupted. This would be a great service for a woman with time on her hands. If single women is your area of ministry, suggest an evening time for a study. Young single women are often away from home, and it can be nice for them to be in your home, having fellowship in a quiet setting. My daughter is single and busy, and when she comes home, she just likes to have someone else cook for her, because most of the time, her meals are quick and on the run. She likes having someone make something nice for her.
- Work with children or young people. Teaching children is hard. It's more than crowd control; at least it ought to be. Be really brave and volunteer for the youth group. Youth ministries are replete with leaders in their twenties and thirties, but I think youth groups benefit from older leaders, too. I found when I worked with the young people that having leaders who had actually rasied a teenager was helpful. And you just ignore those objections you may be thinking, "I'm out of touch with that generation." Your love for Christ and desire to see them know Him is worth more than being in touch with their lifestyles. Besides, what's "in" today, will be "out" tomorrow, and you can adapt.
- Prayer ministry. Find some women, pick a time, bake a batch of muffins (or buy them if you don't like to bake) and pray for an hour. Get a list from your church office. "Adopt" a college student and pray for him or her, making contact, and asking for requests. If you don't want to have people in your home, pray on your own or meet somewhere. Make it your business to find out who needs prayer.
- Practical helps for young mothers. This can take on numerous dimensions. Offer to go to her house and bake with her, keeping an eye on the kids. Help her decorate her home. If she's a decorating dunce (I was) and she needs pointers, but you're full of ideas, help her. I know one young mother who hates doing crafts with her kids, so an older woman goes to her house weekly and does crafts with her children. During that time, the mother does other things. I wish I'd had that. I hated crafts. If a young mother wants to shop for an hour or two without having to cart the kids along, offer to sit with them. It's practice for grandparenting if you don't already have some of those little blessings of your own.
- Volunteer in the community. Find a crisis pregnancy center and offer to do whatever they need. My in-laws both drive for the Canadian Cancer Society. Patients often have long rides to the hospital where their treatments are given, and don't have transportation. My in-laws drive them and wait for them and then drive them home. It's a real ministry, and an opportunity for someone to see love in action and hear the gospel if the opportunity presents itself. People who are facing cancer welcome the ministry of others, because it can be a time of great fear and uncertainty.
- Study. Find time to learn more about God. Read books; lots of them. Write in notebooks about what you learn. Find a book group, and study something really meaty and theological. It's a chance to make friends, too. Studying sharpens our minds and prepares us for occasions when young women seek our counsel. Our counsel ought to be comprised of more than just our experience; we must be thelogically sound.
- Be available. I know a lot of older women who are never home because they are too busy. I don't want to be that busy. Emergencies often come up, and when a young mother wants to go to a doctor's appointment at the last minute, or needs to run out at the last minute, it's nice if we can be available. I think having down time is good. Personally, I like having quiet time when I can just sit and ponder. And even though we have just our husbands to care for doesn't mean they don't like having a nice meal when they get home, or appreciate having their laundry folded and available to them. I've been cooking more since my kids left because now I can cook things I like without hearing the complaints. My husband has enjoyed that. I want to be here for him, too. Furthermore, many older women have aging parents who require care. Being available for them must also be figured into the schedule.
These are all very ordinary areas of service. There are likely more that others can think of. The point is to get up and get serving!