It’s been a weird year for me.
My youngest daughter got married just a few weeks ago…November 17th. She got married on a Thursday because apparently, you can save thousands of dollars if you get married on a day when no one else wants to get married. So my baby girl decided to want to get married on a Thursday, and I think she’s a smart girl. I’m pretty fond of her new husband, too. He’s a good guy—he just wants to change my youngest daughter’s last name…and her address, because come this January he wants to move her to Oregon. And that’s kind of freaking me out.
My oldest daughter moved to Colorado only 8 days after the wedding, which was the day after Thanksgiving, if you’re counting. Wow. She moved, like, 850 miles away. Which I really shouldn’t complain about, because when I moved away from home, well, first I moved 348 miles away, and then after I married my husband I moved about 1,747 miles away from home.
I suppose that I really have nothing to complain about.
The thing is that…I feel…so…
I went into Target the other day and I saw all the Christmas stuff. Dear God, I love Christmas! At least I used to. And then I looked at all those decorations and the lights and the ornaments and the gift wrap and the baking supplies and I thought…
There is no one left at home to pamper! No one left at home to bake for!
There is no one left to pamper!
My little girls have all grown up and they are moving away! My whole world has been reduced down to me and my husband and two Shih Tzus. That’s it. There is no one left to bake for, no one left to buy stuff for, there is no one left to decorate the house for.
I have discovered…the EMPTY NEST.
I thought the empty nest would happen when my daughters stopped living at home, but it didn’t, not really. Alex moved out 5 ½ years ago, and then Katie moved out three years ago. I freaked out a little wondering if they were safe or if they were well fed, but in general I was fine. I thought I had this empty nest thing mastered, and then…
They got married and moved away and I’m dang near dying of the pain of it all.
Who exactly am I here to take care of?
I mean, I have a husband and all, but realistically? How much care does he need at 54 years old? And I need to be careful not to smother the man, so…
What exactly am I here for?
I hate that question!
I’ve spent my whole life being the mom and the wife and the daughter and the pastor and the counselor and suddenly…there aren’t near as many people to take care of, and I don’t know how to handle it.
I find myself sitting before God with an empty bowl, wondering why I’m here and what God needs me to do, and I’m not getting any answers.
It’s the worst feeling I’ve ever had.
I wake up every day to this empty bowl, and no matter how many people I try to put in my bowl, God keeps pulling them out. I wake up with an empty bowl, and I go to sleep with an empty bowl. After a while I don’t even want to look at the dang bowl. I’m sick to death of that bowl because all it does is remind me that there is no one left who needs me, not really.
I know I’m supposed to be happy because it’s Christmas and all, but I’m not. I walk through the stores and I see all the Christmas decorations and I just feel sad. I feel empty. I feel like I want to cry and I can’t make it go away.
I prayed about it. I did! I asked God over and over to show me what I’m supposed to be doing now and no answer came.
I’m not used to not getting an answer from the Lord.
But not getting an answer has made me wonder about empty bowls.
You see, I grew up in farming country. I grew up where we grow the corn and the wheat and the cows and the chickens and the soybeans. I spent my summers canning with my mom, putting up vegetables and fruit, preparing for the winter when nothing was fresh. We knew that we could make it better at home than anyone could ever make it at the store and so we spent the summer preparing for the barren times.
That day at Target I sat in my car, crying and wondering what my mom did when there was no one left to can for. You know, she and my dad can only eat so many jars of pickles and tomatoes, so many bags of corn and beans. My mom used to spend the whole summer canning and putting up vegetables and fruit, so what exactly happened to all of that? And what did she do when my brother and I were gone?
I decided to call her. I told her how I was feeling and I could hear her smiling at me when she replied.
First you cry, she said. First you cry.
And then she said things I wasn’t expecting.
She said “Let God lead you into a time of lying fallow.”
I know what that means. Fallow. It’s what farmers do with their fields when the field has been used to produce crops for years and years. Over time the field gets worn, even though it keeps producing good crops. The field gets tired and exhausted and the soil gets thin; all the good stuff and the nutrients that made the field produce such good crops fade away and the field becomes weak. If the farmer is smart, the farmer stops planting in that field and lets it lie fallow, and if the farmer is really smart they do that long before the field becomes so weak that its crops are worthless. The field might lie fallow for a year, and sometimes longer! And during that time, the field just sits there, with the stalks from its last crop sowed back into the ground. While the it rests, the field gathers up its strength. Somehow, in the time that the field lies empty, the soil become rich again, and then after a couple of years, the farmer replants and the field bears fruit and crops and good things happen there. But for at least a year, nothing. Most of the time it’s longer. Most of the time, a field lies fallow for several years—years where there is nothing at all.
I understood what my mom was saying to me but it was hard to accept. I don’t know about you but I feel like my personal worth is wrapped up in what I produce, what I do for my family and friends, what I do for my church and my God. Who am I and what the heck am I worth if I’m not doing anything at all? If there is no one to take care of, who am I?
I may think that way, but The Great Farmer is wiser than that. The farmer knows that a field left to lie fallow, no matter how long it lays there, empty—the Great Farmer knows that a field left to lie fallow is a promise. A promise of what is to come. A promise of a greater future. A promise of purpose and meaning and value. A field that lies fallow is a field at rest; a field waiting to be all that the farmer can ever hope for.
God is like that with us.
We hate it when our bowl is empty. We hate it when we can’t see why we’re here and what we’re here for and what we’re supposed to do and who we are supposed to serve. We want to be active and filled with purpose and meaning and God is the wise farmer that says Wait! Stop! Rest. God asks us to let it go and lie fallow and know that we are everything God ever meant for us to be and yet, we still aren’t done.
A field that lies fallow is a promise of what is to come.
As far as I’m concerned, a promise of what is to come is just short of a wrapped Christmas present that God is preparing just for me.
I like that idea. I like the idea that where I am in my life right now, as difficult as it feels at this moment, is actually a wrapped Christmas present from God to me—a present that will slowly open all by itself sometime in the future. And when that present opens, I’ll know it for what it is: a blessing from the Lord to me. I also know that when my present finally opens, my bowl will be full to overflowing.
God is like that with us. God is always like that.
May God bless you to overflowing during this Advent season, and prepare you for the coming of the Christ child!
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long. Psalm 23, NRSV