Retreat, Rest, and Recuperate
About the Guest
Are you dazed by the changes thrust on you by the empty nest? Then you’re not alone. On the broadcast today, Barbara Rainey joins her husband, Dennis Rainey, and her long-time friend, Susan Yates, to talk about the benefits of taking a “time-out” after the children leave home. Hear Barbara and Susan tell what they did to unwind and how this time of relaxation helped them gear up for the second half.
Are you dazed by the changes thrust on you by the empty nest?
Retreat, Rest, and Recuperate
Susan: I would encourage that mom whose last child has left to sort of say "No," for the first six months to all the requests that come – would you volunteer, would you head up this, would you head up that – and just scale back simply a little bit.
Barbara: In taking a break, the goal is to be refreshed spiritually, physically, emotionally, and I think the answer to the question of how long is whatever it takes. So it's going to look different, and the duration is going to be different depending on your circumstances.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, September 16th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. So the kids are gone, and you've got this time on your hands, and now you're going to take a break? What are you going to do? Well, that's what we'll talk about today – stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. When your children were little, and they would get upset or confused or there would be an issue, you sometimes put them in timeout, didn't you?
Dennis: Yeah, it was usually rebellion that sent them to timeout.
Bob: Sent them to timeout? Here is my question – when Barbara hit the empty nest, did you put her in timeout?
Bob: Did she put herself in timeout?
Did he want me to be in timeout? No.
Bob: You can come out of timeout, and you said, "I still need time," huh?
Barbara: He was saying, "Be available to me – come, come, come."
Dennis: I was totally surprised, as we entered the empty nest years, at how long it took Barbara to process, well, the empty nest but her purpose in life, what she was going to do, and how she was going to go about it, and all kidding aside, it is an interesting process that neither one of us really bargained for.
Bob: We're focusing in on this season of life, this empty nest season, on our program this week, and we've got with us not only your wife, Barbara, who we're thrilled to have back on the program, Barbara.
Barbara: Thank you, Bob.
Bob: We also have your friend, Susan Yates – our friend – I guess we can say our friend, can't we?
Barbara: Yes, you can.
Bob: Susan Yates, who –
Dennis: And John Yates' wife.
Bob: That's right. She is the co-author, along with Barbara, of the book, "Barbara and Susan's Guide to the Empty Nest," and let me ask you, Barbara, about his self-imposed timeout that you went into – did it surprise you that it took as long as it did for you to kind of process your emotions and your thoughts and all that was going on here?
Barbara: Yes, it did surprise me. I sort of had it pictured in my mind that it would take me – I was thinking maybe two or three months, I was thinking a good chunk of the fall, just sort of adjust to not having kids that I had to send off every morning and be there every afternoon when they came home and homework and all of the things that went with it.
And so I thought it was going to take me a while, but it took much longer than two to three months, and so that did surprise me.
Dennis: I thought it was going to take two to three weeks.
Barbara: I know you did.
Dennis: I'd heard our friend, Susan Yates, and her husband, John, and we've mentioned this earlier, but you all went off on a little vacation and celebrated the empty nest, and I thought the transition would be fully made.
Bob: You thought they'd get back home, turn in the rental car, and everything would be fine, right?
Dennis: Yeah, wasn't that how it happened for you and John, Susan?
Susan: No, but, you know, we made the mistake – I think Barbara and you were actually wiser in terms of Barbara was good about intentionally taking a break, and we did come back from that one week away and just resumed life at full throttle, and I didn't take a break.
And so one of the things that I've learned in doing this book is that I needed to take a break, and I really didn't. And so I would encourage women, especially Type A, over-committed, over-achievers who have full lives who – you get home at the end of the day, and your identity is great if you have things you could check off your to-do lists. You don't have things to check off, you sort of sink.
So I think, in a way, we cover up – or I, especially, covered up the need to take a break with activity because I didn't, perhaps, unconsciously want to feel the pain of the loss of the kids, or I didn't know how to cope with the silence. So I kept on going and going and going, and now, six years into the empty nest, I'm weary. And I think I'm weary, in part, because I didn't take a break.
Dennis: In reading what you all have written here, it seems to me that a good bit is based upon the Ten Commandments, and specifically the commandment to take a day and call it a "sabbath" – a sabbath day of rest. This concept of what you're talking about here – taking a break, really is rooted in that, isn't it?
Barbara: Absolutely. One of the things that we tried to practice in our family was the whole concept of the Sabbath, but beyond that, in the Old Testament God prescribed that we have a day of rest, but He also prescribed other seasons of rest for his people, the nation of Israel, and one of was the Year of Jubilee, which happened every 50 years and, interestingly, the empty nest often hits women about the time they turn 50.
And so it really makes sense that when we celebrate our 50th birthday that we also take a time of rest as we transition into the second half of life, and so we talk about that in our book – that it's important that we follow this biblical pattern of taking some time to rest. We talk also about taking some time for retreat, and retreat doesn't mean quit, it doesn't mean surrender, it doesn't mean you disappear, it just means you pull back from the front lines for a season, a short season, to regroup and figure out where God wants you to go to the front lines in your next season, and then go forward again.
So the whole concept is rooted in Scripture in the pattern that God gave us of having seasons of rest in our lives.
Dennis: I think what you all are taking about here really goes beyond folks who are facing the empty nest. I think, as a culture, we're addicted to activity, and it's why, Susan, the way you described yourself, we are weary, because we don't know how to rest, we don't know how to contemplate, we don't know how to prayerfully sit and soak and listen and see what God has for us in the next season of our lives.
And so what you all are really, I think, recommending here is something that has application to any person in the midst of a major transition.
Susan: Oh, it does, and it's such a reflection, Dennis, of our culture. Because I live in the Washington, D.C. area, it's a very stressful area and, in fact, we laugh that stress has become a status symbol – whoever is the most stressed is obviously the busiest and the most significant.
And it's very subtle, but significance becomes the idol, and that's not what God intended.
Bob: Barbara, let me ask you – I'm curious – did you take an intentional break saying, "I'm going to take some time out and think through these and pray through this and kind of adjust," or did a break take you? Do you know what I mean? I mean, were you saying, "I'm going to be intentional about this," or did you just find, "I can't get on with life unless I process this, and I'll take as long as I need?"
Barbara: It was really both, and that is a good question. But, for me, it really was both. It was a choice that I made, but it was also a compelling need that I had because, at the same time we launched our daughter, our last child, into college, we also had a daughter who was a prodigal, and we had just checked her into a rehab facility in another state. And so the same week, we took one daughter to college, we also took another daughter to rehab.
I had a lot of adjustments in my life, and I knew that I emotionally needed help. I needed time to rest, I needed time to recover from the stress and the anxiety that we had felt, as a couple, in dealing with our prodigal daughter, but I also needed time to rest and recover from all the years of parenting. I mean, I had been giving my life to six people for 28 years, day in and day out, 24/7, they were always on my mind, I was also thinking about the next event, the next need, the next area that they needed to grow in, how do we discipline, how do we train, how do we pray, how do we help, I mean, that was always on my mind.
And so I also knew that I needed time to rest and recover from just the effects of parenting on my life for 28 years.
Bob: Do you think the fact that you were going through a major transition and a major family issue, crisis, simultaneously, meant that your timeout was compounded, and that if it had been a more natural or normal transition into the empty nest, you might have gotten through it in a month or two or three?
Barbara: Well, I don't know that I would have gotten through it in a month or two or three, but I do think that I would have been much more inclined to do what Susan did, which was to just do the next thing that happened to be on the horizon and to keep going. But I was so depleted and so aware of my need for recovery personally, that I felt I had no choice but to have a season of rest, and I'm really glad that I was compelled to do that, because I probably wouldn't have, because I'm a type A driven person, too, and I love lists and checking stuff off.
So I'm not sure that I would have taken it had I not been compelled to.
Bob: Okay, let me ask both of you – if a woman is listening, and she's headed toward the empty nest, and she's thinking, "Okay, I hear you and, yeah, I probably ought to have some time to take a break when that time comes," how would you coach her? How long does she need? And, keep in mind, some of these women are working full time.
Barbara: That's right.
Bob: So it's not like they can take a three-month major sabbatical, right? Or let's say a woman is in the empty nest, and she's been there for a couple of years, and she's gone, "I didn't take any break, and I feel like Susan, and I'm tired." How would you coach the one who is headed there, and how would you coach the one who is already there but didn't take a break. What do you do during your break? What are you trying to accomplish, and how do you know when you've had enough of one that you re-engage?
Susan: You know, it's going to be different for every single person, Bob, and it is going to depend on some of the other contingencies. It's going to depend on, you know, are you working full time outside the home, and you may be able to take a weekend and just go away on a retreat.
It may mean simply saying no to all the requests to volunteer in this new season because everyone thinks you're free. So I would encourage that Mom whose last child has left to sort of say "No" for the first six months to all of the requests that come – would you volunteer, would you head up this, would you head up that? And just scale back simply a little bit.
The bottom line answer to the question is we, in this chapter, give lots of different options because we know that everybody's situation is completely different.
Barbara: That's right.
Susan: And, also, it may not be in that first year. It may take you the first year of being overcommitted or having to complete a job or for whatever reason. By the end of that first year of the empty nest, you may realize, "Now I really need a breather, and this is what I want to do in the breather."
Bob: You almost called it the empty "mess" there, didn't you?
Bob: I'm wondering if you considered that as a title for the book.
Susan: Empty mess.
Bob: Barbara, how do you know if you've had enough time? When did you come to the point where you said, "Okay, I can re-engage, I can start saying yes to some things, I think I know what life is about for this season?"
Barbara: Yeah, I think it's when you feel refreshed, and I think that's going to be a different timeframe for each woman, depending on how many children she's raised, depending on the situation in her marriage, her health, relationship with her parents – there are so many factors that often converge at this same time that you launch your last child. So I think it all depends on her circumstances.
But, in taking a break, the goal is to be refreshed spiritually, physical, emotionally, and I think the answer to the question of how long is whatever it takes. And it may be because a woman is working full time that she just schedules one weekend a month to get away by herself, and she goes to a friend's cabin, and she reads books and listens to some great music and just lets her soul rest and catch up with her body.
It may be that, as a friend we wrote about in this chapter, in her 50th year she orchestrated some kind of an arrangement with her employer where she was able to take a year's leave of absence. She'd been a school teacher for 20-some years, and she asked them if she could have a year's leave of absence, and they negotiated it all, and she took a year off from her teaching just so that she could have a season of sabbatical in her life to re-evaluate the rest of her life.
So it's going to look different, and the duration is going to be different depending on your circumstances.
Dennis: Okay, Susan, so what do you reflect on as you take this season?
Susan: One of the things that we reflect on is God's faithfulness in the past. You know, too often, we are all about – as we raise kids – we are about praying about the next issue, praying about the friend the child needs, praying about the course they need to get an A in, praying about the spouse they may or may not find. And I find, in all honesty, in my own life, I don't take enough time to thank God for His faithfulness specifically for what He's done.
So a part of taking a break – and the reality is it shouldn't just be when we take break, it should be all the time, but it's being disciplined to thank God for the specific ways He has been faithful in the past.
And that also involves thanking Him for who He is, so to me it's a dual thing – who He is and what He's done. I'll give you a little illustration of how this hit me in the empty nest. I found, in the empty nest, that I would wake up in the morning and before I even got out of bed, I would start to feel a little depressed, before I even put my contacts in, and, you know, you have the luxury in the empty nest, you don't have a child waking you up that you have to grab right away; you don't have a teenager that you have to get out the door. You may have the luxury of a few more minutes.
And as I lay there, I thought, you know, this is not a good thing. And I began to realize that this was an opportunity in the empty nest that was unique to this season to begin to praise God for who He was. There's a wonderful verse in John, chapter 14, that says that one of the jobs of the Holy Spirit is to remind us of all that He has taught us, and if we have had the blessing of walking with Christ for a number of years, we have learned things that we don't even remember.
And so I began the daily discipline of simply, before I even got out of bed, asking the Holy Spirit to remind me of one character trait of God to dwell on that day as a means of being disciplined and being grateful. And I remember one particular morning, the thought that came to my mind was, "God is a rescuer."
And as I went downstairs to get my cup of coffee, the phone rang, and it was a friend of mine in tears because of a situation with her teenage son. And as she poured out her heart to me, she said, "I just feel like he needs to be rescued." And I thought, "How good is God because I have been meditating on God as the rescuer."
So one of the things that Barbara and I have done in the book is we have included a list of character traits, 31 character traits that God possesses, to encourage others to take one trait a day that they would walk on that day – "Thank you, God, that You are rescuer. Thank you, God, that you are still in charge." We get fearful because, you know, in the empty nest, we're not in charge anymore. We never really were, but we pretended like we were.
Barbara: We thought we were.
Susan: But that was very helpful to me in developing a discipline of gratitude, and that's an opportunity we have in the empty nest. It's not just a void. We need to be proactive in thanking God.
Bob: Dennis, let me ask you to talk to a husband who may say, "Okay, my wife is taking one of these breaks, but I think break time needs to kind of wind up here, you know, and we need to get back to real life."
Dennis: Well, especially if it's impacting the family negatively in terms of economically, and that's the case sometimes.
Bob: You mean because she's not working?
Dennis: Right. He may have been counting on her doing that.
Bob: Not just because they're eating meals out all the time? That's not the economic view.
Dennis: Well, there's that, too.
But I think, for husbands, what we need to is make sure we don't move too quickly to solve it and to fix it, because this is a season that can't be rushed. I do think what Barbara and Susan are talking about here is something that does need to be revisited by husbands with their wives repeatedly. And ask our wives questions about what they want to do, what their passions are, when they felt most fulfilled in their lives. Pull the story of what God has done in their lives out of them and help them relive that story. And, in sharing that story, you may hear things about your wife that you can reflect back to her as Barbara and I have talked about. There are certain passions that she has that I've been able to say to her, you know, "You're really good at that. You're creative. You need to give more of your time to the use of your creative gifts and not just in terms of on a canvas as an artist would but also writing and creating resources for other women."
And I think a husband can really help his wife if he's willing to stay in it for the long haul because, again, it's not going to be a quick fix.
Bob: Barbara, is it possible for a wife to get stuck in the break?
Barbara: Oh, I think so.
Bob: To just kind of go, you know, "I'm still figuring it out." "Well, I'm still figuring it out." "Well, I'm still figuring it out." And what can her husband do or what can she do to kind of get on with it?
Barbara: Well, I think you begin with the end in mind, and the purpose of the break is to be refueled and to refresh, not to go into neutral. But there really is a goal in mind in taking a break, in taking some time off, and that's what the Scripture teaches – God gave His people seasons of rest so that they would reflect on Him and His goodness and His purposes for their lives, and that's the whole purpose of the break, too. For us, as women, is that we would reflect on, as Susan was saying, what God has done in our lives, His faithfulness, His character, and look to Him for what He has for us in the future.
And I think it really needs to be done as a team, I mean, I think we, as wives, really need and want our husbands to participate in that with us. Not that he would take a break with me, necessarily, but that he would be encouraging me, he would be coaching me, he would be asking me questions about what I'm learning, what I'm thinking, and that we would process this together because the hope is that many empty-nest women would not only take a break and think through what God has called them to do, but they would be processing all of it with their husbands so that, together, they may find a new passion together or a new mission together or a new cause together that they can follow as a couple. So it isn't just about her, although she is the one who particularly needs the time of refueling and refreshment after the parenting experience is over.
But it really is for the purpose of her hearing from God and for them, as a couple, to redefine their lives.
Dennis: I think there's a great need today for a whole new generation of couples, and these are baby-boomers I'm primarily speaking of here, although there's probably some gen-xers who are about to enter into this phase as well, but who are gripped with a mission a purpose, like Barbara and Susan are talking about here – a purpose that God has given them, one that they have seen Him create in their souls over their lifetime, and then get busy in it and wear out together rather than rust out.
You know, I just think there's a lot of talent today within the Christian community that desperately needs to be unleashed on 1,000 battlefronts.
Dennis: And that's one of the reasons, Bob, why I'm most excited about this book, and I think a lot of men, as their wives read this book, what a wife will want to do, I think, is underline certain chapters and certain paragraphs in chapters and say, "Read my underlines as I read this book," so that he understands what she is going through and can engage her and enter into her discovery process with her.
Bob: You know, as you were talking about rusting out or wearing out, I thought of the biblical metaphor that Paul used, which is "pouring out," and that's really what we're supposed to be doing with our lives is pouring them out in service for the King and in serving others, and that's something you can do together, and that's what you encourage women to engage in as they get a copy of your book, which we have in our FamilyLife Resource Center.
Go to our website, FamilyLife.com. On the home page, you'll see a box on the right that says "Today's Broadcast," and if you click on the button that says "Learn More," it will take you to an area of the site where you can get more information about Barbara and Susan's book and about other resources we have available. We've got a four-CD series that includes this week's conversation on the subject of women entering into the empty nest years along with additional material. Again, that's available from us, and there are other books and resources we're recommending as well.
Again, our website is FamilyLife.com. Click on the right side of the home page where you see "Today's Broadcast," and you can find the information you need about the resources available there, or call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329. That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and we'll let you know what's available and make arrangements to get the resources you need sent to you.
There is something else we'd like to send out to you this week. Not long ago, our friends Jody and Linda Dillow, spoke at a conference for couples where they talked about the issue of marital intimacy and understanding intimacy from God's perspective. We thought it was a particularly good message, and we want to make it available to you this week if you'll simply call and request it.
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Our number again – 1-800-FLTODAY. Ask for the free CD, "The Four Flames of Marital Intimacy" when you contact us, and we'll look forward to hearing from you.
Now, tomorrow we want to talk more about your marriage relationship during the empty nest years and what a husband and wife can do together to grow stronger and to serve together during that time. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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