Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Empty "Next"

Sometimes a slip of the tongue has a meaning of its own. A friend of mine jotted me an email a few years ago, talking about how close we both were to the empty nest, only she typed "empty next." I wrote back immediately, practically shouting, "That's a book title right there!" 

The Empty Next. 

You go to bed with a house full of noise, a laundry room full of clothes, empty laundry soap containers, and an empty fridge.

You wake up to a quiet and tidy house (hopefully), an organized laundry room with a backstock of detergent and fabric softener (love the smell of Suavitel), and food spoiling in the fridge because you and your beloved didn't eat it fast enough.

The Empty Next: The sequel to the Full House.

Are you there yet? If not, don't wish for it, because it will come without the wishing. Just live in your Full House and be all there, right now. We spend way too much time waiting for the next thing to change, expecting that it will make everything better in a different way. And then reality hits, exposing this to be yet another myth of our own creation. Let's face it: weariness can cause us to fantasize that there must be some stage of life when you go to bed late, wake up when you feel like it, eat whatever you want without gaining a pound, never run out of money and take vacations to enjoy the scenery rather than to recuperate from an overbooked life.

We are missing something: It's called contentment. The Apostle Paul wrote wrote from experience in Philippians 4:11: "Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content."

We realize that this verse had nothing to do with empty-nesters, but it has everything to do with attitude and perspective. A discontented attitude will lead to a jaded perspective every single time. 

How do we get off course with our attitude? Most of our spiritual ailments are easily traceable to not enough time with the Lord. Godliness is underrated, while looking godly is overrated. We can fool people, but God sees behind the smile. He knows the real us, and His penetrating gaze even sees our hearts. 

I can almost imagine God shaking His head and wondering, "When will they stop acting like I don't know what they're really doing?"

When our time with the Lord is treated like less than an add-on to our day, our godliness slips, and contentment slides with it. "But godliness with contentment is great gain." (1Tim. 6:6) We know this is true...in our heads...but we fail to recognize that the opposite is equally true. Godlessness with discontentment is great loss.

Are you headed for a change in your life? Of course you are, even if it's not in your planner. Whether it's the Empty Next or some other transition, remember to enjoy the here and now. Train your brain to banish phrases like "I can't wait until..." and replace them with "I am committed to cherishing what God has for me right now."

Live in the HERE. God gives us our lives in moments for a reason. He never intended for us to squander those vaporous seconds wishing we were in another time zone. By wishing you were in the next, you're missing the now.

I am enjoying this stage, but I found joy in the previous one, and in the one before that. The only phase I didn't treasure was the one filled with poopy-diapers, mainly because the smell made me nauseated. Or maybe I was nauseated because I was pregnant during every diaper stage until the last child? All I remember is that I didn't know enough to appreciate those chubby little legs and those adoring eyes smiling up at me from the diaper table, because I was too busy holding my breath while looking forward to the day when we wouldn't be giving half our paycheck to the generic disposable diaper companies. Yes, generic. Pampers and Huggies charge way too much for what they "doo." (A pun only a mother could love.)

We can't press a button and go back to repeat a stage of life. The next thing will come, but like a pretty package with nothing inside, it will be empty if you refuse to appreciate your life "as is." The "next big thing" has a remarkable way of disappointing us if we've built it up to epic proportions.  It's okay to look forward as long as we're not failing to be grateful for what we have right in front of us. We don't have tomorrow anyway, so living gratefully and great and fully today is a wise plan. 

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