In Western society, with its affluence (affluenza, as it has been termed), there is a great stress upon preparing for the retirement years. With the increase in longevity due to improved health care, many retirees live 20 years beyond their retirement date. This places a great strain on financial resources. So the questions begin. Do you have a good retirement plan? Does that job to which you are applying have a decent pension? Are you vested yet in the company’s plan? Have you opened your own IRA or 401K (for our non-USA readers, these are all retirement plans)? Ensuring the economic viability and stability for your spouse is not wrong, but, to restate a worn-out cliché, “the most important thing is to make sure that the most important thing is the most important thing.”
What, then, is the most important thing for your marriage? God intends that your marriage reflect something of the beauty of Christ and the Church (Eph 5:22-33), and that your marriage be a tool for glorifying Him (1Co 7:17-24). In the grand scheme, financial stability is only a means to that end, the means to be able to live those “golden years” and turn them into the gold of heavenly currency.
The “empty nest” years, the years when the children have grown and have become independent, the years just before and following retirement, are years filled with potential for you as a couple and for the furtherance of the work of God. And as with your retirement plans, you need to invest to maximize this opportunity.
When do you begin investing in light of the time characterized as “empty nest”? As the saying goes, early and often! It is difficult to prioritize your marriage when one is trying to build a career in the business world and mother is involved with the children, their schooling and activities. It is easy to allow each to concentrate on individual responsibilities and to allow a disconnect to develop in your marriage. But nothing must be allowed to accomplish that fatal result.
A husband and wife must set aside time for each other. This does not have to entail expensive getaways, vacations without the children or exotic retreats. It might be simply a time each night for a cup of coffee (decaf) and talk. It might be a walk in the park, a drive to some special place or any similar mutually relaxing activity. It is sadly possible for you to pretend to care for each other, to pretend to listen even when you are busy, but you cannot pretend to be there. You must spend time together. Your relationship must be front and center.
A day will come when the children have grown and moved out (hopefully). You will be alone with each other, possibly for the next 30 years if the Lord spares you both. You do not want to be strangers. So early in your marriage you will need to develop mutual interests. Certainly, the assembly should be a major part of your life: entertaining other believers, attendance at meetings and a mutual interest in the gospel outreach. Showing hospitality to your children’s friends is important. But hospitality for all the believers is an investment which will pay huge dividends. How many children of unsaved parents have visitors from all over the globe, missionaries who can relate the real-life story of people in “Third-World” countries? An open home marked by these habits will provide an education not obtainable in their academic settings and will also provide the benefit of a balance to your children’s sense of entitlement and affluence.
But other mutually enjoyable interests should be pursued and become part of your life. It may be a favorite park where you can walk or hike, an activity which both find enjoyable, an area you enjoy visiting for a day trip, or any similar activity. These are things in which you can be involved during the time the children are under your roof, and then continued when you are alone. Each couple needs to balance the time and expense of these activities in light of the stewardship we have as to our time and money before the Lord. Nothing must be allowed to interfere with commitment to the Lord and to the assembly.
This stage of your life opens up the opportunity for rich spiritual dividends. Visiting the shut-ins of the assembly, those in nursing homes, those in hospital or at home recuperating can bring great blessing to them, but also to you. Have you ever considered visiting missionaries on the field who were commended from your assembly? (Call ahead and make sure it is okay!) You could help in Seed Sowers distribution or other similar activities. Think of the blessing that Onesiphorus was to Paul (2Ti 1:16-18). And what of the aged Barzillai and his encouragement to David (2Sa 17:27-29)? It is doubtful that these habits were not honed in earlier years. The widow of 1 Timothy 5:9 was active in the stated activities when she was younger and likely married; they were the tenor of her life.
We do not have many older couples highlighted in Scripture. There are Abraham and Sarah in the Old Testament, and Zacharias and Elizabeth in the New Testament. Though details of their lives at that stage of life are few, it is evident that spiritual values were still the priority of their lives. These years can also become a time when you are able to devote yourselves more fully to spiritual encouragement and involvement.
Perhaps the most important thing to do is to ensure, in earlier years, that you have a nest, a place where there is mutual support, care, safety and love. Thus, even though some leave the nest, and you have an empty nest, the nest remains for you two to enjoy!