It’s hard to say which was the most traumatic—when my first son left for college or when the last son flew the nest. Since I only have two children, I didn’t get the comparison of middle child attrition. When number one son left, I grieved for weeks. Part of the sadness was because, well, he was my son and I missed him terribly. Another part was the realization that I was old enough to have a child in college. After number two son left, I had a quiet, clean empty nest all of a sudden as I had dreamed of, but I missed the noise and the flurry of activity that accompanies life with a teenager. In both cases, though, I missed…them… their hilarious banter around the dinner table, their games and activities at school, their very presence around the house.
Even now, after 20 years of having them gone, I still get sad when I recall the good times that we had together that will never come again because they’ve grown up and are on their own. Because the dynamic has changed, a part of who I was is no more. I’m guessing that many readers in my age group would echo this sentiment. The hard truth is that I’m not needed anymore. I have lost some of my influence, at least in one area of my life and that’s hard to handle.
Not long ago, I was giving my usual brilliant lecture to one of my college classes on things of great importance. I took a breath and looked out over the classroom and saw heads nodding, arms folding, and fingers texting under the table. I was mortified. I had worked hard on my lecture and PowerPoint presentation and these people didn’t even care! I stopped and asked, “So, am I that bad of a teacher? Am I that ignorable?” The room went silent. Cell phones went back into hiding, eyelids popped back open, and several faces blushed. Mostly there was shock. I hadn’t ever unloaded on a class like that before so I didn’t even have a reputation that this outburst would validate. Finally, I dismissed the class. One girl came up and apologized even though she wasn’t one of the main ignorers. She left me with this thought though, “Mrs. Allen, you’re not as boring as some teachers.” Thanks.
My self-esteem took a big hit right then. I brooded about it for a day or so, and then I got over it. But I realized that again I had lost, if maybe temporarily, my influence.
It happens to us all at one time or another. It can happen at work, it can happen at home, or even at church. Our leadership or our effectiveness is challenged, and we become discouraged. We ask ourselves, “Is this about me?” “Am I losing my edge?” It’s a fine line. We want to see our ideals modeled in the people who depend on us. But when children leave or apathy is displayed, we doubt our impact and, thus, our worth. At least, I know I do.
In a great word from Pastor Tim Keller from one of his books The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, I’m reminded that it’s impossible to live our lives without sometimes feeling dismissed or ignored. Keller says that when he feels down on himself because someone else is apathetic to his influence that it is, “…because there is something wrong with my ego. There is something wrong with my identity. There is something wrong with my sense of self. It is never happy. It is always drawing attention to itself.” Egos get bruised at times. And often, as Keller points out, can rarely be satisfied with the attention it gets.
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” James 4:10
Nan Allen is Assistant Professor of English at TMU.Return to Blog Archive