“This Christmas is going to be so hard, really hard. I’m already dreading it.”

I vividly remember this heartache of a few years ago. It was to be our first Christmas without any kids. Our twin daughters had both married the summer before, and now that all five of our kids were married, it meant we had to share them with their in-laws. This year it just happened they were all to be with their other families for the holidays. I was feeling especially sad because I had never been without family at Christmas. Both my husband, John, and I come from big families, so even when we were newlyweds, we traveled to be with family.

A friend said, “Susan, just think! This can be a romantic Christmas for the two of you.” Although she was trying to be encouraging, she forgot what my husband does. He’s a pastor in a large church, and there is no way Christmas is going to be “romantic” for those in ministry. In fact, it is one of the most stressful times of the year. Usually he is worn out, is a bit grumpy, feels unprepared for his sermons, and is often hit with emergencies. It is definitely not a “chestnuts roasting by the fire” kind of holiday.

As I thought about the days ahead, I realized that I had to make a choice. I could either feel sorry for myself and become resentful and bitter or I could see this as a time for me to experience the true meaning of Christmas in a fresh way. A pretty clear choice. I began to ask God to reveal himself to me in new ways.

Christmas Eve, I was home alone after church. John still had several services, and I knew he would stagger in about 1 a.m. completely exhausted. Friends had invited me over, but I simply felt I wanted to be by myself and quiet with the Lord. As I sat alone on the couch in the silence, gazing at the twinkling white lights on the Christmas tree, I thought about the verses in Hebrews 2:17–18 and 4:14–16. These had long been favorites of mine. The essence is that Jesus has experienced every emotion we will. He alone understands. In light of this, I asked God, Where did you or your Son experience the loneliness of the empty nest?

And then it hit me. We think of the wonder, the joy, and the beauty of Christmas Eve. It is with great joy that we sing of the shepherds watching their flocks by night, and it is with excitement that we anticipate the birth of the Savior in a manger. But this night I was compelled to ask, What must Christmas Eve have been like for God?

It  had to have been extremely difficult. He was sending His Son with whom He had created the world and with whom he had had companionship “24/7” away to earth. Now their fellowship would be limited. But not only that, He was sending His Son to be born to die — a horrific death. His Son would be hated, ridiculed, and rejected. He wasn’t sending His only child to college, away to work, or to in-laws, but to be born, to suffer, and to die. Oh, what sadness He, our heavenly Father, must have felt on Christmas Eve even as the angels sang with joy. The pain of His emptying His nest had to far exceed mine.  He understood. Yes, we let our children go out of love, but our “mother love” can’t compare to the love our heavenly Father demonstrated to us when He emptied His nest to sacrifice His only child for our salvation.

There is no greater love than this.

Thank you, Father, for using my “empty nest Christmas” to give me the gift of understanding in a deeper way a little more of the cost of Your great love for me and for Your world.