Graduation is a bittersweet mix of springtime, caps and gowns, home videos and tears. Most graduates feel relief and excitement, while most parents feel a growing void. The graduates look forward, and the parents look back. It signals the end of childhood, a grand finale to the day-to-day care.

It’s funny how all the last things stand out over a senior year: freezing at the last football game, chairing the last PTA fundraiser, helping with the last late-night project. One of my distinct memories is the day I packed the last two lunches for my twin seniors. They were the last I would ever pack for school after 18 years.

In a way it was a relief, no more rushing around trying to wrap custom-order sandwiches and getting barbecue Pringles in the right brown bag. And even though it was a morning like any other—racing toward school to beat the bell, spilling coffee at the speed bump—I knew it was different. It was my graduation from a school I didn’t realize I had attended.

Before Graduation: A Full Nest

Being a mother of three, I dreaded my kids’ graduation for years. I teared up every time I heard “Pomp and Circumstance,” thinking one year this will be us. I could not imagine being happy without having my kids at home.

When my last two graduated, I knew I couldn’t delay facing it any longer. I had to reinvent my life and stop defining myself by my children. About that time, a pair of doves built a nest on my trellis. I could walk out on my porch at any time of day and see the mother sitting on the nest. At first, she sat isolated, giving the eggs quiet and constant warmth. Every so often, she and her mate would emit a quiet coo. The babies soon hatched and the nest was a flurry of activity. Mom and Dad worked constantly to feed the chicks.

They now cooed loudly over the nest, showing their pride. The full nest made them feel alive, totally engaged in the cycle of life. It was as if their coos said, “This is who we are, who we’re created to be, and we love it.”

The babies grew, and soon the nest became overcrowded. Finally the birds began to hop to the side of the nest onto the trellis. The nest was busy; they ate great amounts and fluttered and preened their new wings. The babies were never still.

Until graduation day.

One morning the nest sat quiet and empty. The job was done. They had all moved on, not just the chicks I noticed, but the parents as well. Part of life is learning to move on, to let go and repurpose. It is natural to grow, spread our wings, and fly.

After Graduation: The Empty Nest

Truly, graduating beyond the nest is so much better than not graduating at all. The nest became too small—not only for the babies, but for the parents, too. For the first time I realized my nest was becoming too small for me. No wonder I have felt misplaced and lost. These feelings are designed to motivate me to discover a new place in life.

To remain in nest mode after the kids leave only creates problems. To feel as though I am a victim because they left is an indulgence I can’t afford. God designed kids to grow up—to graduate—and leave, just like the baby doves. Trying to maintain a similar amount of control and involvement with my grown children only pushes them further away. As they transition, I must, too.

I realized God wants—and designed—me to grow and graduate past the nest. Trying to keep my life the same is the unhappiest thing I can do in this ever-changing world; life becomes stagnant and impure. It’s so much better to let life flow and to learn to flow with it—by intentionally trying different things, habits and surroundings.

The bird’s nest taught me that it is time for me graduate, to throw up my cap and celebrate, and stop fighting the natural order of life.

Graduation For All Of Us

I am thankful God never changes—that’s part of what makes Him so appealing. We need a rock to hold on to in this ever-shifting world. God goes way beyond just offering safety and stability, though. He loves to make all things new, which blesses people just like me. He is a God of renewal, rebirth and restoration. He works best in change.

So take heart this graduation season. We are all graduating toward something and it may be richer and more full than we ever dreamed.