The Great “Empty Nest” Commission
With the recent marriage of our daughter, who is our youngest child, my wife and I officially became permanent “empty nesters.” More and more, I am hearing from couples who are saying goodbye to their grown children and dealing with a new reality of a house with just the two of them again.
Every parent eventually faces this part of the journey. I am surprised by how difficult it has been for me and others. Yet, the Lord is faithful to instruct, correct, and comfort me as we learn to cope with this next life stage. Here is some insight God has given my soul in recent years. I hope it will be of help to you as well.
The Pursuit of a Purposeful Child
The goal of every parent should be to raise children who understand and pursue their God-given purpose. It should come as no surprise when these purposes lead our children away from the “nest” and into the mission field of God’s choosing.
Psalm 127:4-5 says, “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, but shall speak with their enemies in the gate.” Arrows are not made to stay warm, cozy, and controlled in the quiver. They are designed to hit a target outside the quiver. This is the target of God’s calling. When children fulfill their purpose they defend and protect the honor of the family name by their character and accomplishments.
The Passion of a Purposeful Parent
Our momentary struggles to “let go” of our children can actually bring us back to a fresh understanding of our purpose as parents. Second Corinthians 4:7-12 says, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed – always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you.”
In speaking of his ministry, Paul reminds us that this life is but a mere earthen pot, or jar of clay. He speaks openly of the many trials that we encounter in this brief life. He teaches that, in spite of many challenges, the goal is manifestation of the life of Jesus, even though life as we know it is dying away. Through it all, Paul’s life is fading, but the work of the Gospel is thriving through his disciples.
As a parent this is a great reality check. We cannot preserve this life. It is fading, aging, and changing. Our passion is not to hold on to it, but to pursue Christlikeness through the pain and the adjustments. And when it’s all said and done, our life as parents is dying off – but our ministry through our children is growing, expanding, and flourishing, as it should. Just as John said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease,” so parents must joyfully affirm, “His life through my children must increase and the focus on my needs and memories must decrease.” This is a vital part of our role in fulfilling the Great Commission.
Paul continues in verses 13-18, “And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed and therefore I spoke,’ we also believe and therefore speak, knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
A dad’s very basic paraphrase might go like this: “I know that someday the Lord will raise us all by His power and I will be presented with my children before Jesus. Until then, everything I do is for the sake of my children so that grace may spread through their lives, stimulating gratitude in many other hearts for God’s glory. So I am not discouraged. Even though the trappings of my life are fading, my inner growth in Christ keeps flourishing. This “light affliction” of letting go is nothing compared to the glory of God in the life of my children. Therefore, I can focus – not on the changing and fleeting circumstances of this present life – but on the unseen and eternal things God is doing in and through my children.”
The Principles of a Purposeful Family
The very familiar teaching of Ephesians 6:1-4 tells us, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with a promise: ‘that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.’ And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” When a family functions in authentic relationships with God’s purposes in view, two things occur:
1. Our children live a happy, useful life – blessed and protected by God.
2. Our children exhibit the instructions and principles of the Lord. There are so many things implied here, but it certainly includes the authority and claim of Christ on their lives. Christ said it clearly: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Our children do not exist to be served and preserved by a smothering parent. Rather, we must enable them to follow Christ and give their lives away in service of His purposes.
Walking Away to Their Destiny
When I was a young father, I remember hearing a line in a song by Steve and Annie Chapman that said, “The day your children learn to walk they start to walk away from you.” At the time, this truth saddened my heart. Recently, this truth has been a struggle to my heart. But as I think of it, this truth is a joy to my heart as I affirm the incredible privilege of shooting three very precious arrows toward the target of God’s calling – for His glory. As they walk farther away from our home, they walk into their destiny – just as it should be.
Copyright © 2013 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.