The Empty Nest

Last night I went on a dinner date with a beautiful young lady. She reminds me of the most important beautiful woman in my life, my bride Michelle. But this night I went to dinner with our daughter Hannah. I do not see her a lot any more, nor do I see our son Josh as much as I once did, so the times like last night to sit down with one of our children to catch up and to talk about life and godliness are precious indeed. 

As both an author and a follower of Jesus I have always thought of life as a series of chapters in a story written by God as we follow Him. Our individual stories make a lot more sense as we see them in the light of His Great Story. We live our lives less by years and more in chapters. A full life of 70-plus years would consist of a few sections and anywhere from 15-25 chapters.

I saw the new chapter of adulthood coming and prepared for that. Also marriage, and the dramatic shift called parenthood. Watching our children grow has been a major era of life, and a wonderful one at that.

But I was not so prepared for the stage Michelle and I just entered: the empty nest. Our children have grown up, moved out, and now, though still with much to learn, have embraced the adult world head on. I am happy for them, and extremely proud. A bit sad also, but mostly extremely proud and very grateful our children love Jesus and seek to honor Him with their lives.

I have to fight against the urge of being that parent-you know, the one who won’t let their children go, who want to guilt trip them into calling or visiting or planning their schedules around mine. Not attractive.  (Hint: parents whose children are grown, do not do that). They have their lives to live, and I want them to spend time with us because they want to and because they value the time, not because it is something they must do.  Gratefully, our children love us and enjoy time with us. 

The goal of parenting is to help our children to know God, to love Him, to serve Him, and to give their lives for His glory and for the fulfillment of the Great Commission (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).  We also seek to model the gospel and its effect in our lives. After all, one of the great testimonies to the gospel is a marriage centered on Christ.

Last year I got off the road, traveling less to have more time with our children as both finished high school and college. I am so glad I did that.  Now, as an empty nester, I realize part of my calling as a minister of the gospel and a prof includes traveling to speak God’s Word to others. God has given me a great passion to challenge the status quo of Americanized, subcultural Christianity. He has put a fire in my heart to equip a new generation of leaders both on our campus and throughout the world. Ministers should both comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, and God has given me a burden for the latter. Let’s face it, we have become far too comfortable in a world racing toward hell. I actually love travelling and in particular am loving speaking to leaders, teaching The Story, and challenging the Millennial generation to run hard after Christ. 

My wife Michelle is amazing. She is the consummate mother, setting aside so much for our children for so many years, not as a sacrifice but with great joy.  She also loves me so much and the call God has put on both of our lives. So she both understands and encourages me. I could never fulfill God’s calling on my life without her understanding. 

So, a practical result of becoming an empty nester is that I am traveling more. The next few weeks will be particularly hectic. I still do not preach on Sunday mornings a lot as I LOVE being a part of our young professionals ministry, and I love investing in young adults both inside and outside our church. But God is stirring in our time. A growing hunger for a great gospel in the church and outside compels me to be busy in the Master’s work.

I am excited about this new section of life and the new chapter I am entering. I am in better shape physically today than I was a decade ago, more understanding of the ebb and flow of life and how to manage time in such a way both to be busy for Jesus but also to rest. At the end of the hectic days ahead of me I have a nice weekend away planned with Michelle for our 30th.  When we work, we work hard, when we rest, we rest well.

In what chapter do you find yourself currently? What section or season of life? Rest well, but run hard the race set before you. Press toward the mark of the calling God has burned in your soul. We have too many who have embraced laziness on the one hand or an obsession with just being busy without accomplishing much on the other.  Let us not dread the next chapter of life; let us embrace it with all the passion of a follower of Christ ready to lay down our lives for Christ’s sake.

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Alvin L. Reid (born 1959) serves as Professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he has been since 1995. He is also the founding Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism. Alvin and his wife Michelle have two children: Joshua, a senior at The College at Southeastern, and Hannah, a senior at Wake Forest Rolesville High School. Recently he became more focused at ministry in his local church by being named Young Professionals Director at Richland Creek Community Church. Alvin holds the M.Div and the Ph.D with a major in evangelism from Southwestern Seminary, and the B.A. from Samford University. He has spoken at a variety of conferences in almost every state and continent, and in over 2000 churches, colleges, conferences and events across the United States.