By Steve Yeaton
The son is ready—the father, not so much.
The son eagerly anticipates what’s coming—the father is resigned to it.
The son’s head is full of dreams—the father’s is full of memories.
The son wonders what’s taking so long—the father wonders how it’s gone so fast.
As much as the father may want to hold on, he knows he can’t and he knows he shouldn’t. So there he sits with his son, waiting for a bus that will transport them both—one by taking and the other by leaving. For in the same moment the son boards the bus and the father waves goodbye, both will leave one season of life behind and enter a new.
Those are the thoughts that enter my mind as I look at a photocopied image pinned to the tack board behind my desk of Norman Rockwell’s classic painting, “Breaking Home Ties.”
I’ve been looking at that picture for a year or so now. I’m a nostalgic sort and can’t help but indulge in the sentimentality evoked by the painting, especially now that I’ve become the father. In a matter of months my daughter will take a new name and my son will leave for college out of state. Ready or not, my wife and I will find ourselves adjusting to a marriage, a home, and a ministry where our children no longer play prominent roles. I will miss them. However, God’s Word does not allow me to wallow in the past, chastising me with this admonition, “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions” (Ecclesiastes 7:10). Though I am in no rush for this next season’s arrival, I am compelled by who I am in Christ to look forward to it.
I am looking forward to a renewed relationship with my wife. The more a couple has focused on children and less on the marriage, the more challenging the empty nest stage can appear. I must admit, to some degree that’s been our story. The fault lies not with my wife nor my kids, but with me. I have been a better father than a husband.
For the first eight years of our marriage, before we had children, I focused on school, then on ministry, and always on me. While I loved my wife, I did not appreciate when we got married the role God was calling me to as a husband. However, when the kids came, I embraced God’s call to fatherhood and have delighted in it. After 28 years of marriage, I have learned some things about being a husband, but still qualify as a novice. My wife deserves better. This next season presents an opportunity to become more and more the man she should have married in the beginning—a man who is attentive to her needs, who takes an interest in her interests, who says no to outside demands in order say yes to her and to us. A man who knows how to rejoice in the wife of his youth (Proverbs 5:18).
Something else I’m looking forward to after my kids leave home is a renewed focus on ministry. While our kids were growing up, I worked hard at not allowing the demands of ministry to overwhelm time with family. I limited nights away from home during the week. I made sure it was the exception rather than the rule that I missed a ball game or a birthday or some other family event because of a ministry matter. I tried to make the most of each working day to complete sermons and lessons so I could spend days off focusing on family rather than playing catch-up for work. Granted, I wasn’t always successful, but I’m grateful my children recognize that family doesn’t have to be sacrificed on the altar of ministry.
That isn’t to say my ministry suffered because of my commitment to family. I worked hard, but like I tell the members of the church I serve, each season of life impacts the shape and form of ministry. While every member should be engaged in some service to the local church, ministry is not limited to the local church.
A young husband and father’s ministry, for example, is primarily centered in the home, mentoring and discipling his family. That occurs not just during bedtime devotions, but while throwing a ball in the backyard, working on projects together, and in conversations around the dinner table that continue long after the dishes have cleared. This isn’t the season of life to be committed to multiple ministries within the church, taking him away from his family. A retired grandfather, on the other hand, may have more availability to serve with more than one or two ministries at church.
For my wife and me, we’re looking forward to taking the time we had reserved for our kids to use in new ways serving the church, both locally and globally. What all that looks like, I don’t know yet. But I’m looking forward to it. The Bible tells us to make the most of every opportunity, and that’s what we intend to do.
Finally, I am looking forward to discovering what it means to be a dad now that my kids are nearly fully grown. From the rock star status I had with my kids when they were little to having to request time on their schedules to spend time together, I’ve loved every minute of it. Soon I won’t be the number one guy in my daughter’s life. (I think I lost that position some time ago, but a wedding makes it official.) Soon my son will be making his own decisions and having experiences I’ll have no part in.
I approach this next season with some trepidation because it’s hard to let go of the reins, but I’m still looking forward to it. The reason I can look forward to it has everything to do with the family of God. I am not the first to go down this road. Through his family, God surrounds me with other couples who have already been where we’re soon going. I look at them and the relationships they enjoy with their adult children and I’m encouraged. Yes, the relationship is different, but it appears just as rewarding. From the example of these older saints, I discover anew God’s faithfulness to his own. Maybe that’s what I’m looking forward to the most—discovering as Jeremiah did, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him” (Lamentations 3:24).
As I look at the Rockwell picture, I think about what comes next for the father after his son boards the bus. After watching the bus disappear in the distance, he and the boy’s dog will get back in the truck and head home. Home will be different, the son’s absence will be obvious, and everywhere there will be ghosts of all that has just passed. This next season without kids will take some getting used to, but there is still a wife to love, work to be done, a future to embrace, and a God to know and enjoy forever.
Steve Yeaton is the Senior Minister at Batesville Christian Church in Batesville, Indiana.