Last Sunday was the end of an era for the Lusk family.

For years, I have watched my wife and kids in worship; I’d be upfront leading the service or preaching and I'd see them all lined up, usually across the front row. When we first moved here at the end of 2004, our kids were all still quite young. Each Sunday, Jenny would wrangle with the kids to keep them in line and teach them to participate in the service. A pastor’s wife is, for all practical purposes, a single mom on Sundays. But she trained the kids well, and, of course, over time they grew up and the front row started to thin out. It went from Jenny and four kids to Jenny and three kids when John left home. Then it was Jenny and two kids, then one….and now that we are dropping off Annie at Auburn this week, they are all grown and gone. Of course, this is a good thing. The whole point of parenting is to work yourself out of a job; the goal is to raise your kids up so you can send them out. Arrows, no matter how sharp and straight, do no good if kept in the quiver; the bow must be strung and arrows released to hit their target. Rockets are of no use if they stay on the launchpad forever; the point of building a rocket is to fire it into the sky. Of course, this does not mean children aren’t missed after they move out and move on from their parents’ home. But becoming an empty-nester makes me think of quote from Elisabeth Elliot:

Relinquishment is always a part of the process of maturing. When Christian parents have done all that can be done to shape their children for God, the time comes when the hands must let go. The child, now a responsible adult, must be released. For any parent this is painful, even when the child is moving in the direction the parents prayed for. The child’s continued development, and the spiritual health of the parents as well, depend on the willingness to accept this next stage of the cycle—hands off, ready to part without a struggle, giving up authority and control, entrusting that child to God.

If you like country music, Alan Jackson’s song “Remember When” has these lines about becoming an empty-nester:
Remember when
We said when we turned gray
When the children grow up and move away
We won't be sad, we'll be glad
For all the life we've had
And we'll remember when

I’ve always said no artist can take you from birth to adulthood to death in 3 minutes better than Alan Jackson. And his lyrics are right: Becoming an empty-nester should be a time of joy both because of the memories you can cling to and because your children are going to repeat the cycle in their own lives. Remember the years gone by and be thankful your children are getting to make their own memories as adults. You have to give them space to live their own lives, to mature, to figure out God’s calling for them.
The work of a parent is certainly not done when children leave the home, but it definitely changes. I heard someone once say that you will figure out parenting right about the time your kids are grown. No doubt there is some truth in that, but I don’t think it’s quite right. With grown children, you do not cease being a parent; rather, parenting enters a new phase, with a new learning curve for both parents and children. Kids grow up; that is a fact of life and overly sentimental parents who wish they could “turn back the clock” or “freeze time” in the their children’s lives risk hurting their relationship with their kids and stunting their maturation. Parenting moves through phases (which roughly correspond to the priestly, kingly, and prophetic phases of Israel’s history in the Scriptures), and each phase brings new challenges for both mom and dad on the one hand and the kids on the other hand. Obviously, love is the core of each phase. But how love gets shown certainly shifts over time.
When the children are little, parenting is largely about control. Just as the law of Moses tightly regulated the lives of Israelites during the nation’s infancy (Gal. 3-4), so it is with our little ones. They need their parents to oversee and regulate every part of their lives. A foundation is being laid by establishing parental authority and discipline in the life of the child. As the kids get a little older, parenting becomes more about coaching. You are giving them more freedom — and more responsibility. You don’t just give rules — you give rationales. You are still guiding them as an authority figure, but the leash is considerably longer. You discipline them, but the focus is on teaching, discussing, explaining. Slowly, you lift your parental rules so the kids can make more and more of their own decisions. The balance between the parents’ authority and the child’s freedom increasingly tilts towards the child’s freedom until parental rules are largely relinquished. Of course, the hope and expectation is that the older child will have internalized the rules and learned self-control so he can govern himself. Finally, when the kids leave the nest, parenting becomes a matter of counseling. This is much more hands off than the coaching phase. As a parent, you must learn to treat your grown children as adults, even as peers. Because you are older and (presumably) wiser, you can still provide advice, direction, and guidance. But it is good to remember that unsolicited advice is rarely taken. In this final phase, you should be available to help your grown children in all kinds of ways (especially when grandkids come along), but you also have to give them space to live their own lives. You remain connected to them but you also realize that the time to try to control them or even coach them is past. It is now a relationship of trust and love, not rule and authority.
Children leaving home has impacted me in three ways. First, you do not realize how fast it all goes until it is gone. Your kids are born and grown in the blink of an eye. Make the most of every moment you have while you have them at home. The old saying, “The days are long but the years are short” is experientially true. Every parent will have regrets, wishing they could have spent more time doing this or that with their kids while they were young. That is inevitable. But do all you can to minimize those regrets so long as the kids are under your roof. Second, while the relationship between parenting and the results we see in the lives of our children is somewhat complex, there is no doubt that as our kids get older, we begin to see the fruit of our parental labors (good and bad) come to realization. In parenting, as in most every other area of life, we will reap what we have sown. For most parents of grown children, there is going to be a mix of regret as you see things you could have done better, and joy as you effects of the love, truth, and grace you have poured into your children come to fruition. Third, children leaving home makes you realize just how fragile everything in life is. Everything hangs by a thread and nothing should be taken for granted. Happy homes, healthy kids, thriving marriages, safe travels, financial stability, persevering faithfulness — all these and so much more ultimately depend on the grace and mercy of our sovereign God. So trust him and cry out to him in prayer continually. The best parenting you will do, no matter the age of your kids, will be done on your knees before the throne of grace.
In the sermon on Sunday, I addressed the problem of falling birth rates, especially in the more developed nations of the world. There is a coming “demographic disaster” for many nations unless something changes. The best book length study of this is Jonathan Last’s cleverly titled What to Expect When No One Is Expecting. It’s a great read with all kinds of interesting insights. While we hear a lot from cultural influencers in America about the need to curb birth rates and depopulate the earth, in reality, many governments across the world have been doing all they can to get their citizens to have more children (mostly unsuccessfully). 
In the sermon, I briefly mentioned climate change as one reason why secularists are seeking to limit the number of children people have. But this is a mistake. Even if there is significant climate change going on, even if it is caused by humans (both big “ifs”!), reducing the population is going to only make matters worse. The reality is that humans are much better at adaptation than mitigation. It would be better for us to find ways to deal with a changing climate than try to control the climate. Every attempt at going to “green energy” proposed thus far would be economically catastrophic, leading to far more disaster and suffering than even the worst case climate change scenarios. There are a lot of good books on this topic, but one of my favorite authors in this space is Alex Epstein. He has a new book entitled Fossil Future which I have not yet read, but his earlier The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels is a superb study.
On the day after my sermon, this article came out confirming a lot of the observations I gave at the beginning of the sermon. The bottom line: Secularism is a philosophy/religion of death and cannot support or sustain fruitfulness. The Christian faith does support fruitfulness and views children as signs of hope for the future. But as I said in the sermon, the only way Christians will make real cultural gains is if they are diligent to disciple and nurture their children in the faith. A discipled nation grows out of the soil of discipled families. Note: Having a lot of children should never be considered a mark of spirituality in itself. We need to guard against drawing false inferences and creating false guilt. There may be many valid reasons why some Christian couples limit their family size, and not all Christians will have children. But in general, the Christian faith is going to create a fruitful culture because the Scriptures are very pro-child. It is important to understand that declining birth rates are not merely due to economic conditions. One lesson that many governments are learning around the world, as they try to prop up their birth rate for the sake of national survival, is that people cannot be bribed by financial incentives into having children  There are many poor people in the world who have a lot of kids and a lot of rich people who have no kids. Money is not he issue; worldview is the issue. 
Finally, I would urge everyone to become familiar with the historic doctrine known as covenant succession. This doctrine is summarized well in Robert Rayburn’s famous paper on the topic. While I might argue with a few Rayburn’s points, he provides a solid overview. Edward Gross’ book Will My Children Go to Heaven? is also an excellent study. My book Paedofaith also deals with this topic a good bit. Every Christian parent needs to have a firm grasp of what God has promised in his covenant, how those promise should be applied to daily life in the home with children, and how those promises can guide and support our prayers for our children.
Addendum: I just came across this article which delves into a new UN report on population. The UN is changing its tune.