I asked some pastor friends, “Looking back on your career, what would you do different?”
And one answered, “I would have never been a pastor. If I knew what kind of toll the pastorate was going to have on my sons, I would have never gotten into the job.”
“Really? Then, what would you have become?”
“Anything. A secretary in a law firm. Anything other than this, really.”
It was shocking to hear. I had a sinking feeling that made me want to run home and hug my daughter. Because my husband is also a pastor, we have to be vigilant about not letting it completely consume our lives. It’s easy to go from doing something that we love doing, to letting that something grow like a cancer, until there is nothing left of our lives.
There are certain things that we can’t avoid. We have to work evenings and on weekends. And on most holidays, we have to ratchet the hours up even more. We all have cell phones and email, so that we’re on-call a lot. (But, lest I sound too pathetic–we have perks too. I take my daughter to work a lot, and everyone is happy to see her. And we have vacations. Four weeks of holiday that I have learned to relish with great intensity.)
The message of how a parent’s work can destroy a life was certainly one that stuck with me when I read Crazy for God. It’s an interesting memoir, filled with the antics of a missionary kid, who had a fantastic childhood, in many ways.
But, there are the strange, painful realities too. Francis Schaeffer, who was known as the intellectual evangelical, who was educating the world about art and literature, was letting his young son, Frank, flounder without basic schooling.
Edith Schaeffer, who was an extraordinary hostess, setting out fine china every night, and treating every person as if he or she was royalty, welcoming anyone in their home, was also crowding out her introverted son.
As Francis and Edith allowed themselves to become martyrs for their work, they could not be there for the person who depended on them the most, who needed for them to be very much alive.
The memoir wasn’t sad. It was an interesting, inside perspective of a far-from-perfect famous Christian family. A third-culture kid (as many missionary children are called) who never felt at home in Switzerland or the U.S.
As with most dysfunctional families, there is always a scapegoat, someone who calls attention to the unhealthy system and is subsequently discredited. We’ve seen them. It’s the rebellious teenager, who seems to be sole source of the otherwise flawless family’s problems. Until you spend about five minutes with the family together and realize that he’s probably the healthiest one.
Frank Schaeffer plays that role perfectly.
Although the memoir wasn’t sad, subsequently, reading some of the reviews has been heartbreaking. It seems that Frank Schaeffer has destroyed the life work of his parents. How? By telling his perspective. By choosing a different path. By allowing himself to have his own voice.
Frank Schaeffer is in his fifties, sorting out his complicated family history, as we all must. And yet, I think the most dismal part of this story is what was not written. It’s that there is still no space for him, for his feelings, and for his voice. His parents’ ministry led to a neglect that shattered his life in very basic ways. And, as a writer, in order for Frank to put his own self back together, he will have to continue to tell his sordid story, with all the truth he can muster, even if it destroys our glossy image of what his family ought to have been.
The tragedy of this tale is in the fact that even though his dad is dead and his mother is in her nineties, it seems he still can’t have his own room.