I’ve recently had a few Francis/Edith Schaeffer books assigned to read before I graduate in a couple weeks. I read all of Schaeffer’s theological/philosophical works in high school, and they almost single-handedly provoked my interest in the subject. However, like many who share my story, Schaeffer’s fundamentalism and lack of knowledge of the primary sources of the philosophers he critiqued eventually turned me off.The most recent book that I have had the privilege to skim through is Edith Schaeffer’s What is Family?, of which I have mixed reactions. Mrs. Schaeffer’s compassionate view of family life is immediately engaging. She consistently writes with a humble air that is impossible to resist. You can almost see an old grandmother sitting by her bedside, tilting her spectacles and quietly reminiscing about her past experiences and other anecdotal occurrences.
The best chapter by far in the book is the one entitled “A Shelter in the Time of Storm.” In this chapter Schaeffer warmly, but penetratingly writes about how to utilize the tough times in family life in order to make them worthwhile; in a word, to have no regrets. The section where she speaks of taking care of the sick was especially benign. For example, in one section she writes “When illness hits we should remember that this period of time is part of the whole of life. This is not just a non-time to be shoved aside, but a portion of time that counts. It is part of the well person’s life, as well as part of the sick person’s life.”
This sentiment has had a particular impact on me given my current family situation. A few months ago, prior to the beginning of my final semester, my grandfather, with whom I was very close, died somewhat suddenly. It was the most traumatic period of my entire life, as well as for my mother and brother (who spent every day after school with him, just as I did as a child). The couple of weeks when he was in the hospital before his death were seen, at least by most of my family, as a sort of non-time. It was a time to be forgotten as a soon as possible, an instant regret. It seemed as though there was nothing that could redeem the Absolute Evil of this period. However, I see now that there is a different way to treat this stage of life. I can at least say that my grandfather himself would have wished for the same dynamic that Schaeffer proposes in this book: to not waste any time with regrets, but to live for the moment, but in a Christian sense. It is about redeeming the time for the sake of the sick as well as for the well.
Yet there is another aspect that has affected my reading of Mrs. Schaeffer. I have recently been engaged in reading Frank Schaeffer’s family memoir, Crazy for God (you can read a great interview with Frank here). With all politics aside, I believe Frank to be completely honest in his portrayal of his family life, the good and the bad. For example, his alleged “outing” of his father’s abusive relationship with his mother is actually defended as being due more to true belief than hypocrisy. Even his recounting of his father’s suicidal depressions is written with a sympathetic air. Through all this, however, I think we should see a silver lining, but not a naïve one. At one point Mrs. Schaeffer delivers the most profound line in the entire book, summing up how the reader, and especially the reader that knows the Schaeffer’s dark secrets, should synthesize this seemingly contradictory information: “People throw away what they could have, by insisting on perfection which they cannot have, and looking for it where they will never find it.” I really do hope that both Francis and Edith really believed this as much as I do.