Frederick Buechner was an American writer, novelist, poet, preacher, and theologian, in addition to being an ordained Presbyterian minister and author of thirty-nine published books. The New York Times called him “a major talent” and “a very good writer indeed.” USA Today said he was “one of our most original storytellers.” He died on August 15, 2022.
Once he was asked, “What was an event that made you who you are? Tell us about a defining moment in your life.”
Buechner thought about the question. Then he told them a story from his early childhood, a story he had never told anybody. When he was growing up, there was a lot of alcohol in his home. It was in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, and nobody had a lot of money. But there was a lot of drinking going on and it was an unsettling time for him as a child.
One night his father came back from somewhere. He had had too much to drink. Fred’s mother did not want the father to drive the car. Somehow, she slipped the keys away from him, took them to her ten-year-old son, and said, “Don’t let your father have these.” Fred was already in bed. He took the car keys and held them in his fist under the pillow. His father seemed to know he had them. He came and said, “Give me the keys. I need them. I have to go out some place.”
Fred was just a child. He was frightened. He didn’t know what to say and could not move. He lay there as his father pleaded “Give me the keys.” He pulled the covers over his head, trying to escape, finally falling asleep with his father’s voice in his ears. Years later, the story was still with him, and it symbolized so much of what Fred had survived during his childhood, long before his father committed suicide a few years later.
The room was quiet as Fred finished telling his story. Then one of the conference leaders said something Fred did not expect to hear. He said, “You have had a fair amount of pain in your life, like everybody else. You have been a good steward of it. You have handled it well.”
It was never anything Fred, or anyone else, would ever set out to do. However, pain is something that we all must handle. We are called to be good stewards of our pain.
“Wait and watch for God—with God’s arrival comes love.” Psalm 130: 7