The Problem With Bein' A Preacher's Kid
-a monologue by Kari Morris-
The problem with being a preacher’s kid is that you can’t be a normal Christian. To you, Christianity is not a religion, nor a spiritual path, nor a choice: it’s a family business. You are born into this family business, one that consumes much of your family’s living room, telephone line, holidays and weekends; and since you’re part of the family: you help. Since your preacher parent often feels they have to be eleven places at once, it’s wonderfully convenient if they have a family: because then they can. Parishioners ecstatically latch onto you as a much-needed ministry appendage, and you wonder to yourself, “is it selfish that I just wanna go outside and play?”
But you quickly put that aside, out of your mind and learn, firsthand, how to be long suffering. You teach, you counsel others, you answer deep theological questions, you lead the services and activities no one else wants to bother with, you always welcome people into your home even when you’re exhausted and sick, you get to the church early in the morning and leave late at night, and you especially learn not to ask yourself, “How come Dad gets paid for all this work but I don’t?”
You learn to be secretive about any and all of your parents’ faults, especially your own: because kids have more. You ache to join in with the other kids’ antics, the other kids’ play, but the adults in the congregation are watching you: your perfect behavior is the full measure of your preacher parents’ suitability for ministry. Not that the other kids want to hang around you anyway. They begrudgingly do, but secretly they resent you. For you are the moral prodigy their parents always hold over their heads. Oh yes: you are resented. The kids live to break you. They poke you, prod you, steal from you, mercilessly tease you, touch you. “How much can they take?” the kids will wail. You are the wonder, the science experiment they can’t crack. And they hate you for it all the more. They hate that they can’t expose you as a human, tell on you, get your family fired, and be rid of you. But ’til then: you’re good entertainment. Not that you’ll give them the satisfaction. Nope. You shut your body down, jut out your chin in defiance, and you don’t crack an inch. You. Are. Perfect. Until…someone comes along…and wants to know you. You. Who? They offer real friendship. Real…support, help, oh no, no, no-your feathers bristle, and on instinct, you say, “Oh, I see. You’re waiting for me to crack, aren’t you? Well, fuck you, I don’t crack. I’m a preacher’s kid, I am a rock. I don’t need you!” So, they never really know you. Or they leave, they give up. Each time this happens, you want to scream at your preacher parent, “do you have any idea how lonely I live for you?”
Truly though, you amaze yourself at your ability to play the part of the-absolutely-perfect-Christian: even though you’ve never had room to consider whether you believe it or not. Your range, the control you develop, is positively superhuman. It gives you something you can control, something you can be proud of, at least. After awhile, it almost entertains you. You think, “Gee. If I can play the part so well, I wonder if my minister parent is, too. I wonder if everyone is. Is all we’re praying to even real?”
But you don’t say that. You don’t say that. Your infallibility is the only thing some people have. No. You smile. And nod. And listen. You listen and listen: you can’t help it. There are too many faces of desperation, loss, tragedy, grief at your door; so many crying, hurting bruised insides asking, “Why, why, why?” You’re six. You don’t know what to say. You’re six, so…you listen. And take it all in. Let it collect at the pit of your stomach and wonder, as children often do: “is it all my fault?”
You begin to hate.
You hate your parent’s congregation. And the depth of your rage terrifies you.
You hate them because they take the first, best, and deepest of your minister parent. They’re so drained-and often grieved-at the end of a day that you think to yourself, “compared to the tragedies of a whole community, how can I be so selfish to voice my small, petty problems?
You hate the congregation because they come to Christianity so simply, so innocently: and find strength for their journeys. You, as a preacher’s kid, don’t know how to do that. You’ve seen too much. You know too much. You were born with a tragic backstage pass. You met Christianity at its disillusioned, “school of hard knocks”, worst-case scenario version. You never got to discover it, fall in love with it, choose it. You got the meat and potatoes: they get the magic. Your mission as a preacher’s kid-should you decide to accept it-is to know how to relate to Christianity AT ALL. As you. Not an appendage.
You grow up, leave home-leave the shadow of the family business-and going to church suddenly becomes: an identity crisis. You have no fucking idea what to do. You feel so advanced. But so behind. You know so much. But so little. You inevitably fall back into ministry: the obligation overwhelms every pore of you, plus it’s all you know how to do. The church, of course, is happy for the help. They try and spiritually feed you, but you smile and nod and listen and continue being the feeder: on autopilot.
You soon get tired. Depressed. You suddenly realize: “wait! I don’t have to do this!” But then you think: “what will I do with all my time? Who will I worry about? What role will I play?” So, you keep on. You get tired again. Depressed again. You suddenly realize “wait! I don’t even have to go to church! I don’t even have to be a Christian if I don’t want to!” But you don’t know what the alternative would be. Another religion? Another faith? Leaving religion and faith all together? You have no clue how you’d approach these alternatives, and you’re pissed that you have no clue how to approach these alternatives. Not to mention, if you’d grown up in a conservative family business, you’ve been told that leaving Christianity would result in eternal hell fire and damnation. No pressure. You stay. You feel stuck. You feel trapped. You feel lost. You feel so, so fake. But no. Not fake. You know that you believe-and always have-very deeply in SOMETHING…you just don’t know what it is.
You look for support and:
-you find a few online PK Organizations. Most of their pamphlets and books are out of print. They have a few get-togethers, mostly to talk about “how great it was to be a preacher’s kid”. They don’t speak of the pain. Not online. Online is public. And they’re still scared-even at 50-that a church member will see it and retaliate against their preacher parent still serving. PK’s are forever looking over their shoulder. Then you find online forums. People write of the pain there: signing only their first name, or signing no name at all.
-you look to therapists, who’ve never met someone with your particular pain. The field of psychology, after all, has only published a few scant articles about preacher’s kids: impersonally, statistically, analyzing your behavior as if you’re a species.
-you look to the media, and find yourself portrayed as the sexually repressed, Bible-thumping, goody-two-shoes, or the angry-Goth-atheist-drug addict that sleeps with everyone. Neither stereotype fits you. Both are considered a joke. Society considers you a joke.
-you look to the Bible, where the children of called leaders…are barely mentioned. Of the few stories, the one that pains you the most is that of Abraham and Isaac. Everyone praises Abraham for his faith and his sacrifice, everyone praises God for the grace and mercy of stopping the sacrifice, but you, as a preacher’s kid, want to cry out: what about Isaac? What does it feel like to realize, that, if your parent is called of God: you are expendable?
You realize you’re a part of a social minority: one that can never tell its secret. For if you do, if you ever do, you will cause worldwide religious despair. You will prove that Christianity can take identity instead of give it, that it can leave some lost instead of found. That the church is built on the backs of brokenhearted, invisible children. And, by you embracing your right to be human, you will shatter the image of the perfect minister, the perfect minister’s family, and their perfect faith. You will shatter the peaceful knowing that the shepherd always has it together, always has it under their wing: that there is someone on this earth who can live the saint’s life they’re striving for. And all of that-all of that-will betray the world’s hope. It will betray the only thing they have to stand on. And when you think of the enormity of the world’s suffering and how they need this hope so, so badly…suddenly your need for peace seems so insignificant. So small. So, so selfish.
You wonder if perhaps your calling is to be lost…so that they can be found.
It’s you or them.
That’s always been your choice, really. You or them.
The problem with being a preacher’s kid is that you can’t be a…
You can’t be…
©2009 Kari Morris
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