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Billy Graham’s daughter Ruth has been through the fire, says it’s time for honesty

Billy Graham’s daughter wants to hear from you.

She says it’s time to be honest. Ruth Graham, daughter of the famed evangelist, says she’s been through the fire and is ready to talk about her deepest frustrations and fears.

Ruth Graham

She also wants to hear what her readers are enduring. In fact, she’s willing to make a very personal promise: If you’ll write to her, commenting on her column “Safe Place: Being Authentic in an Inauthentic World,” she’ll write you back.

“I want to hear from you. I want to know what’s going on in your life,” she says, “I want to create a safe place where people can come and share anonymously.”

Why does she see the need for a “Safe Place” where readers can share their own failings and doubts?

She knows what it’s like to have to put on a false smile. The third of Billy and Ruth Bell Graham’s five kids remembers having to pretend nothing is wrong – even when her world was falling apart. All preachers’ kids endure that, but a famous evangelist’s kid has to be especially careful. Stepping out of line can result in a front page headline in the National Enquirer – and bring shame upon a beloved dad.

The Graham family at the dinner table in the early 1950s

And there are other pressures that ordinary celebrities’ kids don’t suffer. If a famous clergyman’s daughter isn’t spiritual enough for the ever-gawking public, she had better know how to fake it – or endure constant witnessing, counseling and opportunities to come to Jesus offered by the well-meaning.

That wasn’t Ruth’s problem, however. She had a deeply spiritual experience at a very early age – and her parents kept the Graham kids out of the public eye. Little Gigi, Anne, Ruth, Franklin and Ned met scores of famous people who enjoyed her father’s friendship: Johnny Cash, John Wayne, Martin Luther King and every President from Eisenhower on – “but those were Mother and Daddy’s friends,” Ruth recalls. “We met them, but that was all.”

Little Ruth with her parents and brother Franklin in the mid-1950s

And as a girl she never had to fake spirituality, “I really did have a genuine relationship with the Lord,” she recalls. “I gave my heart to Jesus when I was seven, kneeling beside my bed with my mother. At age 11, I made that commitment public by going forward at the altar call at a church revival held by a friend of my father. Daddy went with me.”

As a 15-year-old, she left home for an exclusive boarding school in New York. There, “I came down with mononucleosis and I was miserable.” All alone, it was just her and God. “I just had to claim my faith as my own. At that point, it was no longer Mother or Daddy’s faith, it was mine.”

She avoided teenage rebellion – didn’t smoke, drink or do drugs. Although it was the height of the 1960s-70s counter-culture, she had no desire to join a hippie commune or hitchhike to San Francisco.

“I went to college and married and had children.” But in the 1990s, her world fell apart when her husband was unfaithful. After 18 years of marriage, Ruth was devastated. They went through months of counseling before admitting defeat. Then just a few months after the divorce, she remarried “on the rebound” but knew within 24 hours that she’d made a terrible mistake. Her life a shambles, she loaded up everything and sought refuge with her parents.

“I thought, ‘What are they going to say to me?’” she remembers. “As I rounded the last bend in my father’s driveway, Daddy was waiting for me. He wrapped his arms around me and said, ‘Welcome home.’”

What followed was a time of turmoil. At age 40, she was in personal, emotional and spiritual crisis. “I sort of went off the rails,” she admits, “I decided I was tired of doing it God’s way. But that just made things worse.

Ruth Graham today

“I had thought I was doing everything perfectly. I was a good wife. I was a wonderful mother. I was active in the church and I was teaching Bible studies. So, why didn’t God take care of me?”

Her children suffered, too. One daughter developed an eating disorder. Her son entered a drug abuse rehabilitation program. Another daughter gave birth to two babies out of wedlock while still in her mid-teens.

How did Ruth deal with such a collapse of her world? She says she felt abandoned. “It was really a crisis of faith. How come the Lord didn’t intervene?” Why didn’t God protect her – keep her from having to go through the fire?

The answer is simple, she knows now: “He had something to teach me about the difficulties of life: to show me that none of us are exempt, that we all have hardships. We all have things that happen to us that we don’t ask for, but we have to endure.

“And it’s OK. It’s all part of God’s plan. I didn’t like having to go through that – none of us do.”

“But it was very important for me to have that experience – and to grow from it. I’m still growing. The story is not over. But that’s OK, God gives me grace. And God is a covenant-keeping God. He is faithful even when I am not. Now I’m living life. I am just living in the grace of God.”

The Rev. Graham in a photo taken about five years ago

Recently she was at her father’s bedside after he fell at home and had to be hospitalized. Has it been difficult watching such a great man, who she still lovingly calls “Daddy,” retreat from public view now that he has slowed down – and is well into his 90s? Does she ever wish she could miraculously restore him to the fiery young preacher who filled stadiums worldwide for 40 years?

“I told Daddy not too long ago that I am much more warmed by the embers than I ever was by the fire. I hate to see the physical disabilities that he has endured, but I have enjoyed this special time in his sunset years. He is not as distracted. He is gentler.

“He’s always been a wonderful person. It was hard for him that Mother went first, but God knows what He’s doing. Always before, we kids went home to see her. If he was there, that was well and good. But now that she’s gone, we go home to see him. And he loves it. And I love being with him.

“I remember one day when I was really beating myself up and taking responsibility for my marriage falling apart – just pouring my heart out. Daddy said, ‘Quit beating yourself up. We all live under God’s grace and we just do the best we can.’

“Whenever I go home, there’s always a bouquet of flowers in my room with a handwritten note that reads, ‘Welcome home. Daddy.’”

The Rev. Graham in the mid-1990s

What has she learned through her personal ordeal?

She says she will never again attempt to live up to other people’s expectations. “For years, I was very good at fooling myself. I don’t know if I fooled other people – I certainly never fooled God.

“I have realized that I have an audience of One. As long as He’s happy with me, then that’s OK. You can’t please all those other people anyway. There’s always going to be somebody who doesn’t think you measure up.

“At each stage as I went through this, I knew I loved the Lord. There was no question of that. At each stage, He has taken me deeper. And I don’t like the fact that the deep things of God are taught in suffering.

“As a result, I know God’s grace in a way that I never would have otherwise. I’m learning to tell myself the truth. “

She wants others to enjoy that freedom, too.

“Transparency is so lacking today,” she says. “You and I feel like we can’t be honest. We have to protect ourselves, especially to hide any flaws that we have. We feel we have to put on our masks and say ‘Everything’s OK and I’ve got it all together and I’m doing just great.’

“But, people aren’t doing just great. They aren’t OK and they don’t have it all together.

The Grahams and their three daughters, late 1950s

“So, we hide it. We don’t feel we can be honest. We can’t take off that mask and be real. We fear that if we do, we’ll become targets — marginalized, criticized, victimized.”

“I finally decided that I was going to admit that I don’t have it all together – but God does.

“I want to share that and also to dialogue with my readers – so they can unburden themselves – making my column a confessional of sorts. And they will find no condemnation from me. I am not into shaming people.

“I believe in passing along God’s grace.”

Her column “Safe Place: Being Authentic in an Inauthentic World,” appears regularly on Beliefnet.


  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment MamaNellie

    thank you. as tears stream down my face. thank you for making it ok to not be perfect.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Rick England

    Thank you for your honesty. Thank you for sharing. God Bless.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment D. McIntire

    Thank you for your honesty. Your books are very inspiring to those of us who have not lived the best of lives or made the best choices. How do we write to you as you stated we could? Thanks

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment mary

    What a blessing this story has been ,It is in a true heart that healing can begin.So many people need to be free from feeling the exspectations of others is all that matters.So glad God knows and sees the heart.The body of Christ can begin a great healing flowing from the Lord as we become more transparent to one another wintin balance.May God contioue to bless your life and ministry that it may bring healing to many.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Shirley Sample

    Dear Ruth,
    I don’t know you, but I am your sister-in-Christ. I really appreciate your honesty. May GOD use you in all you do for HIM. Hugs, Shirley

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Beverly Villarreal

    I read your article and would love to write you soon. I feel as though I am going through the fire mainly because of a drug addicted son who refuses to get help. He will soon be 34.My daughter in law is filing for divorce -they have 3 beautiful kids and although they have been a very big part of our lives we are now cut off from them. Have not seen them in over three weeks. So, yes I would like to be in contact with you.
    I love the Lord and recently (I am involved with Bible Study Fellowship) in our lecture it was said thatas we become more and more like Christ the attacks from Satan are more intensified. Also no conflicts in our lives means the believer has left the front lines of battle.
    I feel the intensity and so many others are experiencing intense attacks. All that said when I read your invitation to contact you I thought I would. God bless you. In Christ Jesus’ name, beverly Villarreal

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment jason phillip

    The artificiality that Billy Graham’s daughter speaks of is a disgraceful characteristic of apostate religion. Remember…this was the type of religionist that Jesus used to shout at and whip and smash the tables thereof. Hopefully she can tap into a vein of massive discontent with the hypocrisy that masquerades as many forms of Christianity these days.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment JOSEPH

    These were beautiful and comforting words from a very holy family. GOD bless the Grahams for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Shelia

    Please pray for my grandchildren

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Diane Metzger

    Beautiful honesty. Belief & trust in Jesus is essential as we travel along our life journey. This is the KEY for spiritual growth. God has given us the gift of GRACE through Jesus. Talk with Him every day, no appointment needed. Listen to that still small voice. (SMILE).

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Judy

    Thank you so much for being so truthful and sharing your story. I tried for many years to come up to the “expectations” of my family and church – I now know that many of those were my perceptions of what I thought I needed to to and be. But during my childhood we were taught to be doers of the Word not just hearers – so I tried really hard and failed. I went away to another country where I was lonely and in a very dark place – but Jesus was there – He met me when I called out all alone one day and has never left me since. It is all about grace because as you say we can do nothing to earn entry into heaven – just to remember that we are a child of the Father. Many blessings Judy

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment eleanor j. stevenson

    I am so thankful to read this, have heard Ruth on the radio several times and feel affirmed and like her delivery and comment very much. Hope to hear more. ellie s.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ranene

    This article really spoke to me as well. God has been leading me to be as transparent as possible and that I am not to be a people-pleaser, but a God-pleaser. Thank you Ruth for being honest.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Kellie

    Will these comments be seen by other readers?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Chris

    Thank you so much for sharing your story, Ruth. Your story is an encouragement to me.
    I also have had very hard times as my husband found another woman after 34 years of marriage- it was like a hand grenade went off in my life. However, I learned so much and came to know the Lord in a much deeper way than I ever knew.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Karen Cross

    What an awesome testimony. Thank you for sharing your heart and becoming transparent. One thing I have learned is His grace is all I need. I have been through the Fire as well – many times – and each time have become closer with the Lord. Though I do not like it – I am thankful for it. Thank you again and God Bless

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Judy

    Thanks for your authenticity Ruth and you’re looking great! My husband and I just finished listening to your book about your testimony. wow excellent. I love how you kept weaving God back into things. He is certainly in control and that’s what we followers of Christ need to hold onto at this time. Thanks

  • L. Thomson

    I just read an article about Billy Graham’s daughter predicting that July 7, 2014 is going to be a day to pray about. In the article it said that on her webpage she would provide more info as what to pray about for the 7 days….I can’t find her website and it wasn’t listed on the article…

  • Marcel
  • grace

    Its good to be true to yourself n be realistic.
    Also to remember we are bought at a high price cos Jesus paid with His life n Blood
    to redeem us and now we are God’s Beloved children known by name!

    Thank You Daddy God, Thank You Jesus
    Therefore now theres no condemnation for those who are in
    Christ Jesus!
    Nothing, absolutely nothing in all creation can
    Separate us from God’s love which is in Christ Jesus!
    God bless u

  • Suzy Walker

    Wow I loved reading that, God is so good to us…ThankGod it’s not about our performance, but we stand perfect because of Jesus.

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