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 GrahamShe 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, she 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.