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.”
Read more from Ruth Graham's thoughts on honesty and transparency in her Beliefnet blog, Safe Place.