From Heartbreak to Hope: A Conversation
with Ruth Graham
By Belinda Elliott
Ruth Graham, the third child of evangelist Billy Graham, has had her share
of struggles. In her book, In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart,
she shares her story of suffering and how the Lord brought her through
those tough times.
Ruth suffered with the pain of divorce after learning of her husband’s
infidelity and trying unsuccessfully to rebuild her marriage with him.
She also recounts other trials she faced: a failed second marriage, learning
to forgive those who had hurt her, and even walking with her children
through their own struggles of drug use, teen pregnancy, and eating disorders.
Ruth says she chose to share these personal details about her life in
an effort to encourage others who are hurting. She provides practical
advice from the viewpoint of someone who has experienced the heart-breaking
trials of life and emerged with a sense of hope and a stronger faith.
She encourages readers to let God have the broken pieces of their lives
and allow Him to create something good out of their experiences. I recently
had the opportunity to speak with Ruth about her book.
BELINDA ELLIOTT: In the first part of your book you
say that “Suffering was the missing chapter in my theology.”
What do you think that suffering teaches us?
RUTH GRAHAM: Sometimes I think we miss the most obvious
example of suffering – the crucifixion. I believe that suffering
strips us of self-sufficiency and we learn that we can’t go it alone.
And it makes us rely on God. Of course, the more we rely on God, the more
we find that He is trustworthy. And the more we find that He is trustworthy,
the more we trust Him. And I know that God doesn’t delight in pain,
but I know that pain is where growth takes place. And if we are to know
the deep things of God, I think very often it is taught in suffering.
ELLIOTT: This idea of self-sufficiency that you mention
is interesting. It is often our tendency as humans to try to cover up
our problems because we don’t want people to know what we are dealing
with. Why is that the wrong thing to do?
GRAHAM: Well covering up our pains, our faults, and
our mistakes only isolates us more. I have found that as I have shared
my faults and failures it’s as if I’m giving permission to
others to share theirs with me. And I believe that’s where real
ministry takes place, when there’s a real communication on the deeper
level. And I think when we take our masks off, we enable each other to
communicate on a deeper level.
ELLIOTT: The stories you share in your book are very
personal. As you thought about making your personal struggles public,
did you worry about what others would think?
GRAHAM: It is very scary. You make yourself very vulnerable.
And when you are vulnerable you are going to get hurt, and that is a scary
thing. When I was going through all that I’ve been through, I kept
saying, “Lord, if you can ever use this…” and He has.
He is using it. I don’t know that I have gotten over what people
think, or say, or their opinions of me. I just know that I’m very
sure that God has called me to do what I’m doing. And I’m
moving forward in that. But I think there has to be that daily walking
with the Lord. Many times I'd say "Father help me. This is a bad
day, or the book has been criticized or I've been criticized", and
just getting the reassurance from the Lord, that is my daily food, it
ELLIOTT: You also mention that for a lot of people,
when they are going through trials, they think that they shouldn't question
God or ask Him "Why?" But you think we should. Why do feel that
GRAHAM: Well, I look at characters in the Bible. I look
at Jeremiah, who certainly was very honest with God. He asked God why,
and told God to go find somebody else. And Jesus asked why, "Why
have you forsaken me?" David asked why. And that's good company to
be in. But I think sometimes we can ask God why, but we need to understand
that sometimes He is silent. And you know, God is bigger than our anger
and our questions and our doubts. There is nothing that we can say to
Him that He hasn't heard before. So I really rely on that. But I think
He invites honesty.
ELLIOTT:: In the book, you also discuss emotions and
the struggle between how you feel and what Scripture says to be true.
How does someone override the emotions they are feeling and rely on the
promises of Scripture?
GRAHAM: I think it's a choice. I'm not always good at.
I sometimes let my emotions take me away, but I think that it is a choice.
Not too long ago I was having a very, very bad night and just really calling
out to God, "Why is this happening?" and "I hate where
I am." And then I thought, you know I really need to stop here and
focus on God and praise God. And I thought this doesn't make sense, to
praise God when you are feeling so bad. But I just stopped and began to
praise God for who He was. Yes, the situation was bad, but He was in control.
He was still on the throne. He still loved me. He was faithful. And it
took my eyes and my emotions off of the problem and put them onto God.
That was a choice that I made. And I'm not always good at that. But that
is the kind of thing we do to get our minds and emotions off of the situation
we are in.
ELLIOTT: You also talk about another hard choice that
many Christians sometimes find difficult -- the issue of forgiveness.
For someone who is struggling to forgive, how do you forgive someone who
has hurt you?
GRAHAM: Well, I think again that is a choice. You make
the decision to forgive, and everything in you will scream, "No!
This isn't fair. I'm not going to do it!" But forgiveness doesn't
mean forgetting or taking away the consequences or acting like something
never happened. Forgiveness is very realistic, and it looks the offense
in the eye and calls it for what it is. And it doesn't really let the
other person off the hook; it lets you off the hook.
But you make the choice to forgive, and you recognize all that you have
been forgiven so that what you have to forgive is just a drop in the bucket
to what you have been forgiven. So once you understand that you have been
forgiven, and you think about the cross of Christ and what it meant and
the agony -- and of course the film The Passion has been so wonderful
to be a visual for what Christ suffered for us in order to forgive us
-- so we can think on that. Then we renew our mind in the Scriptures.
And all of this is a process. Forgiveness is a decision and then it's
a battle. You begin the process, and then you take this to the Scriptures
and you renew your mind in the Scriptures about that person, about the
situation. The Scriptures say take every thought captive to the obedience
of Jesus Christ, and you may have to do that 1,000 times a day. But eventually,
it begins to work in your heart and in your mind. And when we've made
the decision to forgive, then God is free to come inhabit that decision
and enable us to carry out the forgiveness process. But it is a process.
It does take time. It cannot be hurried. And it does stand apart from
reconciliation. And I think that is sometimes where we get confused.
ELLIOTT: How is reconciliation different from forgiveness?
GRAHAM: Well, reconciliation is conditional, and it
is conditioned on the behavior and the choices of the other person. Bishop
Tutu??? And the Truth and Reconciliation Committee in South Africa came
to understand that the wounded party was the one who set the conditions
for reconciliation. Forgiveness is unconditional. We grant that unconditionally.
But if the person does not change, if the behavior stays the same, if
you can’t maneuver that hurdle to reconciliation, that does not
mean that you have not forgiven. I think that’s where we get confused
because forgiveness does not mean that friendship is immediately restored.
Or maybe it is never restored; you may never be able to be around that
person. But you have released yourself by the act of forgiveness from
carrying that around with you for the rest of your life. Someone once
said that resentment is like drinking poison hoping the other person will
ELLIOTT: Switching gears a little bit, in the book you
talk about the story of the prodigal son. You relate a time when you came
home and your father welcomed you in and how much that meant to you. It
seems that your parents were a great source of strength and support for
you. What did you learn from their faith and their relationship with God?
GRAHAM:They were very loving and supportive. And what
I have learned from them throughout life is that mother and daddy are
not judgmental; they are not harsh. They truly live in a way that I think
exemplifies the Lord Jesus. They call sin sin; they don’t soft pedal
on that. But there is a gentleness about them that is very winsome. You
don’t feel condemned or judged. And I believe that’s the way
Jesus was. Jesus was harshest on the self-righteous religious leaders.
But He was always most tender with the sinner. And we sometimes have that
reversed. But my parents don’t.
ELLIOTT: As a result of going through the trials you
discuss in the book and helping your children through their own trials,
how has your relationship with God changed?
GRAHAM: I would say that my relationship with God has
matured. I believe that my faith was somewhat immature because it had
not been tried by fire. I had always been in the Bible, and I had been
a Bible teacher and a Bible study leader, and yet I had not had to apply
it in the same way. Life was fairly easy for me. And when the hardships
came I had to really claim the Scriptures and study the Scriptures in
a whole new way. In the sense that when you are crying out to God, and
you need answers for just putting one foot in front of the other, that
gives you a different relationship with the Lord.
ELLIOTT: For people who are going through trials right
now and their faith is being tested, what practical advice would you give
GRAHAM: What I would say is to be in the Scriptures
and to be in prayer. That has got to be your first priority, and if you
don’t know where to start begin with Psalms. David is so honest.
Go to Job. I really love Job. Stay in the Scriptures.
Then, find someone with whom you can share. Someone who can keep a confidence,
someone who has been through rough times themselves and don’t have
all the answers. I’m determined that those people who have all the
answers don’t have a clue what the questions are! So I think it’s
important to find a trusted friend, confidante, pastor, counselor that
you can unload on because it will come out. It will either come out in
depression, or breakdown, or illness. And just take one step at a time,
just little steps. We tend to want to look at the whole picture and think
we can’t get through it. But if you just take baby steps -- do one
thing at a time -- then you get through it.
And trust the Lord. I know that sounds so easy to say. And for me trust
is not like, “Oh, I’ll trust the Lord,” and then go
skipping off into the future. Mine is more or a hang-on-tight kind of
faith. You know, I wrestle with the Lord. It doesn’t come easy for
me. I wish that it did, but it doesn’t. I have to hang on.
ELLIOTT: For these people who are hurting in our churches,
are churches doing a good job of reaching out to them? Is there anything
they could be doing better?
GRAHAM:I think churches are doing much better than they
used to. I think that support groups and small groups, these are wonderful.
I think that’s a real avenue. I know for me, when I was struggling,
it was my pastor who would share some of his struggles appropriately from
the pulpit, and he set the tone for the congregation. He was being open
and honest about his failures -- not to look at him as a perfect leader
-- but he was open and honest in his struggles, and that set a tone of
being honest in the congregation, and I appreciated that. So I think it
begins with the pastor. Of course he has to be careful, he has to be honest
and true and authentic to his own personality and family, but I also think
that God has raised up wonderful counselors who work hand in hand with
churches, and I think that’s important.
So there is the atmosphere to share, and to be honest, which is set by
the pastor, and then there are the small groups. Use your small group.
And if you find that you are in a small group that you don’t like,
go to another one where you can be yourself. I just think that is so important.
ELLIOTT: What do you hope people will get from reading
GRAHAM: Well, there were two main goals. One was for
people to realize they are not alone. That what they are experiencing
is okay. Someone has said that “an abnormal reaction to an abnormal
situation is normal.” I think that when we are struggling we feel
like we are the only ones, and that makes it so much harder. I wanted
people to know that we all struggle and it is okay. And not only that
we are not alone because others are going through it, but we are not alone
because Jesus is with us. We have a wonderful Heavenly Father who loves
And then secondly, I wanted to give a tool to people who are hurting
and people who want to help the hurting. There is this two-pronged purpose
to the book where someone who is hurting can go to the book and find ways
for helping themselves, tips on how to help themselves. And then, for
those who want to help but don’t know how, there are tips for those
who care. And I think it’s important because so often when I was
going through this people didn’t say anything to me. They didn’t
know what to say to me. And silence is often read negatively. So I think
it’s important to know what to say, and how to say it, and what
to do to help the hurting because we can either make it worse or try to
do the right thing. And I wanted to give those tools.
ELLIOTT: In closing, are there any additional comments
you have for our readers? Any words of advice?
GRAHAM: I think the fact that we do draw on Biblical
characters is important to remember. You mentioned the story of the prodigal
son as one. We draw on Elijah as an important lesson to be still before
God. I tend to be impulsive, and that’s why I’ve gotten into
some of these problems. We need to be still before God and really ask
Him what He wants. We have Jeremiah also.
And there are principles we have to hang onto when we are struggling:
the principles that God is in control; that God will provide for us His
Word, His presence, and His vindication; and that He will make it fair
My overall underpinning truths were that I knew that God loved me, He
would show me what to do, and that He would bring good out of this. And
to know that God brings good out of our suffering is hope. Suffering is
not there just for the sake of suffering; there is good that comes out
of it. And that’s what we hang onto. That is the hope.
ELLIOTT: Well said! Thank you so much for talking with
me today. I’m sure your book is going to be a source of hope and
encouragement for many people.
GRAHAM: Thank you.
me what you think.
Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart
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