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Ruth Graham
In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart
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Ruth Graham Hopes Tale of Brokenness Will Help Others

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From Heartbreak to Hope: A Conversation with Ruth Graham

By Belinda Elliott Producer 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 really is.

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 way?

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 die.

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 them?

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 this book?

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 us unconditionally.

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 one day.

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.


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