My grandmother and mother knew that I would become an Anglican priest.
I dismissed this expectation, being convinced that I would become an electrical engineer like my father. In my family system, there were no adult males that attended church. In 1965, my mother had a spiritual encounter at a Billy Graham event at the Pacific National Exhibition. Fifty-two years later, my mother’s family faithfulness has had a huge impact on my life. I am a more loving, forgiving person today, because of my mother’s faithful example and prayers. Similarly,
Graham’s family faithfulness at age 98 has had a huge impact on countless people. President Eisenhower memorably said: “Billy Graham is one of the best ambassadors our country has but he told me, ‘I am an ambassador of heaven.”
How has Graham continued for the past 60 years of U.S. Gallup polling as one of the ten most admired people in the world? My hunch is that it has to do with humility and not taking himself too seriously. It is not easy to finish well as a high-profile public figure. Everything that they say and do is constantly scrutinized.
They and their families are living in a public goldfish bowl.
Family faithfulness does not mean that a person never makes mistakes. Faithfulness means being willing to humbly admit one’s mistakes and being willing to grow and change. During a Newsweek interview in 2006, Graham offered this judgment: “Much of my life has been a pilgrimage — constantly learning, changing, growing and maturing.”
Part of the way Graham has coped with unceasing public attention has been through his self-effacing humour. In his autobiography, Just As I Am, Graham transparently tells hilarious stories about his foibles and mistakes. He is famous for having personal access to every American president since Harry Truman in 1950.
Unschooled in presidential protocol, then 31-year-old Graham innocently told reporters the content of his conversation with the president. Truman was so offended he dismissed Graham as a counterfeit. Later Graham visited then-president Truman, apologizing profusely for his ignorance and naiveté. “Don’t worry about it,” replied Truman, “I realize that you hadn’t been properly briefed.”
Graham vowed that such a mistake would never happen again if he was ever given access to a person of rank or influence. Are we, as well, willing to grow in family faithfulness?
Rev. Ed Hird has been the rector at St. Simon’s Church, 420 Seymour River Pl., since 1987. stsimonschurch.ca