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Ruth Graham Opens Up About Feeling Abandoned as a Child

Ruth Graham, daughter of Billy Graham, opened up recently about her past and her struggles with forgiveness, including the need she felt to forgive her father. Ruth struggled through four failed marriages before she questioned her salvation in Christ. Part of being able to forgive herself and move on, Ruth says, included the acknowledgment that she felt abandoned by her father due to his busy ministry schedule. 

“I had to forgive my father for a sense of abandonment that I grew up with because he traveled so much when I was a little girl,” Ruth told Life Today’s Randy Robison

Ruth’s feeling of abandonment stemmed from the fact that she didn’t have a father who could tuck her into bed most of the time or even teach her how to ride a bicycle. It caused her, Ruth says, to “look for a man to make her feel secure” instead of relying totally in Jesus. 

Ruth Graham Still Loved Her Father

Ruth is quick to say that she loved her father and that he was her hero, and it took her a long time to realize this sense of abandonment was contributing to her failed relationships. By the time her fourth marriage fell apart, Ruth questioned her salvation. Ruth says that she thought she was trusting in and relying on Jesus as her “security”, but “it really wasn’t the truth.” 

Ruth said part of her journey of forgiveness also included forgiving God (as admittedly theologically unsound as that thought is, she says) for her failed marriages. “I claimed verses that he would do a new thing in my marriage, and it didn’t happen, it ended in divorce.” 

Robison, whose father also traveled a lot when he was a kid, asked Ruth if she thought “it’s missing the mark for preachers to be gone so much when they have children at home?” Ruth responded affirmatively. “I think it is a conversation that we evangelicals need to have.” 

At the same time, Ruth sees her father’s traveling as necessary actions during a “unique time” when he “stepped into a void left by the social gospel.” Ruth said her father was a “unique man for a unique ministry at a unique time.” She doesn’t blame her father for traveling as much as he did, but her “little girl’s heart” needed a father who was present. 

“Too often, pastors put ministry ahead of family, and it’s acceptable.” Not mincing words, Ruth said such pastors are “abandoning their relationship with their children, their responsibilities, really.” 

“Don’t follow my parents’ example,” she implored. 

In his memoirs, Ruth said, her father wrote “I know my absences had repercussions in my children’s lives.” However, Ruth said she never had the opportunity to talk about her feelings of abandonment with him. By the time she realized abandonment was an issue for her, Ruth said her father was not conversant any longer. “It would have bothered him terribly,” Ruth said. 

Ruth emphasized that she’s telling her own story (much of which is told in her book, Forgiving My Father, Forgiving Myself), not necessarily the story of her siblings, Anne Graham Lotz and Franklin Graham

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Megan Briggs is a writer and editor for churchleaders.com. Her experience in ministry, an extensive amount of which was garnered overseas, gives her a unique perspective on the global church. She has the longsuffering and altruistic nature of foreign friends and missionaries to humbly thank for this experience. Megan is passionate about seeking and proclaiming the truth. When she’s not writing, Megan likes to explore God’s magnificent creation.