By Mary O’Brien, M.D.
He was a bright light shining in the darkness. Billy Graham changed the lives of hundreds of millions of people. His message was simple and consistent: God loves you. He wasn’t concerned about denomination or fine points of theology even though he knew the Bible about as well as anyone. He was a bold but humble force for good in the world.
In an age when being snide and snarky is considered “cool,” Billy Graham’s sincerity, honor, and compassion provided a beacon of hope. Today, few things come more easily than cynicism. I struggle with it every hour of the day. But Billy Graham managed to rise above that temptation throughout his long life. He never worried that someone might ridicule, criticize, or dismiss him because he never worried about himself. Few people manage to subdue their egos the way Billy Graham did. His lifelong focus was to share God’s love with as many people as possible.
Living a faith-filled life is very difficult. Mother Teresa understood that. Pope John Paul II knew it. Brave souls like these never agonize over focus groups, polls, or surveys. Political correctness and fence-straddling, psycho-babble have no place in their lives. They really do answer to a Higher Power.
Billy Graham gave spiritual counsel to 12 presidents regardless of their political party or religious affiliation. He didn’t need to play games, massage egos, or create clever sound bites. He said what he meant and he meant what he said. He had a clear understanding of right and wrong, and he wasn’t embarrassed by it.
Status had no claim on him. He lived a simple, scandal-free life. For decades he showed as much attention and kindness to orphans in huts as he did to heads of state in palaces.
Finally, Billy Graham gave us all a noble example of how to endure the ravages of illness and old age with grace and dignity. As we have seen with other saintly individuals, his patience, courage, and good humor endured until the very end. Protracted illness, pain, and suffering could not conquer the Spirit that worked within him.
I’ve heard it said that when you die, all the souls you’ve helped along the way are there in heaven to greet you. In Billy Graham’s case, it must have been a very long reception line.