Guideposts Classics: Beverly Sills on the Power of Prayer

In this story from November 1973, the beloved operatic soprano shares how God helped her cope with her special-needs children.

By Beverly Sills, New York, New York

As appeared in

How strange it is that happiness and despair can be so close together. An intense feeling of joy had come over me right in the middle of the evening performance. There was this warm, close bond between me and the audience. Everything seemed to sparkle.

I glowed all over, loving the feeling of being able to sing well, to have the sound just pour out of me, to be lost totally in the talent God had given me. This is happiness, I had thought to myself.

Yet only hours later I knew I would trade my success and career without one regret if it could make my children healthy.

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My husband, Peter Greenough, and I have two children. Meredith, nicknamed Muffy, was born in 1959. Peter Jr., called Bucky, was born two years later.

Muffy has always had a bright mind. As a child she would thumb happily through books and make sense of pictures, but she never spoke. Tests showed that she was almost totally deaf.

Soon after Bucky was born, we learned that he is an epileptic and severely retarded. There has been little communication with him.

And so I asked the agonizing, self-centered question, “Why me, God?” I was so full of self-pity that when I walked along the street I’d say to myself, “Who in this crowd is suffering as much as I?”

When that self-centered period faded somewhat, I asked the bigger question, “Why them? What did those precious innocents do to deserve this fate?”

I quit singing and spent nearly two years at home trying to grope through a fog of confusion, trying to be just a mother and a wife. This was the period when my own mother’s faith helped me a great deal.

As a child I remember a certain ritual she and I would share as I went off to school. She would give me three kisses and I would say, “Mama, pray for me.”

I still seek her prayers. I’ll phone her anytime during the day and ask, “Before you go to bed tonight, mama, will you take care of something for me?” I’ll tell her the problem and then say, “Pray hard.” And we both do.

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When I was going through this period of doubt and despair, my mother would say, “In God’s sight your children are perfect. No flaws. We must see them as He does.”

She’s 69 now and she is always cheerful. One day she scolded me, “Why do you try to carry the whole world on your shoulders? Leave some of it to God. Don’t you see that He’s eager to help you?”

Slowly I began to believe it. I began to talk to God personally the way Mama does. I’d talk to Him about the hurt I felt and ask Him to take it away. And then I began thanking him for the small victories.

With Bucky every little accomplishment is a major triumph. He wasn’t toilet-trained until he was five. He didn’t learn to feed himself until he was six. We had been told he would never be able to do either.

It’s a good thing we decided to put Bucky in a special school for retarded children. When he was nine he had a grand mal seizure. His quick-thinking gym instructor brought him around with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Bucky’s heart had stopped beating and he had been dead for 30 seconds.

The seizures he’s had over the years have not decreased in number; each one does more damage to his brain. Yet at 11 years of age he is a big strapping boy who appears quite normal. Anyone who meets him for the first time doesn’t know the difference–for a few minutes anyway. Bucky has no speech.

It’s hard for me to have him away at school but I know his daily schedule so well I can feel close to him. When traveling, I wear two watches; one is set to the time zone I’m in, and the other to the time zone Bucky’s in so that I can relate to what he’s doing at any time of day.