Guideposts Classics: B. J. Thomas on Growing with God

In his story from May 1979, the acclaimed pop and gospel artist reminds us that if the bottom unexpectedly drops out, God is there to catch you.

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Singer B. J. THomas

I was feeling great.

Looking out the jet airliner’s window, I marveled at the sparkling emerald waters of the Mediterranean. It was August, 1978, and my family and I were on our way to a long-awaited two-week vacation in the Holy Land. I smiled at Gloria, my wife, who was engrossed in a book, and reached over and wrapped my arm around Paige, our eight-year-old daughter.

We had just completed a four-day crusade in Taiwan that had been successful beyond our wildest dreams. For me, the experience represented a spiritual milestone. More than 100,000 people had attended the four evening services where I performed as the guest singer, and thousands had given their lives to the Lord. I could still feel the joy that emanated from that hot, crowded stadium.

What a difference performing in a Christian concert had been! There were the same hassles, problems, foul-ups as in any other concert—but what a different spirit. There was a time I used to be in a constant state of anxiety and anger while on the road or performing. And my temper, which had been a life-long problem, could explode at any moment into violence.

I had been known to wreck hotel rooms and start brawls; once I even pulled a knife on one of my best friends. Ironically, such stunts were really desperate cries for help; but when you’re the boss, few people have the guts to grab you and say, “Stop.” So the cries got louder, my behavior more bizarre, and soon I was on a downhill slide toward inevitable self-destruction.

Just three years ago I was living in darkness, hopelessly hooked on drugs. Once a top pop singer—a healthy guy with a great future—I had become a walking skeleton, a wasted addict. I had lost everything—my marriage, friends, career and money—to dope. It brought all the dark sides of my character to the surface: self-indulgence, anger, violence.

Then, thanks to Gloria and her Christian friends, I learned about the Lord, and asked Him into my life. He gave me a peace and purpose for living I had never known before. By His grace—that’s the only way I can explain it—I quit drugs cold turkey, and never went back.

That crusade in Taiwan proved to me that I was a new person. I congratulated myself on my success at achieving self-control.

Yup, B.J., I thought, tightening my seat belt as the plane began its descent, you’ve finally got yourself together. For the first time in my life, everything seemed in order. Gloria and I had never enjoyed a better relationship, and Paige was a happy little girl. My records were topping the gospel music charts and I had a new book coming out in the fall.

I was looking forward to this trip to the Holy Land—to the home of the Man Who had so dramatically changed my life. I wanted it to be perfect.

Our first morning in Tel Aviv, we breakfasted on the terrace of our hotel room, which overlooked the beach and sea. Gloria and I excitedly pored over the pile of travel brochures we had collected, planning the day’s activities. Paige, I noticed, was rather quiet—a little bit sulky Figuring she was still tired out from the trip, I didn’t say anything. There was no sense in starting the first day of our vacation with a fuss.

But as the day went on, Paige’s behavior didn’t get any better. She remained moody the entire morning, and by lunchtime, she was downright ornery. Still, I didn’t say anything. It was so rare that we ever enjoyed full days together as a family—I didn’t want to spoil this one.

That evening, we returned to the hotel hot, tired, hungry, and loaded down with souvenirs. Fumbling for the key to the door, I asked Paige to hold a package. She looked the other way.

“Paige,” I said severely.

She turned to regard me with mischievous brown eyes, testing me, trying my patience.

“Paige,” I repeated, “I’m not in the mood.”

She giggled—and I could feel my temper rising.

Then Gloria spoke up. “Honey,” she said, “if you’d straightened Paige out this morning, this wouldn’t be happening.”

That did it. Gloria’s words added fuel to my already hot temper, which shot up like a skyrocket.

“Don’t,” I bellowed, kicking the door open with my foot, “tell me what to do!”

My face was red with rage, and for the next 10 minutes I ranted and raved around the hotel room like some tyrant. Unable to control myself, I couldn’t believe my behavior. Paige started crying. Gloria fell strangely silent.

I glanced over at her, and my heart sank when I saw the expression on her face. I hadn’t seen that look in years; a horrible combination of disappointment and pity.

Suddenly, a million nightmarish memories came flooding back. More than once in the past I’d wake up in the hospital after some drunken brawl. Gloria would always be there, wearing the same sad expression she had now.

I tried to say something, tried to break the tension-filled silence, but no words came out. I felt confused, bewildered, as if a rug had been pulled out from under me. True, my outbursts weren’t public anymore, but this was worse; I had hurt my family, the ones I loved the most. Besides, if I planned to spend the rest of my life “praising the Lord” in one breath, then losing my temper in the next, what kind of example was that?

How can this be? I thought. I’m different now; I’ve changed. I am, supposedly, a new man.

But, it was painfully clear, I was a new man face-to-face with an old problem. My temper, like an old demon in hiding, had surfaced again with a roar.

Finally, I couldn’t stand the silence.

“Gloria?” I said. She was sitting at the desk writing a postcard. Paige was at her feet, flipping through a comic book. Both looked up at me warily:

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“It’s okay,” Gloria said, resting her hand on Paige’s shoulder.

“I don’t know what to do,” I said.

Again, the room was quiet.

“Well,” said Gloria thoughtfully, “we could try praying. I mean, that’s never failed to help us before, no matter what the problem.”

I had to agree.

“Let’s do that,” I said.

The three of us sat cross-legged on the big king-size bed. And a beautiful peace settled over our once-turbulent little family as we joined hands in prayer.

“Lord,” I said, “I confess I’ve got a bad problem here with my temper. I’m sorry, and I want to be rid of it. Please give me the right attitude; give me Your patience, tolerance and love. And please bless this vacation and make it a special time for all of us to get closer to You, just as we originally planned. Thank You. In Jesus’ name—Amen.”

We all felt better. I slept like a log that night, secure in knowing that, now I’d turned the problem over to the Lord, He would somehow take care of it.

I have to admit the next morning wasn’t easy Little things still annoyed me. We overslept, missed breakfast, and had to rush to get ready to meet our car and tour guide, which we had hired for the day But each time I felt myself losing my cool, I’d quickly say a short prayer. It worked. For the remainder of our vacation I never lost my temper, and each night we returned to our hotel a happy, tight-knit little family.

We did a lot of walking during our days in the Holy Land and with each step—from the dusty path lined with ancient olive trees leading to the Garden of Gethsemane, to the crowded city streets of Nazareth—we felt ourselves growing closer to the Lord. And, by the time our two weeks were nearly over and we were packing to go home, I felt I had come to a full understanding of what had happened that first night in our hotel room.

It’s probably the most important lesson I’ll ever learn. And that is: Once you welcome the Lord into your life, you embark on a journey of Christian growth that never ends. It is a constant step-by-step refining process that works to transform you into the kind of person He wants you to be. Like a spotlight, He shines His healing love on the dark troubled areas of your life and asks that you release them—one by one—to Him.

Looking back, it’s exciting to see how lovingly and patiently the Lord has worked His will in my life. Once I had a problem with drugs; He took care of it. Then Gloria and I had a broken marriage to contend with; He mended it. I’ve still got this problem with temper; He’s working with me on that one, and won’t let me be satisfied until the job’s done. And, when that time comes, you can be sure there will be something else.

That’s fine with me—I’ll be ready and willing.

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