In this January 1977 story, the actor and author shares how faith brought peace and spiritual healing to his life.
In the early part of my acting career, I thought that if I could become a star, it would fill the emptiness I felt in my heart—but it did not.
There were other goals that I set for myself—money, security, cars and houses—but each time a goal was achieved, I would say, “There must be something more.” And on to the next target.
More money changed nothing. Pretty, young actresses were momentary distractions. But nothing could ward off the depressions I fell into, sometimes for months at a time. A new picture or play would end the despondency and internal hostility for a short period, but the meaninglessness of life was the reality I lived in.
I would take my sports car up one of the canyon roads leading from the San Fernando Valley to the coast highway, not really caring if I lived or died. As that beautifully balanced machine screamed over the winding roads, my thoughts turned to negative possibilities.
I’m not going to try to end my life but…if I go past the point of my skill or the car’s capacity to stay glued to the road, I won’t care. It would be a relief to die.
I had begun to see life as a joke. I had stopped believing in God, but that didn’t stop me from blaming Him for the dissatisfaction I felt.
I once took a motorcycle trip with two friends into Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, miles from civilization. We stopped at a small shack where a family lived in incredible poverty. We gave our extra dungarees to the young boys, but it was the little girl who really touched my heart.
Open sores covered her face, and there was, in the innocent eyes of one so young, a lifelessness that shook me. I was struck by the thought that she was only one of millions of hungry, diseased children on this planet.
I couldn’t look any longer. I jumped on my bike and sped away. I opened the throttle wide—too wide for the rough terrain.
Shouting at the wind, I screamed, “What kind of God are You? Don’t You see that little girl back there? How can You allow that pain and misery to exist?”
Tears blinded my eyes. The last thing I remember was a small gully ahead of me, triggering the thought, Twist that throttle, Babe, and get that front wheel up.
I didn’t make it. The motorcycle’s foot peg shot through my hip, shattering my pelvis in 13 places. A separated shoulder, a brain concussion and no memory also resulted. My friend, Gary, no more than three minutes behind, saved my life by putting his fist into the wound, stopping the blood.
How does a life of hostility, depression and defeat turn into a life of victory? It doesn’t happen with our own strength and it cannot be at all, outside of God.
I began to discover this truth in 1972 when I was in Mexico City with my wife, Lory. We were visiting a Catholic shrine, Our Lady of Guadalupe, as tourists. Standing at the side altar, we were noticing the crutches and other paraphernalia left by those who had been healed, when a priest said, “If anyone has a physical problem, now is the time to pray.”
Though Lory and I were still unbelievers, she caught my arm and said, “Why don’t we pray that God will heal me?”
My wife had awakened that morning with her hands swollen and almost useless from arthritis. It had become a habit for me to massage them into a degree of flexibility. The doctor had prescribed a large dosage of aspirin as the only remedy for the pain. She was taking 30 to 40 a day.
So we prayed. I did not believe in faith healing, but I tried to suspend my skepticism for a moment while I whispered, “Lord God, heal Lory’s arthritis.”
You can imagine my surprise when, three days later, Lory said the pain in her hands had disappeared. Vanished. Her swollen knuckles were back to normal! She stopped taking aspirin and has not been bothered since.
One might suppose that a man who had seen his wife healed of an incurable disease would become a believer overnight. But I’m no brighter than those Jesus spoke of when He said, “Neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” (Luke 16:31)
It was eight months before I was born again spiritually.
I had just begun rehearsals for a play on the East Coast. Walking out on-stage, I was prepared to do everything in my power to exalt the name of Dean Jones. I was ready to discipline myself to the grueling schedule and willing to make any sacrifice to get good reviews and standing ovations.
Maybe some night, I thought, by some magic, acting would somehow fill that emptiness in me. But, deep inside, something seemed to say, “This is never going to satisfy you.”
I went back to the lodge near the playhouse that night and looked out over the sumptuous landscape. I should be happy! I had so much to live for—a beautiful wife who loved me, two wonderful and healthy children and my weekly salary was more than many men make in a year.
Looking back over my life, I suddenly realized how self-centered it had been. Everything I’d done had been with one person in mind—me. Where does all this end? I wondered. For some who worship fame, it concludes with suicide. That thought frightened me.
“Oh, God,” I cried, “there must be something more!” I knelt by the bed and began to pour out my heart. I wept like a child.
During the next three days, whenever I was alone, I prayed, and each time I felt cleaner, more alive. Something extraordinary was happening to me, but I didn’t know what.
Finally, the third night, I realized what I had to do. Give myself to God—end the separation that had existed between us. I said, “God, You probably don’t even exist; maybe I’m just talking to the walls. But, if You’re there, I want to know it. And, if You’re real, I’ll give up myself into Your hands.”
The moment I said those words, there came a flood of joy and peace into my heart that truly “passed all understanding.” I had never known such a feeling of stillness and contentment. That empty spot, that “God-shaped vacuum” was filled!
I felt as if a weight was removed from my shoulders, a weight that I had not known was there until it was lifted. That was the burden of self.
“My yoke is easy and My burden light,” Jesus said. (Matthew 11:30)
A moment before I had doubted God’s existence, and now, I was sure of His reality. I had not reached an intellectual conclusion. I knew in my muscles and bones that God loved me. The joy and love and peace and hope and faith were the signs that I had asked for. And received—praise the Lord!
How hard it had been to let go of self and make a commitment to seek God’s kingdom first. But what abundant life He gives in return.
“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly,” said our Savior. (John 10:10)
On February 10, 1974, both Lory and I publicly confessed Jesus Christ as the Lord of our lives and we began to learn how meaningful and significant every moment of life can be when you’re not empty any more, but filled and overflowing with the Holy Spirit of God.
For more inspiring stories, subscribe to Guideposts magazine.