Mitch Albom: 5 Spiritual Lessons

The best-selling author shares lessons he’s learned about the person God wants him—and each of us— to be.

Posted in , May 26, 2022

Author and journalist Mitch Albom; photo by Glenn Triest

Before I wrote 1997’s Tuesdays With Morrie, I didn’t spend much time thinking about life and death. I spent even less time thinking about my faith. My focus? I wanted to be the biggest, most successful sportswriter on the planet. I worked at ESPN, did five columns a week for the Detroit Free Press, authored sports books. But writing Tuesdays With Morrie—about spending time with my former professor, who was dying of ALS—changed me.

Morrie got me thinking about the big questions: Why am I here? What’s really important? What does God want from me? I’ve written five more inspirational best sellers since then; they all tackle these questions. Along the way, I’ve started a few charities in Detroit, and I now spend a big chunk of my time in Haiti, where I run an orphanage.

What do I now know for sure? The orphanage is the most important thing in my life, hands down. It’s the core of my existence. Here’s what else I’ve learned about being the person God wants you to be:

Things happen in God’s time, not ours.

With my most recent book, The Stranger in the Lifeboat, I wanted to write a parable about the idea that God will answer our prayers in his own way and in his own time. When we ask God for something, we tend to think of it as if we’re ordering a sandwich: Okay, this is what I want, how I expect it to look and when it’s supposed to be here. If it doesn’t come this way, we get upset.

In the book, 10 people are adrift in a lifeboat in the ocean after the yacht they were on sank. Then they pick up someone else in the waves who claims to be the Lord. Here’s the question the book asks: Can we learn to change our perspective and accept God’s help even when it doesn’t come the way we wanted it?

For years, my wife and I prayed for children. It didn’t happen. Then—boom!—we ended up taking over an orphanage. Next, we adopted a five-year-old girl named Chika from there. She had just been diagnosed with a brain tumor. For the next couple years, we traveled around the world looking for a cure.

Suddenly, during our late fifties, there we were with a little girl crawling into our bed, playing silly games and demanding that I make her eggs every morning. She was loud and bossy and funny. One day, it hit me: Almost 20 years after we got married, the child that we’d prayed for finally showed up. God came through—in his own time. We had only two years with Chika before she died. For a while, I was so angry. But then I realized our time with her was an incredible gift from God.

Live each day as if it’s your last.

In The Stranger in the Lifeboat, there’s a line: “We all know we are going to die, but deep down, we don’t believe it.”

Morrie had said that to me some 25 years ago, when he was dying. What a blessing it was to be told that at age 37—and to really hear it. Although I don’t always succeed, I try very, very hard to use this philosophy to steer each day.

I started volunteering at the orphanage right after the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti. Then the guy who was running it ran out of money. So I stepped in. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was terrified. Yet I had a feeling it was a chance to do something more meaningful than anything I’d done before. If one day you wake up and it’s your time to go, it’s too late to start bargaining for more time. Don’t die with too many regrets. Do what you want to do now.

What you carry defines you.

When Chika came to live with us, I was stunned by how deeply you can come to care about somebody who hadn’t even been in your life before. Chika didn’t go to school because she was sick, so she was with my wife and me every minute of every day.

One time while she and I were coloring at the kitchen table, I realized I was late for a radio program. Chika didn’t want me to go. I said, “Chika, this is my job. I have to work.” She made a sourpuss face and said, “No, it isn’t. Your job is to carry me.” What a brilliant, God-inspired line! Of course, that was my job—and it’s the best job I’ll ever have in my life.

What you carry defines you. For many years, my arms were full of books. And my work, my reputation, my accomplishments. Then I had to drop all that to carry a little girl around. There’s no comparison. Your arms are meant for carrying other people when they need you, for carrying the children of the world who are forgotten and abandoned the way Chika was—not the other stuff.

Possessions don’t matter.

I’ve made more money than I could have ever imagined. But I live in the same house in Detroit that I lived in before Tuesdays With Morrie; I drive a 2009 car. My wife and I don’t have fancy jewelry or fancy furniture.

When I’m at the orphanage, I sleep on a little four-inch mattress; it’s uncomfortable and usually hotter than heck. But I sleep so well there—better than I do at home in Detroit. I guess that’s because I know I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Sometimes the kids at the orphanage say, “When I grow up, I’m going to be really successful like Mr. Mitch.” We have college scholarships lined up for every single kid; it’s part of the plan at Have Faith Haiti Mission. But I always tell them, “I don’t care how much money you make. I only care about your heart.”

God is with us forever.

I have written books about heaven, but I’m not an expert on it. Still, I firmly believe that we’re going to be loved and taken care of after this world. This is what I’ve learned from the pastors, priests and rabbis who have talked to me.

In The Stranger in the Lifeboat, there’s a part where the God character says, “Why is that when somebody dies everyone asks, ‘Why did God take them?’ A better question would be: ‘Why did God give them to us? What did we do to deserve their love, their sweetness, these wonderful moments?’” Loving Chika showed me that those moments are a gift but that losing them is not a punishment.

The God character also says, “I know you cry when people you love leave this earth, but I can assure you they’re not crying.” I lost Chika and both of my parents in the past six years. I’m crying because I miss them, but they’re not crying. They’re happy because they’re with God now. To me, that means everything.

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