This article originally appeared as the first of Ruth Graham's By the Way columns in the May 8, 1981 issue of Christianity Today.
With this issue, we begin a new column by Ruth Bell Graham, brief snippetsobservations, reflectionsout of her life. Homemaker, author (Sitting by My Laughing Fire, Word, 1977), wife of evangelist Billy Graham, her brief, pithy comments will add a new dimension to Christianity Today.
Discussing the column in a recent letter to CT she shared the following experience quite literally out of her life as she wrote the words of this first column on the subject of pressure:
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I had no sooner gotten started when I got word that a Chinese pastor and his wife I had been permitted to call on in China had been reimprisoned by the antitheistic regime because of something I had said to them. I placed a call to a nearby office, only to have the rumor confirmed (later found false).
I hadn't gotten over the shock when I got a call from a young friend about to be released from prison. He a great guy, with real potential, but he sounded as if he were experiencing the spiritual "bends" at the prospect of facing the real world again He needed reassurance and a lead to a job. A call to Chuck Colson's office fixed that one up.
I had just settled back to pontificate about pressure when I got a call that a lady had shot and killed herself at the home of a friend down the mountain. Would I come? Gathering old towels, cleaning material, and bunch of plastic bags, I headed down. A man from the rescue squad was doing a first-rate job of cleaning and helped me stuff the bedspreads and curtains into the trunk of my car before the two young girls got back from school. When they returned, I gathered them and their mother up and brought them home to spend the night while neighbors repainted the room.
The next morning I went out to check on the bedspreads and curtains before sending them to the cleaners, and suddenly thought to myself, "What am I doing out here in the driveway picking brains off curtains when I should be writing a column on pressure?"
The next one was going to be on tension. I'm not sure I've got the nerve.
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A mutilated blob floated on the surface of the ocean. "A depth fish," explained the captain of the small fishing boat. There are fish living so far beneath the ocean surface that when one happens to be caught and hauled to the surface along with the rest of the fisherman's catch, it is unable to exist without the pressure that holds it together: it simply explodes.
There are people like this. They live continually under incredible pressure. But when for some reason that pressure is removed, they fall apart. Newspapers have told us of Russian writers, dissidents expelled from their homeland now living in a neutral country, who have become unproductive. I know children of a Christian family, living under unbelievable pressures of a hostile regime, who have grown up firm in their Christian faith and commitment. I have read about other children who fled that same environment, growing up in America with all her "freedoms" 'and "permissiveness," who drifted away over the years from the faith of their childhood.
Much has been written about tension, pressure, and frictionmostly on ways to escape them. We have become a generation of escape artists. J. N. Darby translates Psalm 11:1 thus: "In pressure thou hast enlarged me." William Barclay tells us that the Greek word for affliction (as in 2 Cor. 6:4) means "pressures." They are, he says, "the things that press sore upon us. Originally it expressed sheer physical pressure on a man. The sheer pressure of the demands of life upon one."
Have you ever studied an old stone arch? The capstone supports the weight of the whole: it bears the pressure. We appreciate the value of pressure when we see a tourniquet applied and the flow of blood stopped to the saving of a person's life.
J. Hudson Taylor, that great missionary statesman, used to say we should not mind how great the pressure isonly where the pressure lies. If we make sure it never comes between us and our Lord, then the greater the pressure, the more it presses us to him.
Actor Dustin Hoffman says of director Mike Nichols, "Mike has grace under pressure" (Look magazine, April 2,1968). What a lovely thing to have said of one! Perhaps our secret of "grace under pressure" lies in accepting that pressure as from the Lord. It may be an interruption, it may be one more request than we think we can fulfill, one more responsibility than we think we can manage. Yet as we accept it as from him, asking him to teach us what he would have us learn through the experience and to use it for the good of others and for his glory, pressure will have fulfilled its purpose.
An old copy of the London Times has this thought-provoking statement: "The grace of vital perseverance is that quality of patience which is always equal to the pressure of the passing moment, because it is rooted in that eternal order over which the passing moment has no power."
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The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has a memorial site for Ruth. The press release above is from A. Larry Ross and Associates, Billy's longtime personal publicist and spokesman, has photos, video, and more information.
Christianity Today articles by and about Ruth Graham include:
Afraid of the Right Things | One fear puts all others in proper perspective. (March 4, 1983)
Moved into the Presence of God | Ruth Graham tells what book has influenced her the most. (September 2, 1983)
A Living Birthday Letter | Ruth Graham's life is a letter crafted especially for people like me who dread the thought of growing old. (Wendy Murray Zoba, June 12, 2000)
What Ruth Graham Taught Me About Prayer | A powerful way to make God's words your own. (Today's Christian, July/August 1999)
RuthBellGraham.com expired in 2005 and is now a cybersquatter's site, but its content is still available at the Internet Archive.
Obituaries on Ruth Bell Graham include those from the Associated Press, Asheville Citizen-Times, Charlotte Observer, Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, News14 Charlotte, and other sources.
Patricia Conwell's biography of Ruth Graham, Ruth, A Portrait, is available from ChristianBook.com and other retailers.