Conversation: Gary Smalley
Resetting Priorities in the Senior Years
Gary Smalley’s marriage and family books have sold 12
million copies, with titles such as The DNA of Relationships, From Anger to
Intimacy, The Blessing, The Two Sides of Love, The Language of Love and Change
Your Heart, Change Your Life. Yet the success that accompanied his career as
one of the nation’s best-known Christian authors and conference speakers almost
led to his physical and spiritual demise. Heading into his senior years,
Smalley discovered a new passion that he believes saved his life: memorizing
With Norma, his wife of 44 years, he operates Smalley
Relationship Center in Branson, Mo. The Smalleys have three married children,
Kari, Greg and Michael, and nine grandchildren. Smalley, 68, recently spoke
with Evangel News Editor John W. Kennedy.
evangel: What do you mean when you say you walked away from
SMALLEY: In the late 1970s and early ’80s I cried out to the
Lord to enable me to do five things to enrich marriages. I asked God to allow
me to miraculously write a book before I was 60, because I’m not a writer.
Second, I wanted to record a message and send it around the world. Third, I
wanted to make videos. Fourth, I prayed that I could speak at conferences. And,
finally, I was praying for a counseling center. I prayed about these every day
when I jogged, and within two years all five were given to me.
evangel: But by the late 1980s you figured you actually were
making too much money.
SMALLEY: Within eight years all these ventures had exploded.
Every Sunday night on the Turner Broadcasting System we sold 20,000 videos. The
money started flowing in such volume I couldn’t manage it. I had more than I
ever needed. Eventually, without realizing it, I walked away from God — the
Rewarder. Toward the end of the ’90s I felt like the Holy Spirit was leaving
me. I lost vision.
evangel: Is that when you had your near-fatal heart attack?
SMALLEY: Yes, in 2002. I was massively stressed. My
cardiologist still doesn’t understand why I didn’t die. Then in 2003, I lost my
kidneys. My 30-year-old son, Michael, gave me a kidney.
evangel: How did these health crises change you?
SMALLEY: I returned to my relationship with Christ; I let
other people manage my money. I don’t know what I make; it’s a lot less than it
used to be. Now my life is back to serving God and others, and meditating on
the most important verses in the Bible.
evangel: You began memorizing Scripture at age 63?
SMALLEY: Right after the kidney transplant I had an
overwhelming sense I needed to read Colossians 3. I read the first 17 verses
and knew that’s what I needed. I memorized those 17 verses. I repeat them all
day long back to God in prayer form. I realized in meditation that I was
changing. All my expectations are from above now, not from this earth.
evangel: You call stress unfulfilled expectations.
SMALLEY: I made a four-page list of all my expectations
— expectations of my wife, my ministry, my money. I laid them all at the
foot of the Cross. On my knees I told God, “I just want to serve You and others
as You open the doors for me.” When I was in the position of earning a lot,
publishers were after me to produce more information because they got money off
of me. I’ve turned down a $3 million book deal from two different publishers.
If I never write another book, I’m fine. The next day, after I gave all the
expectations to the Lord, I had my blood pressure checked. In one day it
dropped from really high to what it was during high school.
evangel: And you’ve continued to memorize Scripture.
SMALLEY: My son Greg reminded me that I needed to fill my
heart with God’s truth. So I began to memorize the most important verses in the
Bible, like Deuteronomy 6:4-9, the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes and the
Lord’s Prayer. I now have 120 verses that I go over and over in my mind every
evangel: How has Scripture memorization helped you?
SMALLEY: Over the last five years it’s helped me to replace
some of the world’s beliefs. The world teaches that life is never complete
until you get a lot of pleasures. It’s not true. The lust of the flesh, the
lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life are what I had in my heart. I’m
being transformed by the renewing of my mind — memorizing verses and
You can put a child in church. But people don’t truly become
followers of Christ until they guard their hearts. In Deuteronomy 6 it says,
“Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.” We are to repeat
scriptural truths as we sit down and get up and walk along the way.
Evangelicals often miss how powerful it is to memorize. We substitute the
world’s values. Money never did anything for me but ruin me. Now I start off
every day saying, “God, I’m helpless. I’m a beggar. Thank You for giving me the
kingdom of heaven.”
evangel: Would you agree that success isn’t necessarily a
sign of God’s favor?
SMALLEY: I’m not going to say that it is or it isn’t. I do
prosper every day. Psalm 1 is true. The Lord blesses with health and wisdom.
But I had to come to the Cross again. I had to relive Galatians 2:20 — “I
have been crucified with Christ ….” I felt God leaving me because I was busy
seeking the reward, not the Rewarder.
evangel: What do you hope to do in the future?
SMALLEY: I have three bucket-list dreams God has given to
me. First, to do another television infomercial on the purpose of marriage and
family, particularly for the wounded from divorced homes. I want to fund
qualified marriage and family ministries. Second, to write a curriculum for
parents and Sunday School teachers to guard the hearts of children. And third,
to be a part of a marriage adventure. When a married couple go on a date, they
can actually learn marriage skills needed to maintain a great marriage.
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