Interview: Reverend T.D. Jakes on His New Book, Destiny — Movie Mom
It is always refreshing and inspiring to talk to Reverend T.D. Jakes, and it was a great pleasure to have a chance to hear more about his new book, Destiny: Step into Your Purpose, a follow-up to his best-seller, Instinct.
You write that the conditions of our lives can distract us from meaning, allowing urgent to interrupt the important. How can people achieve some perspective?
We have confused busyness with effectiveness. We are busier than we’ve ever been before but perhaps less effective than we’ve ever been. And what I tried to lay out in the book is to cut away the clutter of all the things that you think you’re supposed to do that are not central to what your destiny or what your primary purpose is. And that’s why I devoted so much time to talking about priorities. Because I’m not saying that the busy things should not be done but they should not take priority over the purposeful things that we were created to do.
I sometimes think that that comes from a failure of courage. We are not comfortable thinking about our priorities and so we distract ourselves with a lot of busyness. Where do those messages come from?
A lot of it comes from our environment, our surrounding. We are often mentored by people who are mediocre, to be candid. When you get an opportunity to read or think or be exposed to somebody who is really progressive and got things done, their philosophical ideology is contagious. To find out from them — what did you prioritize, what did you make important, what did you regret, not just what you did right, what did you do wrong because we all do things that we look back on and say, “What was I thinking?” But to always remain a student, the liquidity of thought and nimbleness of mind to approach life from a perspective of a vacuum of “feed me, fill me,” not to always come into the class as a professor but to enter into the class as a student and to learn from your environment and the people that you are exposed to creates an environment to discovery.
A lot of us have become what our parents have modeled but we are not living in our parents’ world and they modeled to us something that may not work today. There were some things that my mother was diligently teaching me that are antiquated now that we don’t to be anymore. And so I think that we have to update and constantly remain relevant and I don’t think you get old until you stop learning.
I think we sometimes believe that the people who are achievers are in another category and that they are not still learning when in fact they are the ones who are still learning the most.
Absolutely! And the weirdest thing is that we do put them in another category and it is really not true. What is really beautiful is our ordinariness. Of course when you think about Jesus it doesn’t get any better than that and yet he looked so ordinary that the Roman soldiers had to hire somebody to point him out. And it was his ordinariness that made him special. It wasn’t like he was running around with some sign on him that says, “Hi, I’m Jesus.” He interacted with people who were flawed, who had different philosophical ideologies, who epitomizes what Beliefnet is doing. He engaged people where they were in a way that is non-traditional.
I find that we have slipped into so many silos, particularly in this country, where we only interact with people who vote like us, think like us and dress like us. And it has dumbed down our thinking. Nature teaches us that cross-pollination brings forth fruit but we have stopped cross pollinating, intellectually, spiritually when we only talk to people and we only watch on TV those programs that are a reflection of us.
How do we find people that are worth learning from?
You look for fulfillment in their eyes — and fear.
Let me tell it this way, I recently was doing a test program for a talk show, I did a couple months of that and really, really enjoyed doing it, I was excited about it. I was lying in my bed in New York. I called my wife in the middle of the night and she said, “What are you doing up?” and I said, “I’m lying in the bed laughing” and she said, “What are you laughing about?” and I said, “Because I’m scared again.”
It is the beautiful gift of being thrown off-center. I am generally the interviewee not the interviewer so it was a role switch. And it threw me off, I wasn’t so sure of myself and I thought, “Oh gosh, suppose I mess it up, suppose I forget something I should’ve remembered.” And I thought what a gift it is to be a little intimidated, to be a little bit vulnerable, to be a little bit afraid. It makes us a little more prayerful, more careful and while God may have not given us the spirit of fear he was wise enough to give us the inclination to be afraid. It protects us in the jungle of life. And so I think when our lives become so predictable that we are not thrown off center we stop living. So that’s what I meant about fear. When you see somebody who is attacking something with intimidation like they are climbing up Mount Everest so to speak, get behind them, get behind them, get with them, join them on the journey. Because to get to see somebody struggle… My son said, “Daddy you taught me more by doing the talkshow than you did anything you’ve ever done.”
Do you feel that a fear mode is when you are most open to learning?
Oh yes, absolutely! And I was the most effective because I had told him things that he had never seen modeled. So he thought, “Dad is just confident, dad has just got a good ability.” But he knew daddy was nervous and he knew that he was intimidated and he got to see me fight my giant. That’s why I say if you see somebody with fulfillment in their eyes and fear get in behind them and follow them and you will learn things that are absolutely amazing.
In the book you say sometimes we do not surround ourselves with the right people. How do we find the right people?
We can talk about that all day. One thing that I notice all doctors run with doctors, lawyers run with lawyers, preachers run with preachers and isn’t that boring? Because when everybody that you run with does what you do they compete with you, they do not complete you. One of the wisest things you can do is put around you people who are strong where you are weak, who were very different from you. I learned that the trick to having great party is diversity around the table. You know, smart people from different worlds who engage each other makes the whole night amazing.
And we don’t always do this in our lives. Sometimes we put around us people who need us but they don’t complete us. We put around us people who lead us but don’t feed us. So we’re always feeding and never been fed, we are always giving and never receiving and our ability to receive gets rusty because we are never thrown off kilter and brought into an environment where we’re not the smartest person in the world and that’s a good thing. I think one of the greatest blessings of my life is that I had been able to be in so many different worlds and rooms. I describe myself as one of the few people who could have breakfast with Pat Robertson and lunch with Jesse Jackson. You know those are two different worlds. To be able to interact with extremes and polarities has made me broader. It has helped me to have a point of view that is not easily categorized and I think those opportunities, both of them at different times have said some things I don’t agree with but that doesn’t mean that we can’t have lunch. And maybe I can include influence a conversation or maybe I can learn from them… There’s just so many things… I think we are becoming so tribal in a way that makes me wonder if we’re not digressing as a society by tribalism.
How does this book help people locate their destiny?
I’m coming to a place in my life where I am doing less and less things that don’t make me thirsty to get out of the bed in the morning. You know what I’m saying? I’m not doing things just because you expect me to. If I don’t feel the passion and I don’t see the purpose I’m not doing it. With the few years I got left I’m going to be picky. I’m going to do things that make me feel alive and make me feel thirsty and creative. And so I think that’s one of the things you can do, find the thing that makes your eyes light up, that makes you read, that makes you thirst. Look for your passion and you’ll find your purpose.
Don’t try to find that from copying celebrities. All of the famous and rich is the what’s, the purposes comes from why. Money without purpose is nothing. Fame is a platform through which you can be heard but if you have nothing to say, what good is it other than getting through the restaurant a little quicker. I think that we need to get back to the whys and not the whats. If you chase the why the what will chase you, if you find your purpose the provision will find you, if you go on to the provision and you have no purpose the provision serves no purpose at all. What good is a car if you’re not going anywhere?
And that’s one of the reasons that I kind of want to be in the position to get in the room with them because I think sometimes when the church thinks about evangelism we always go to underserved communities, as if our doctors or lawyers or movie stars, our actors, our CEOs, our producers don’t need Jesus too. So to share your faith with the wider array of people could fill that void. I think that we are suffering from not only their inability to be meaningful in those high-profile worlds but they are a result of our negligence to touch them. It is really our negligence that created that because I know a lot of them and they stopped by the church before they became who they were. It’s not like they haven’t experienced us but because we were too narrow to throw our arms around them and so judgmental we missed an opportunity to create a transformative experience for somebody who had a platform who could have made a difference in the world.
What do you mean by a “plus ultra life?”
You have to realize my father got sick when I was 10 and he died when I was 16. I was born in between two dead babies. My mother lost one before me; she lost the one after me. When other fathers were teaching their kids to ride bicycles, which I never learned how to do, incidentally, my father was sick and on a kidney machine. There is nothing like being raised by somebody dying that makes you appreciate life. There is no other gift to give you that give you that ‘this can be taken away” and it makes you live differently than other people who take for granted that tomorrow will be there waiting, I don’t do that, I don’t do that.
Why are the steps you set out so important?
That’s what sets this book apart from other books. It goes beyond talking about purpose and destiny and goes out to the practical pragmatic steps, and those steps are different depending upon what your destiny is. So it’s hard to say in an interview or even in a book what those steps are because it may be different for a plumber than it is for an actor, than it is for preacher but everybody starts as somebody who is an apprentice.
And I talk about the beauty of rehearsal rather than recital, that sometimes we are so engrossed in the recital that we missed the rehearsal. We have raised a generation of people who know nothing about rehearsal only recital. They want quick answers, they want the destination but they don’t have the transportation. So this book is about steps, practical, pragmatic, process steps that lead you around to an expected end, and to celebrate the process and not just the promise, to enjoy the journey. Like in the creation, “And the evening and the morning was the first day and God said that it was good.” How can you say it was good when you weren’t finished? Giving yourself the permission to not be finished and celebrate accomplishment is very important in creating an atmosphere where you can remain creative. Sometimes we don’t celebrate till everything’s finished, that’s too late. I’m not sure there is a finish line.
I like the your very clear message to people who say they will wait until they are ready by telling them that it’s never a convenient time.
So here’s the thing — I don’t know about anybody else in my generation but I am shocked that my hair is white. I just can’t believe it. Where did the time go? And if you put off for tomorrow what you have the strength to do today, who says the strength will be there even if you are there tomorrow? You have to do with while you can, you have to do it while you can. A guy asked me why are you doing movies and running companies and you are a Pastor and I said, “I did it because I can.” I might not be able to tomorrow but I had the strength and I had the opportunities and I had the gift to be able to do it. Doing thing when you can is important. My mom died of Alzheimer’s which tells me you could be here and not be able to. So while you have the liquidity of thought to do something or energy or influence or connections you have to do that with all diligence or you miss your turn.
So what is the best way for somebody no matter what their skill to make a real contribution that can feel meaningful to them?
I think one of the problems that we have is that we’re so aware of other people’s gifts and we never know our own. And to see yourself as a gift requires that you have some level of self-esteem and worth of what you bring to the table. And I think sometimes we are so busy looking at what they bring to us that we don’t appreciate you bring to them. And then ultimately over time after the luster leaves what they bring to us we resent the fact that they don’t appreciate what bring to them when we should start the dialogue from the perspective of strength to strength.
How do we as parents help our children understand these lessons?
As a parent the thing I learned too late is that we talk more than we listen. I think that sometimes there comes a point in parenting where you are not the star of the world and very few parents get make that transition. My mother said to me, “I taught you how to have a deeper appreciation for your thoughts by listening to you when you talk.” She said parents who don’t listen to their children teach their children that what they think is not important. Those very core basic things have a lot to do with how we end up as a people and as a society and what level. I think we all have dysfunction but what level of dysfunction we have can be determined and prevented by how we were parented. My all-time heroes are my mother and father. They were flawed, they were very human, but they were very committed and very focused and I learned as much from their flaws as I did from their strengths. Flaws don’t exempt you from succeeding. You can drive a broken car and still get to school, even though you had to kick the door then roll out the window you can get there. And we have broken people husbands and wives and moms and dads and kids but that doesn’t mean we can’t arrive, if you learn how to work through the brokenness.
Originally published at www.beliefnet.com on October 19, 2015.