WASHINGTON — He’s about to turn 50 and to celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary. It’s time to take stock.
Is he happy? Satisfied?
Why wouldn’t he be? This is the fabulous Bishop T.D. Jakes, neo-Pentecostal preacher of the famous megachurch, Potter’s House, in Dallas, best-selling author, TV personality and head of TDJ Enterprises, which produces books, music and films. His church now has more than 30,000 members and when he last preached in Atlanta he drew more people than Billy Graham ever has. He lives in a mansion, drives a fancy car and wears sharp clothes. He is very, very big, literally and figuratively.
Still, he pauses a long time.
“I am becoming satisfied,” he says, finally. “I feel like I have little to prove and none to impress. I’m starting to settle in like a bear in a cave in winter. I’m a lot more comfortable in my own skin than I used to be. I’m finding my own sweet spot and I’m enjoying these years.”
This is what he recommends — for you and for me, for all of us. This is at the heart of his latest book, “Reposition Yourself: Living Life Without Limits.”
“Most people I encounter, they’re not happy,” he says in a recent interview in the restaurant of the Four Seasons Hotel. “And we’re acting like it doesn’t matter. Either they’re in debt or their relationships are not going well.” The reason, he says, is that “we get stuck, we get trapped, either we have economic demands, or we need to fit in, or we have too many expectations for ourselves. We’re enslaved, we’re imprisoned by decisions made 20 years ago.”
And we get defined by people when they first meet us. “Oh, T.D. Jakes, preacher. But they put a period there where they should put a comma. I’m a lot of other things, too. ... I want to do something else with the second half of my life.”
Jakes is a minister, but he often sounds like a self-help guru. Religion is part of the answer, but it doesn’t permeate every sentence. There are no lowered eyelids or heavy sighs when he talks about the spiritual. Instead, he’s jolly and mischievous. He’s a huge man, tall and portly, looking very well pulled together in a navy double-breasted suit, crisp white shirt and fuchsia tie.
Everyone, he says, is searching for meaning. Why?
“Pain, short and simple,” he said. “Nobody escapes it. It’s the one thing we all experience in life. How do we cope? There has to be something beyond the temporal. After 9/11 the churches, synagogues and mosques were full. There are some things where there are not rational solutions. We need support with life and with death, with illness and disappointment.”
His calling gives him insight.
“There are not many who are with people in life-and-death experiences every day,” he says. “Funerals, weddings, christenings. I’m inundated at the crossroads of life. It gives you a panorama, a perspective of what’s going on.”
Faith, he says, “doesn’t require books and test tubes. It requires you to become a child again. It’s hard work, really hard work.”
He says that sometimes he sees God most clearly in the love that comes from people. Jakes was one of the first to help out the victims of Katrina, and one of the most devoted.
“I was at the first buses that landed” in Texas with New Orleans flood victims, he says. “People with crud on their clothes and mud in their hair. It was an amazing experience. I was standing there and people were pulling up in cars and saying, ‘I’ll take two or three at my house.’ People they didn’t know. Our bureaucracy and government were disappointing, but our citizens ... nobody wrote about how much America gave.”
His sermons go to hundreds of prisons worldwide. He has developed a giant following in Africa, where he drew a million people to his sermons. Clearly, this is a man who can talk the talk, no matter what the language.
As for Jakes and his wife of nearly 25 years, Serita Ann, “we’re settling in and choosing our battles. Asking ourselves who are we with the children gone. ... Neither one of us can fit into what we wore at our wedding,” he says.
How will they celebrate the big anniversary? He sighs.
“I’m so tired,” he says. “I think we’ll just go someplace and snuggle up.”