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THE FAMOUS ACTOR OPENED the door and invited me into his New York City penthouse. In his living room, whose windows took in the city skyline, was a fireplace, and on the mantel of that fireplace was a statuette, the only memento of his illustrious Hollywood film career.

Having never seen an Oscar up close, I spent a moment reading the nameplate. This actor had won Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Award presentations a year earlier. "I've spent all my life working for that," my host said. "I really believed that if I won this award, it would give my life meaning. It would tell the world that I am somebody. And, I'd finally be happy."

The actor paused for a moment, a catch in his throat. I waited. Finally, he asked the question that had prompted him to call and ask me to fly two thousand miles to meet with him. "So, Gary, why am I feeling so miserable?"

This lonely man, who'd only recently suffered through his third divorce, voiced the lament of our culture. How is it possible to be so successful, and at the same time so unhappy? Why does it seem that the more someone has-things that most people aspire to have, such as fame, huge financial resources and the things they buy, a gorgeous spouse-the less happy that person often is?

Fist of all, that kind of sadness is not unique to the rich and famous. Almost everyone in our culture is affected by the same problem-in fact, those who don't have wealth and success are often just as miserable chasing after the elusive American dream. They simply can't believe that possessing those things won't make them happy.

I had to reach bottom to discover the secret of fulfillment. My failure at work had produced in me a severe depression that lingered for several weeks. Norma tried to understand why I was depressed, but it didn't make sense to her. However, my problems were causing a crisis in her life, and the answers she found had a profound impact on me.

Never underestimate the power of a woman who has yielded her life to God. She not only has strength, but a special, radiating beauty. Norma had that glow during our courtship and when we were first married. After several years of marriage, however, her power and beauty had started to fade, and she blamed me for her lack of fulfillment.

When we'd moved to Chicago so I could work with Bill Gothard, we had left a wonderfully supportive church. In Chicago, we never found the right church for our family, and as a result, Norma began to feel more and more isolated. Furthermore, she felt lonely because I was gone so often and rarely available for meaningful conversation. She did have the children; ever since she was a little girl Norma had wanted to have many children, and being a mother was very fulfilling for her. But with three preschool youngsters, she needed the support of a loving husband.

I wasn't aware of it at the time, but my insensitivity to our family caused a serious crisis in my wife's life. For a year after Michael's birth, Norma prayed about the imbalance in my life. At one time, early in our marriage, she would have tried nagging or shouting to get my attention. But those strategies rarely had much effect. Now, with her expectations about our marriage and family shattered, she began spending more time with God.

The more she went to God with our needs, the more Norma realized that God wanted to have a special friendship with her; he was fully capable of meeting her needs-and that included trusting him to work in my life too. She thought about the example of Sarah, the wife of Abraham. Sarah was so distraught over not bearing a child that she took matters into her own hands and made things worse. Norma realized that she needed to speak to me about my imbalance life, but to do so in suck a way that God was free to work things out in his way. And even if I didn't change, she began believing that God still was faithful to meet her legitimate needs.

As Norma began to experience a greater intimacy with God, a feeling of cam and peace entered her life. It didn't change her situation; I was still out of balance. My wife truly believed that this problem had to be confronted. But how? As she prayed, she realized she had a face me and courageously tell me the truth of her situation. When she finally did so, she spoke calmly, without histrionics. The strength of her spirit made a major impact on me-enough to cause me to go to Bill to ask about changing my job.

By Dr. Gary Smalley

2003 Smally Online. Used by permission.