Billy Graham’s grandson, Tullian Tchividjian, revealed this week that he was severely depressed and almost killed himself after extramarital affairs cost him his ministry and marriage. In 2015, after a spate of bestselling books and being tapped to lead Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida, it was revealed that Tchividjian had an extramarital affair. He resigned from his church and filed for divorce soon after. In March of 2016, he admitted to a second affair and a second church where Tchividjian was serving at the time fired him. He has been largely silent since then.
But in an article posted at Expastors.com this week, the former pastor said he almost committed suicide during this period of despair. It seemed to me that there was more to this story that might illuminate the situation and perhaps help others who have experienced similar difficulties. So I decided to speak with Tullian about the details of that tumultuous period.
RNS: In the midst of your despair, you said you researched the best way to kill yourself. Can you talk about that and what you concluded?
TT: The hurt I had caused felt too much to bear. The level of shame and guilt and regret was so deep, I literally did not want to live any longer. I had betrayed and disappointed and caused suffering to those who depended on me to provide the opposite. The thought of killing myself was relieving to me. I actually found momentary peace in the idea that I would soon be dead.
Not owning a gun, I didn’t know how I would do it so I began looking up the best ways to kill myself. After a two hour search, I immediately began to write a suicide note. I was eerily calm as I wrote it. After I finished writing it I read it over three times. On the third time, I burst into tears and fell on the ground. It was about 3 am. I cried out to God like I never have before. I don’t even remember what I said but I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of peace consume me. I saw the faces of my three kids and my daughter in law and my grandson. I fell asleep on the floor for about four hours.
When I woke up, I felt very different. I knew God was with me and that he had not abandoned me and that, once again, he had saved my life. It was enough to get me through the next day. Which turned into the next week. Which turned into the next month. I almost deleted that note a couple months ago but decided to keep it as a reminder of that dark and desperate moment and the way God met me at rock bottom.
RNS: Did you receive any ugly responses from people in the church or from church leaders?
TT: If I dwell on that, it’s unhealthy for me. I’ve done enough rationalizing and justifying over the last two years to last a lifetime, and it’s only taken me to deeper places of darkness. As you can imagine, I’ve heard it all: accusations, attacks, assumptions.
The hardest thing has been those who I’ve never met and who don’t me at all or those who I haven’t had any interaction with over the last seven months to a year questioning whether or not I’m repentant. God and God alone knows the heart and whether I am truly repentant. So I have to listen to him and to those closest to me to hear the truth.
That being said, I’ve also had to admit that my sin hurt a lot of people. I lied to people, betrayed people, deceived people. My actions were devastatingly hurtful, and hurt people say and do hurtful things. Jesus reserved his harshest criticism for those who spent all their time highlighting the sins of others while never confessing their own. I spent too much time identifying the sins of others than I did my own sin, and it lead to slavery. My critics are no better than me and I am no better than them. The ground is level at the foot of the cross: we are all a lot worse than we think we are but God’s grace is much greater than anything we could ever ask for or imagine.
Can you imagine how differently we would treat each other if all our deepest secrets and sins were made public? Our thoughts and motivations and browser histories and text messages and phone records and conversations? Knowing how much you need grace makes you more gracious. That’s what I’m trying to focus on these days. If I allow myself to be bothered more by other people’s sin than I am my own sin, it proves my unbelief.
RNS: These kinds of events always impact families, something critics often forget. You have three older kids and a grandchild. How are they?
TT: I’m amazed at all of my kids. This has all been very hard on them. Not only have they had to live through the destruction of their family, but they have to constantly endure the public nature of it. In spite of that, however, they are doing better than I ever imagined. Their love for their mom and dad is unwavering and unconditional. They are forgiving and supportive. My relationship with all of them is tight and deeper than it’s ever been. They know how much I love them, and I know how much they love me.
Thankfully, they’ve never been the type to bottle things up. They get it all out. And we have all had some really deep and real conversations about everything over the last 18 months. God has shown me the unconditional nature of his love through my three kids.
RNS: And what about the rest of your family? Lots of people know about your uncle Franklin and, of course, your grandfather. Were they supportive in your time of crisis?
TT: I just got back from visiting my granddad at his home in North Carolina. Our time was very sweet. He is very old–he’ll be 98-years-old in November–but is still aware. He is the most gracious man I’ve ever known, and I have only experienced great love from him. My aunts and uncles have been kind and supportive and have reminded me that they are praying for me, that they are there for me, and that they love me. I’m amazingly grateful for all of them.
RNS: Some have said that the article at Expastors.com is your first calculated step to making a “comeback.” Are you making a comeback?
TT: I’m not calculating anything. The only comeback I’m focused on is coming back to intimacy with God and learning what it means to repent and forgive and love those whom God has placed in my life. What God does with me going forward is his business, not mine. I’m not looking for anything nor am I planning anything.
When ex-pastors contacted me, I did my research and discussed it with those who are closest to me. I wrote that article reluctantly and through many tears. But it was very clear to me and those around me that God wanted me to say those things at this time. And as he leads, I will follow. That’s all I know.
RNS: Ok, but what does your future look like? Do you have any aspirations of doing ministry again?
TT: I’ve lived my entire adult life with a plan. Time and time again over the last two years God has wrecked my plans. Therefore, for the first time in my life, I don’t have a plan. I’m open and willing to do whatever God summons me to do and to go wherever he calls me to go.
In the meantime, I’m learning what it means to be still and wait on God. That’s been a painful process for me. I’m not a “be still” kind of person by nature. It’s taken me awhile to realize this, but this season of quiet reflection and being surrounded by a few trustworthy and seasoned saints who are walking with me through every detail of my life, internally and externally, is a true gift. I live my life day to day and, perhaps for the first time, I’m truly trusting God to lead me. I have to remind myself all the time that God will provide what I need TODAY and to not worry about tomorrow.
I’m no longer an ordained minister and therefore hold no formal office or position in the church. In other words, I’m not a pastor. But I am a Christian. Therefore, telling other people about the devastation of sin and our delivering savior is something that I will continue to do as God leads me.
I don’t believe that God allows people to fail and fall so that they will be forever silent. I believe he allows these things and brings about repentance so that we will speak more loudly and clearly and humbly of our sin and his grace then ever before. That is not just the calling of pastors. That is the calling of all Christians to do according to whatever gifts God has given them. Regardless of what I end up doing professionally, I will spend the rest of my life telling people about the amazing grace of God that saves wretches like me.