Sunday, September 13, 2015

Steadied by Faith After a Humbling Loss

Losing my job on ‘Meet the Press’ brought to mind a valuable biblical story of humility.


I’ve spent a career in journalism questioning others, and yet it was three questions asked of me that pushed me to figure out, as everyone must at some point: What do I believe, fundamentally, about life and the world? The first question came, however unusually, from a president of the United States.

“Gregory, how’s your faith?” George W. Bush asked me one December afternoon in the Oval Office. We had met privately before, as I had covered the entirety of his presidency, but that day in 2008 stood out in part because I had recently been promoted to moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

It might seem strange to ask a White House reporter about such a personal matter, but President Bush wasn’t prying or pushing his views on me. He knew through a mutual friend that I had been studying the Bible, and he supported me, as his faith journey had helped him stop drinking and steady himself earlier in life. “I’m in the Bible every day,” Mr. Bush said—suggesting that from war in Iraq to Hurricane Katrina, he relied on the strength he found in his relationship with God.
I explained that I was trying to deepen my Jewish faith and connect with the Christian beliefs of my wife. Getting closer to God, I reasoned, could only make me a better husband and father. I often thought back to the president’s words—How’s your faith?—over the next few years as I considered more deeply what I believed.

The second question came from my wife, Beth. She had grown up as a Methodist, and we grappled with what religious tradition our family should follow. I wanted us to be Jewish. She was open to the idea, but she challenged me about how I would lead our family spiritually. “I know who you are,” she said, referring to the fact that most Jews feel ethnically and culturally Jewish, “but what do you believe?”

Beth feels her belief most deeply when sitting in the pew of the Foundry Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. During a Sunday service last year that I attended with Beth, while our children were at our synagogue’s Sunday school, Pastor Ginger Gaines-Cirelli spoke of how human beings are always in transition, “being and becoming.” Beth told me afterward that when she makes church part of the rhythm of her week, it helps her reflect on her life in a way she has trouble doing otherwise.

Beth has influenced me heavily in my search for an inner life and my turn toward God for inspiration and guidance about who I am and who I am trying to be. My own search, aided by study and prayer, has tried to press beyond my ethnic identity as a Jew to get at the deeply spiritual aspects of my faith.

My wife’s question, my search and our family’s direction have been great gifts. But they are the result of Beth’s sacrifice. As grateful as I was that she agreed to raise Jewish children, I never realized how difficult it would be for her to give up her traditions and miss out on sharing religious experiences and teachings with her children. I was selfish, and that pain lingers in many interfaith families. I go to church more often with Beth now and encourage us all to go as a family to recognize her sacrifice and to honor her traditions.

The third question arrived during my study of the Bible with my teacher, the Jewish educator Erica Brown. She wasn’t a dedicated television viewer, but she listened through the ups and downs of my career. One day she said: “Who would you be if you lost it all?” I’d know soon enough.

The question harked back to a great biblical story of humility, when the prophet Elijah is about to ascend to heaven and asks his nervous disciple, Elisha, how he can help the younger man carry on their work. Elisha replies: “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.”

I had put effort into figuring out who to be so that I could succeed as the host of a Sunday news show. But last year when I lost that job, which offered me satisfaction and a high profile, I had to find out who I was without cameras or prestigious titles. This hasn’t been rosy or easy, though I tried to leave NBC with grace, mostly as an example to my children.

It has been faith that steadied me. The humbling loss turned out to be a gift, because I have seen how many fresh opportunities for growth and happiness await—even if it hasn’t gone according to my plan. Most plainly, I understand: In joy, pain and even in personal failure, God is close.

Erica Brown wrote me a note on my last day in the job. She reminded me to trust God, quoting Isaiah 46:4. “I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”

Mr. Gregory, a former moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” is the author of “How’s Your Faith?: An Unlikely Spiritual Journey,” out next week from Simon & Schuster.

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