From Suffering to Success [Interview with Bishop T.D. Jakes]


The preacher, entrepreneur and author found his blessings in brokenness, and success amid failure.

“I can still see his cracked, parched lips, fever blisters and all that.”

Bishop T.D. Jakes is silent for a moment, struck by the memory. “It hurt me a lot. I even got to a point of wanting-to-die painful.

“But if you took that away from me, I wouldn’t be sitting here.”

When Thomas Dexter Jakes was 10 years old, his father got sick with kidney disease. He was the youngest of three kids, living in South Charleston, West Virginia. Until this point, Jakes’ life had looked much like the lives of other kids in the neighborhood. His mother was a home economics teacher, and his father owned a janitorial business. He went to school. He sold vegetables from his mother’s garden to earn extra money.

But when Jakes’ father got sick, the world tilted on its axis, and childhood all but disappeared. The family traveled back and forth to Cleveland, Ohio—a five-hour trek so his father could receive treatment—twice a week for years while his mother struggled to hold down a job.

“I had to be self-sustaining,” Jakes says. As a child, Jakes learned to take care of himself. He was the one who got himself up in the morning, went to school, cooked and watched over the house. He even had to help his father with some of his business affairs. “So I wasn’t like a normal kid. I really never had a childhood.”

Over the next six years, Jakes learned to help as much as he could. He cleaned up after his father, shaved him and ran his dialysis machine.

Watching his father suffer and weaken had a life-altering impact on the boy who would grow into one of the world’s most impactful faith leaders as a man.

One of the common threads Jakes weaves through his sermons is the idea that, as he says, “The blessing is in the breaking.” He believes that the trials of life—the struggle, trauma, disappointment and pain—become the tools we need to build greatness. He believes the most successful people are often the ones who have been the most broken.

When Jakes was 16, his father died of renal failure.

“Had he not gotten sick, I might not be responsible,” he says. “I might be sitting under a bridge, smoking a joint…. Had my father lived, I might not have been me.”

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