Bishop T.D. Jakes: Living Large, and Letting Go

Self-help meets salvation: Jakes during a revival sermon last year at the Washington Convention Center.
Self-help meets salvation: Jakes during a revival sermon last year at the Washington Convention Center. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
By Sally Quinn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 16, 2007

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 mega-church Potter's House in Dallas. He is a 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."

This is the perspective that comes with age. "Life itself is our most precious resource . . . and time. . . . We're not where we were in our 20s. We're losing our parents, our children are in their adolescence, and no matter how successfully busy we are, we are overwhelmed. It's not about how to get money. Success is about being fulfilled."

He says he is a work in progress, that he's willing to ask himself questions he wouldn't have asked 10 or 20 years ago. "Repositioning yourself gives you nimbleness of mind to evolve," Jakes says. "We keep trying to fit ourselves into this box. Nobody fits in it. We try to color within the lines but creative people want a blank piece of paper. Every relationship -- work, marital, political -- becomes crystallized. You have to find fresh inspiration. You have to find it in living and enjoying."

Jakes is a minister, no doubt about it, but he often sounds like a self-help guru. Religion is part of the answer, but it doesn't permeate his every sentence.

There are no lowered eyelids, deep breathing or heavy sighs when he talks about God, Jesus or 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. 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."

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