“God is the only constant”
Oscar winner Louis Gossett Jr. opens up
Oscar winner Louis Gossett Jr. opens his heart to Simple Grace about how God’s love sustained him even in his darkest hours—and taught him to live a life of gratitude and joy
First thing each morning and last thing every night, Louis Gossett Jr. says a prayer of gratitude for the amazing blessings he’s received throughout his 80 years of life—including a loving family and a sixdecade film career that garnered him an Oscar for An Officer and a Gentleman and an Emmy for the landmark miniseries Roots. But the Brooklyn native says one of the biggest blessings he’s received was to be was raised in a faithfilled home by his greatgrandmother. “She kept us kids rooted in the Bible and taught us to love God,” Louis recalls with a smile. “I was a post-Depression kid and there were a lot of challenges for us during that
time, but my great-grandmother taught me that with God, there’s no such thing as impossible.” Here, Louis opens up about how God’s constant presence has gotten him through his darkest times, helped him achieve his biggest triumphs and filled his life with an abundance of love.
HE PULLS US UP FROM THE PIT
Though he grew up with strong Christian values, as a young actor Louis struggled with addiction. “Early on in my career, as an African-American man, there were a lot of racial issues,” he says. “To join the Hollywood crowd, I felt I had to join the party, where there was a lot of drugs and alcohol. I thought I’d really made it by being included, but it almost killed me. My life simply stopped working. I was out of work, out of money.”
During his darkest days, Louis remembered the words he’d heard growing up. “I went back to what my grandmother told me: ‘A hard head makes a soft behind.’ So I humbled myself and asked God for His help,” says Louis. “But before I could do anything, I had to get rid of regrets, hate, jealousies and low self-esteem, otherwise I knew I couldn’t hear God in my heart.”
To help him reconnect with God, Louis began reading his Bible again. “During those dark times, I said, ‘God, please don’t let this [addiction] kill me,’” recalls Louis. “The disease is so bad, even when you know it’s literally killing you, you do it anyway. But I found strength in Him.
I often turned to the prayer of St. Francis [see box at right], and the 23rd Psalm, which assured me of God’s goodness and mercy—no matter what.” And in the middle of all his partying, Louis says that psalm kept running through his head. “It taught me that if I remained in the palm of God’s hand, He would help me through this and life would become easier,” he says. “That’s been true for every challenge or hardship I’ve faced since.”
HE ORDERS OUR STEPS
As Louis overcame his addiction and grew closer to God, it was only natural that his bond with his heavenly Father would inform his professional choices too. “My faith has influenced the projects I’ve worked on over the years—I want to be proud of my choices,” says Louis, who has starred in the Christian films Left Behind: World at War and A Fonder Heart. Next up, he’s playing a pastor in The Reason, set to release in 2017. “I take part in movies like The Reason because I see it as my purpose to share my faith—it’s my way of thanking God,” he shares. “And in a world where people are hungering for God, these movies remind us that He’s in charge all the time. That was a hard lesson for me—that no matter how famous I get, I’m never going to be in charge. I’ve learned to let go and let God.”
HE’S A BEST FRIEND
Louis just turned 80 in May and he says his secret to longevity is leaning on God’s friendship every day. “Friends come and go, but God is the only constant. And like any good friend, I try to keep myself available and have an
open heart so that He can speak to me.” Louis insists the Lord is always sending him messages, even about the littlest things. “If I get winded going from my house to my car, I know God is telling me that I need to take better care of myself,” he says with a laugh. “The key is to fill your heart with so much love that there’s no room for distrust and hatred, so you can hear His messages and have that closeness with Him—that’s what truly gets me through.”
HE’S A LOVING TEACHER
Louis says one of the biggest lessons his life of faith has taught him was the power of forgiving others… and yourself. “The truth is, as much as I love God, my faith is still tested, but if I start to feel afraid or worry or doubt and I beat myself up about it, I know that I won’t be able to push through whatever it is,” Louis admits.
“So the only way I can reset is to forgive myself, be grateful for God’s grace and remember He’s the boss.” Louis says it’s also a true gift to yourself to forgive others. “In any situation—whether somebody gets shot, or in slavery or holocaust, the magic word is always forgiveness,” he says. “My hero was Nelson Mandela, who was jailed for 27 years and came out with a smile on his face. Forgiveness tears down fences and puts us on the next level. It helps us to see God in each other so we can grow closer to Him.”
“No matter how famous I get, I’m never going to be in charge. I’ve learned to let go
and let God.”
Louis (shown here with Susan Sarandon and Christopher Reeve) won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for An Officer and a Gentleman in 1982
Louis founded the nonprofit Eracism Foundation (EracismFoundation.org), dedicated to ending racism through education and cultural diversity