Michael W. Smith Talks About Surviving Success

There’s never been a time quite like the present for multiplatinum Christian artist Michael W. Smith.

“I’m really more at peace than I ever have been in my life. I feel more secure. I’m not as afraid. I’m probably more full of life today than I ever have been,” he said in a recent interview.

Photo: Jason Moore
Palace Theatre, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Smith, 53, recently released his 22nd album, Wonder, which debuted at No. 2 on the Christian album charts, and finished the “Make a Difference” tour with Third Day and tobyMac. While that level of success may bring financial peace, it also can cause more problems than it solves for many celebrities in the spotlight.

“I just pinch myself,” he said. “Because I think if there’s anything I can be proud of, I’ve survived success, which I think is difficult these days.”

Smith credits the people in his life, including his wife, their five children and his pastor of 30 years, for keeping him accountable. That, and as he puts it, “the grace of God.” Smith clearly remembers the days of constantly “striving and trying to make things happen.” He is still as active in music as ever, but his perspective has shifted.

“Selling millions of records is great, but at the end of the day it really doesn’t bring peace,” he said. “For me, (God is) really the only one who can fill the gap, fill the holes.”

Smith’s leadoff single was “Save Me From Myself,” in which he acknowledges that the temptations are ever present. Smith has written books about his rocky teen years when he did give in to temptation. He said he went down a drug and alcohol path and ended up having a nervous breakdown on his parents’ kitchen floor.

“I haven’t been the same since then, November of 1979,” he said.

Through that experience, Smith can relate to troubled youth. During the process of creating Wonder, Smith began to hear accounts of bullied teens committing suicide around the country. He also thought about his friend who had been sexually abused in the church years ago. Those stories of abuse compelled him to write the song “Leave.”

“I came out on my deck one night, extremely emotional thinking about all that, and I sat down, wrote all the music and the chorus lyrically,” he said.

He then brought in a co-writer to help him finish it. Smith describes different stories of abuse throughout the song, connected by the shared feeling in the chorus, “I just wanna leave. Oh, God, please help me now, I wanna leave.” He brings in a sense of optimism at the end when “leave” changes to “believe.”

Smith said it’s important to keep these issues in the forefront, even when the news cycle moves on to other topics.

“Not talking about it and covering it up with addictions for years, I don’t believe those individuals will ever come into a really fulfilled life until they deal with the pain and invite God into the pain and be able to come to a place where they can not only forgive themselves, but forgive those who have abused them,” he said.

Despite intense songs like “Leave” and the recession anthem “I’ll Wait for You,” Smith shows his softer side by dedicating the album to his wife, Debbie.

They met about two years after his nervous breakdown, were engaged less than a month later and married four months after that. Moving so fast in a relationship isn’t what Smith generally recommends to youth groups, but he said he does believe in love at first sight.

After 29 years together, Smith said their marriage is stronger than ever. He wrote two songs on the album for her, “You Belong to Me” and “Forever Yours.”

“I have this amazing woman … who just so believes that God has got a call on my life. When you have that support from your soul mate, there’s nothing better,” he said.

Smith hopes this record strikes a chord with fans and helps them connect with God when they are feeling lost.

“Hopefully as I encourage people with this music, it will muster up more faith than they thought they could ever have, and that faith will get them through whatever comes their way, no matter how hard life gets,” he said.