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Julie Chen Moonves’ Big Faith

Julie Chen Moonves’ Big Faith

Life looks a lot different for Julie Chen Moonves these days. Just five years ago, she would have been rushing around Los Angeles, switching between sets of two major shows she hosted — Big Brother and The Talk — prepping for interviews, running on fumes while hustling all day long to satisfy her desire to keep her “very glamorous life.”

But then things changed. Her priorities forcibly shifted after one pivotal moment in 2018.

“I was forced out from my job at The Talk, where I was co-host and the moderator for the last eight years of my life,” she said. “When I lost that job and was forced to step down, life as I knew it was like a snow globe turned upside down. And that made me go through a ball of emotions.

“There was a lot of anger,” she continued. “There was fear of what was going to become of me, my future, who I am. I was having this identity crisis because I was so wrapped in my identity as a broadcaster. I felt lost.”

But in the midst of her darkest moment,  light broke through in one tiny email. Moonves’ aunt reached out to her to share that a friend from back home in New Jersey was praying for her. It was a small act of kindness from a complete stranger. And it changed Moonves’s entire life.

She’d been thinking about attending church for a few months leading up to that moment. She’d never been interested in religion prior to that, although on nights when she had trouble sleeping as a kid she would repeat a prayer she’d heard on Little House on the Prarie. She had a negative view of Christianity after witnessing the rise of televangelism in the 1980s.

“For a long time, when I heard the word ‘Christian,’ I would think of people like Jim Bakker or Jerry Falwell,” Moonves said. “I had this image of Christians as judgmental, Bible-thumping people who didn’t accept others unless they were white. I’d say it wasn’t a good image.”

Yet as the pressure of work, rumors surrounding her husband (CBS honcho Les Moonves), and life in general were getting to be too difficult to handle, there was something about believing in something bigger than herself that had a bit of an appeal. After reading the email from her aunt, she knew what she had to do.

On a Thursday morning at 8:40 a.m., after dropping her son off at school, Moonves walked into a church near her house.

“I didn’t even know if I could go in if no one was there,” Moonves said.

She was the only person in the sanctuary, but there were a few candles lit around the room. Before she was even seated in a pew, she broke down.

“I immediately began sobbing and asking God to help me,” Moonves said. “I asked Him to show me why this was happening to me and to show me some light, love and hope.”

Moones then began attending church regularly, although she admits it was more out of obligation and hoping that something would eventually click.

And during 2020, it did.

Days before the pandemic began, Moonves was facing a major life change. Her father had unexpectedly died in a tragic accident, and her mother moved in for a few days to be around family while they grieved. What was supposed to be a 10-day period turned into six months of lockdown with her mother.

During that time, Moonves and her mother leaned on each other, and on God. She shared that during the time of grief and instability, God walked with the two of them and taught her some major lessons she’s carried with her since.

“I grew so much during lockdown,” Moonves said. “I learned you can’t hide your feelings from God. I learned God knows what’s in your heart, so you can’t fool Him. I learned that God loves all of us, even my enemy. He doesn’t play favorites.”

Most importantly, she discovered that God had a greater purpose for her life.

“God created us each with a different talent and purpose and a gift,” she shared. “No matter what that talent or gift is, it can serve Him and serve one another. So there is no such thing as a secular job. Whatever your talent is. You know, own it, run with it, and serve Him and serve others.”

Before she began her faith journey, Moonves described herself as “selfish” and “career-driven,” because she’d make her career an idol in her life. Now, she tries to maintain a new mindset when it comes to her work, one that thinks of others before herself.

“I have a level of gratitude that I don’t think existed before because I thought I had earned all that,” she said. “Now I’m thanking Jesus for everything. Acknowledging that I am just a small speck in His world.”

“God knows what’s in your heart, so you can’t fool Him.”

Moonves began incorporating that mindset into her work ethic. Instead of spreading herself thin, trying to achieve career highs, she’s taking things one step at a time. She realized quickly that the platform she had could be used for something greater.

“As I became more mature in Christ, I became more mature as a human — as well as more understanding, patient, empathetic and sympathetic,” she said. “So, I went from someone who was more self-serving to someone who wants to serve others. I just know that in so many different ways, I could be of help to someone.”

Now, she wants to remind others that the love of Christ is transformational. She’s even sharing that love with millions of people on every Big Brother episode.

“We need community and we need each other and we need to love one another, which is how I sign off Big Brother,” she explained. “That’s the second greatest commandment, the first being to love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind. And right behind that, love one another. You can’t say you love God if you don’t love everyone else — even the person who gets on your nerves.”

In 2020, Moonves decided to read through the Bible in a year, hoping for an audio version to make it more digestible. Although when she discovered all the audio versions “sounded like Shakespeare,” she reached out to her contacts at Simon and Schuster Publishers, offering to read the NIV version for free if they wanted to record it for use. They declined, instead asking her if she’d be interested in creating an audiobook of her own faith journey.

“I didn’t think anybody would be interested,” she admitted. “But they reminded me that everybody has an interesting faith walk. Whether or not people realize it, they’re on a faith walk. They may not know it, they may not acknowledge it.”

She began the project, eager to share what she had learned in a short amount of time while also cautiously recognizing that she still has a long journey ahead.

“Now, I’m about five years into my walk with Jesus, so I’m probably like an elementary school person,” she joked. “I started out crawling, learning how to walk. And now I feel like a third grader who still has so much more to go.”

In 2023, Moonves released But, First God: An Audio Memoir of Spiritual Discovery. She shared that as much as she enjoyed tracing the big and small moments over the last several years, she hoped it would help others see the way God is working in their own lives and the world around them.

“It was divine timing because coming out of the pandemic, it was such a shaky time in history for all of us, especially as a nation,” Moonves said. “It wasn’t just COVID, but also a very, very tense election and the Black Lives Matter movement. There was so much division going on. And I thought that we needed to find common ground. We needed unity. We needed God.

“I want everyone to know that if you feel hopeless, you need not because God is there, but you have to take the first step towards him,” Moonves continued. “My life verse is James 4:8: ‘Draw nearer to God and He will draw nearer to you.’ This is the right time for me to talk about all of this because I think the pandemic gave us a lot of time to reevaluate our lives, to really look at how we’re living, and to see, and to say to ourselves, is this the way I want to be living, and what is my purpose? For me, this is my purpose.”

Her purpose is already bearing fruit, too. Moonves shared that after making what she considered a few minor changes — wearing a cross necklace, signing her emails in “In Christ” — other Christians on set at CBS have shared they’re more comfortable sharing their own faith. And everyone has started taking notice of the new Moonves.

“People at Big Brother have come up to me and said, ‘There’s something different about you,’” she said. “‘There is a peace about you that wasn’t there before.’ Because I used to sweat the small stuff all the time. It’s live television, so when something went wrong I’d have this internal explosion of just frustration. And now it’s like, Well, that thing didn’t go as scripted, and I can just laugh about it.”

“I thought I had a very full life. But looking back, I realized now it was actually pretty empty because I wasn’t listening to God.”

Moonves is still working through myriad things these days – strengthening her prayer life, rethinking her idea of what it looks like to be a good spouse and parent — but she’s got her priorities straightened out. For the first time in her life, she is confident in her purpose, and she won’t let anyone derail it.

“Honestly, I’m coming into my own,” Moonves said. “I can be used as a vessel to promote His word and to spread His word. And a big part of that is letting people know it’s never too late to start a personal relationship with God.

“I waited until I was 48 years old, and I thought I knew the world,” she continued. “I thought I had a very full life. But looking back, I realized now it was actually pretty empty because I wasn’t listening to God. I didn’t make room for Him in my life. I didn’t acknowledge Him.”

Moonves is refreshingly honest and vulnerable about where she’s been and where she’s going. Part of it is because she “can’t help but be honest,” but a bigger part of that is because she knows the power that truth holds. She experienced a radical change in life because someone was honest with her about their prayers for her. They took a step of faith, and it changed her life.

She now hopes that by being honest about her own faith journey, others can discover the truth about God, too.

No matter where they find themselves on their journey, Moonves believes wholeheartedly that God is ready and willing to meet them at any moment.

“I know I’m repeating myself, but sometimes people need to hear this over and over again until they get it: It’s never too late,” Moonves said. “He is our only true source of hope. You need to invite God into your life, and you really need to spend quiet time with Him. You need to sit still. Only then can you hear Him and learn how to study His Word.

“It’s a journey that, once you get on the track, never ends until he brings us home,” she continued. “There will be ups and downs and stumbling blocks, but when that happens, you’re going to have hope and you’re going to know that God is going to get you through it and that you are not alone.

“He either allowed it or ordained it, and you have to grow stronger from that with His help guiding you, holding your hand. It’s never too late. It’s the best relationship you’re ever going to have.”

© 2023 RELEVANT Media Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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