Life lessons I learned from Johnny Carson
At a time when television was the social media of the day, only a few kings emerged to rule and influence millions.
Johnny Carson was one of those kings.
I recently watched a PBC documentary on NetFlix about the life of Johnny Carson that was produced shortly after his death in 2005. An impressive list of entertainers and comedians gave an interesting perspective and tribute about a man whose name was associated with the Tonight Show for almost thirty years.
While social media and the internet emerged as a primary source of entertainment in the 21st century, Johnny grasped a new medium during his time – television. He reluctantly accepted an invitation to host the Tonight Show and was able to transform this program to a new level. Using his own style of humor and the unique ability to connect with his audience, Johnny became very popular and influential in the world of entertainment and even to political figures.
There is no doubt that the television persona of Johnny Carson was larger than life. However, it was Johnny Carson, the man, that intrigued me the most.
On-camera, Johnny was engaging, witty, and had that ability to relate to millions of people who were viewing.
Off-camera, Johnny was shy, aloof, and a loner. He struggled to connect with people on a personal level – especially with those who mattered the most… his family.
His success in business combined with a personal life that bordered on tragic seem to point to one individual in particular.
His father was a stoic and a hard worker who attempted to carve out a life for his family in Norfolk, NE. His mother was witty, opinionated, and strongly favored her daughter over her two boys. Johnny’s relationship with his mother was loyal and endearing, but her ever-present shadow crippled his personal life. According to the documentary, no matter how successful Johnny became, it was never enough to please his mother. Network success, hosting the Oscars, and millions of dollars didn’t seem to sway his mother’s approval or affirmation. And that must have caused a large hole in his heart.
After she died, the family found a box of newspaper articles tucked away in her closet. Unknown to Johnny, she meticulously clipped every article about him and filed them away. Johnny kept that box of articles under his bed for the rest of his life. It may have been that token of approval, that single applause, that glimmer of acceptance from that one person he desperately longed to receive.
Sons struggle in life when they have demanding parents who think they are helping them by withholding their affection, their approval, or their love. Loneliness seems to follow a man who feels that he is never accepted for who he is, but only what he becomes. Always looking for approval. Always feeling like he never measure up.
Some men have used this as fuel to achieve remarkable success.
For most, it leaves an imprint that affects their career and family life.
The laughs, applause, and adoration from millions of people can never fill an empty heart.
There is something powerful in the desire to have a parent’s approval. It’s not just in support, but approval for who you are and what you are designed to be.
A relationship in Christ fills that deeply ingrained need for approval.
“Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” (John 6:27)
By trusting God’s promises, we receive the full benefits of what Christ has already done for us on the cross. Faith receives eternal life in heaven. Status changes. We are now redeemed, justified, and declared righteous in the eyes of God.
We receive the eternal seal of approval.
With that status, we are transformed. With God’s Spirit, we become new creations. We are given a new prescription that views life differently. The pursuit of approval from others is replaced with forgiveness and acceptance. We forgive others for not receiving the approval we desired most. We accept this fact and look to replace that need with God’s promises. And for many of us, we need to be daily reminded and assured.
I wish I could have shared this message with Johnny Carson. And I know there are millions of others just like him.
“O Lord, for those of who are already redeemed in Christ, allow us to rise above the clutter of this world and all its problems, to look beyond our self, and to grasp a hold of the remaining days God has ordained for each of us, and open our eyes to opportunities to share the transforming message of your grace to others. Allow us to witness well for your sake and your glory. Amen.”
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