The Gaither Homecoming audiences love him — he’s published his own cookbook, released a solo album in 2011 to great acclaim, and is currently finishing up touches on his second one. He’s happily married to Andrea and they live in Birmingham, Ala., with their four ridiculously adorable boys, Barrett, Hudson, Carden and Sutton. Life is good for Wes Hampton.
So when we settle in to talk about the theme for this issue (“Where are you on your journey to know God fully?”), I am a little surprised when Wes candidly opens up about some of the stressful difficulties that are also a part of this life and career that he loves so much. What emerges from our conversation is a thoughtful portrait of a deeply grateful, yet sometimes conflicted child of God who, like all of us, is just trying to find his way.
“A couple of months ago I was talking to Steve Green, who has always been one of my biggest musical influences,” Wes begins, “and he said something that has stuck with me ever since. He said, ‘I believe there’s no such thing as a truly good person. Left to myself, I am just a rotten sinner. People can tell me that I’m a great singer and I’m so wonderful to be out here doing God’s work and sacrificing time away from my family, but the truth is, at the core of my flesh I am a self-centered, selfish man. The only good in me comes from Christ.’” Wes pauses. “And remember, that’s coming from Steve Green, who’s like a hero of mine! But I get what he was saying, and I truly believe that. The only reason that people are drawn to what I do is because of Jesus, and any good in me is because of Him. That’s not false humility; I’m just trying to be real. People have a tendency to think that because we get up on a stage, we’re somehow exempt from all of the things everybody else goes through, and that’s just not true. I struggle with my humanity just like everyone else — maybe more!”
He continues, “That reality has been hitting me so strong lately, especially when we were wrestling with what songs to put in or leave off of this new album. One thing I have learned from Bill and Ms. Gloria is that you’ve got to have good theology in your songs, so that people are hearing the kind of truth that can make a difference in their lives. And in my personal journey, everything that happens in my life points me towards complete surrender to God.”
Wes hesitates for a moment, as if weighing his next words. “To tell you the truth, I’m in a place of transition right now.” Then he laughs and says, “Make sure that doesn’t sound like I’m going to leave the Vocal Band! All I’m trying to say is that these days my constant prayer is, ‘God, show me the areas where I need You the most. Help me to be in a place of brokenness before You. Help me to be honest with myself, not in denial. Help me to be authentic.’ That’s really where I am, because sometimes I just feel like I am constantly under attack — and mostly from within.”
When I express surprise at that statement, Wes elaborates. “It’s my own fear and insecurities. My worst nightmare is the thought of something happening to my family while I am traveling. It’s always in the back of my mind—are my kids OK, is my wife OK? And you know, I sing with some of the most amazing voices of our time. I guess people see me as standing up there smiling and looking confident, but I can still get kind of intimidated sometimes. These are the lies that Satan continuously throws at me: You don’t belong, you’re not good enough. What’s going to happen to your family while you’re gone? What will you do when the Vocal Band ends — you won’t be able to support your family as a soloist. All these doubts go through my head, and I have to battle through them. That’s why I don’t ever want people to look at the ones onstage and think, ‘I could never be that righteous, I can never be that holy.’ Because the truth is, nobody has it all together; we’re all in the same boat. I love it when Mark says to the audience that the only difference between us and them is that we have the mikes in our hands. People laugh, but it is such a great point. I hope people realize that it really is the truth. ”
One of the ways Wes has learned to keep his spiritual equilibrium in a profession that often includes an unhealthy amount of accolades and attention is to involve himself and his family in their local church. “I love my pastor, Chris Hodges,” Wes says fondly. “He believes that the best method of evangelism is to be the hands and feet of Jesus by serving others. So we go out as a family or in small groups and just minister to people by repairing their homes, building porches or wheelchair ramps. We took the boys and visited several fire stations, to thank the firemen for what they did, and the boys gave them cookies that we had made. Those may seem like small things, but I think that coming together and serving is how we show our love and win the world for Christ. Not by pointing fingers and screaming at people that they’re going to hell.” Wes laughs, “Has that ever worked?”
I end our conversation by asking Wes what he believes is the best thing he can do to prepare his children for life. He doesn’t hesitate in answering. “It’s really important to me that I instill into our boys that they are to always treat everyone with respect. It doesn’t matter what a person does for a living or where they come from, we treat everyone with the same level of respect.” Then he adds, “And I have to lead by example. If I don’t consciously submit myself to God every single day, by the end of the day I’m praying, ‘God forgive me — I was a jerk in this situation, I wasn’t nurturing with one of my kids, I lost my temper, I said something I shouldn’t have.’ I ask God to help me to be slow to react, to think about what I’m going to say and how I’m going to say it. Because the single most important thing I want my kids to know is that I love them and I am proud of them. That’s something I say to them all the time, because I hear too many stories from grown men who never got that message from their father. My boys might get sick of hearing it, but I don’t care, because I don’t think you can ever say that enough!”