I'm excited to introduce you all to my friend Ben. Ben is a very talented guy who loves God with all his heart. I'm so proud of him and that he is using the gifts God gave him to bless others. Thank you, Ben, for contributing to this series!I’m Ben Jeffrey. I’m an actor. And I’m very, very blessed, because I actually make my living acting (believe it or not, only about 10% of professional actors make a living just doing acting). Since June of 2010 I’ve been playing Pumbaa in Disney’s “The Lion King” on Broadway. And just so nobody thinks I’m particularly interesting or full of myself, I will say this: there are a lot of far more talented actors than me who don’t have work. There are probably 50 plus guys in New York alone that could play my role as well if not better than me. Don’t tell the Disney producers that, though.
I’ve wanted to be an actor since I was a kid. I didn’t really figure this out until late in high school, but for me, acting is about the highest form of worship I can perform. There’s a scene in the movie “Chariots of Fire” in which Eric Liddle, the famous Olympic runner, is speaking to his sister, who is insistent that he go and be a missionary in China. He says, “I believe God made me for a purpose; for China. But he also made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure.”
I get that, which is why I suppose I’ve always felt closer to God in a theater than in a church. Perhaps I’m a heretic. I can live with that.
John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Then in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. And we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” I guess I feel a special connection to Jesus, because what I do is “making the word flesh.” Pretty cool, right?
I went to college at ACU and then graduate school at Rutgers in New Jersey, to better hone my craft. I did very well at both schools. I was well liked, well cast, and I worked very hard. It seemed like the world was my oyster.
The summer between my 2nd and 3rd years of Grad School, I was doing an Indy film in my hometown of Kansas City, and I met the most beautiful woman in the world. To this day, I cannot tell you how I tricked her into marrying me. You want proof of the miraculous? Look no further.
I finished grad school, got married, and moved to New York. Now, if you want the formula on how to put a lot of external stressors on your new marriage, I have it: Finish school, accumulate GARGANTUAN debt, get married to a woman you had been long distance with for three fourths of your relationship, move across the country with no money, no job, no friends in your part of town, and make sure and find the seediest apartment in Brooklyn. Then be broke for a long time.
It was, quite simply, the hardest time ever in my life. I took a job at Starbucks to get health insurance after 4 weeks of job searching. I had a Master’s degree from one of the top five graduate schools for theater in the country, and I was making people their lattes. And if you’ve ever worked a Starbucks in Manhattan, you know it’s one of the more soul killing jobs you can find.
So, as I’m sitting in my horrible bug infested apartment one night, regretting that I have a wife who’s ready to kill me for getting her into this, a job that’s a step away from hell, and seven years of education that seem to be fruitless, my Dad calls.
And I’m like, “Dad, my life sucks. I have a Master’s degree, and I’m making people lattes, and I fear that that’s all I’ll ever be.” And he told me something really important. He said, “Even if you do make lattes for the rest of your life, that is never what you will be.” He’s sharpish, right? That stuck with me.
See, I had a big “aha” moment here. I had to actually give up the idea that I could ever make myself be worth anything. I had to stop building my identity on whether or not I was a successful actor, a good husband, or what have you.
The truth is that my worth, my identity, comes from the fact that I’m God’s kid.
And he’s CRAZY about me. He thinks I’m great. He thinks I’m funny, he thinks I’m smart, he thinks that I’m so amazing, and he will always think that. What I do or don’t do has nothing to do with how crazy in love with me God is.
And I realized that I’ve been a Christian my whole life, and I didn’t really believe that. And as soon as I started to, as soon as I decided to try to let Jesus love me the way only Jesus can, and stop depending on my circumstances to bring me joy, I got my first TV gig. It was a small part on the TV show “Louie”, on FX. Two days later, I got a walk on part in “The Good Wife” on CBS. And two weeks after that, I got cast in the Lion King.
It was almost like God was saying, “I have all this great stuff I’m waiting to give you. But you have to realize how much I love you and how I will always take care of you before you get it, because if you don’t, you will be miserable regardless of what you do.”
I call that a miracle. And getting a job in acting is plenty miracle enough, but the fact that I’m actually starting to live in the reality of being God’s kid? That’s the best thing I can imagine.
But on top of that, I get to do this show that’s all about recognizing your true self, and redemption, and hope, and courage, and the truth that who you really are is much bigger than circumstance.
Professional artists live much of their lives in uncertainty. I’m on Broadway until the summer of 2012, and I don’t know what’s next after that. All I can do is work as hard as I can not to squander the good gifts God has given me. I train my body and voice to be good instruments. I try to stay sharp as an actor. I try to maintain good relationships with the people I interact with, and I try to let Jesus do whatever he’s trying to do with my life. And I fail at that a lot. But at the end of the day, I don’t know what God’s plan is. I could make one of my own, but that would probably make him giggle. In two years I may be acting, I may be teaching, I may be working at Starbucks again, or I may be living in a gutter on the street drinking three dollar scotch (hopefully not that last one). Whatever it is, I will still be God’s kid.
And he really loves his kids.
Ben and his wife Christina FINALLY got out of Brooklyn and are living happily in Astoria, Queens, New York. For tickets to see Ben in the Lion King on Broadway, check out this site: The Lion King (it also has a cool video clip from the show. If you haven't seen the Broadway version of The Lion King...it is a MUST SEE!)