WASHINGTON – A 1988 Gallup poll cited Elizabeth Dole as one of the 10 most admired women in the world. Yet few could imagine in 1975 that the woman who combined Harvard Law School brains, Southern grace and a perfectionist passion for public service was missing something — something spiritual.

“I was blessed with a beautiful marriage and a challenging career,” Dole regularly tells prayer breakfast groups throughout the country. “Gradually, over many years, I realized what was missing. My life was threatened with spiritual starvation.”

Dole, 57, said she realized that her public-service commitment had crowded out the spiritual lessons she had learned in Salisbury, N.C., at the knee of her grandmother, Mom Cathey. Dole began her journey to spiritual renewal by meeting with a group of Senate wives for weekly Bible study, discussion and prayer.

SHARES FEELINGS

“I had built up my little self-sufficient world,” Dole said at the American Red Cross headquarters, where she has served as president since 1991. “I had God neatly compartmentalized, crammed into a crowded file drawer of my life, somewhere between ‘gardening’ and ‘government.'”

In the Monday night Bible studies, Dole said she shared feelings with the group that she never would have expressed to her White House colleagues. In this safe confine, Dole came face-to-face with her perfectionist tendencies and compulsion to constantly please. She said she learned real inner strength comes from a dependent relationship with Jesus Christ, not from independence and self-reliance.

Although she encourages young people to strive for excellence, which she believes is a Christian virtue, she cautions, “I think there is a point of diminishing returns.” Dole described Washington as a city of workaholics, who are striving to make a difference. But even the greatest public-service initiatives cannot meet one’s deepest needs, she added.

“Christianity is more than faith, more than believing, more than trying to have a mission field,” Dole said. “The essence of it is having that personal relationship with the Lord.”

Bible scholar Art Lindsley of the C.S. Lewis Institute in Arlington, Va., meets regularly with Dole for Bible-related discussions and prayer. He attributes her success to a larger perspective that goes beyond job titles and income earned. Her relationship with the Lord enables her to see life before “the audience of One — the ultimate audience,” Lindsley said.

After five years of weekly meetings with Dole, in which they discuss the Scriptures and classic Christian books, Lindsley remains impressed with Dole’s desire to know God. “I think it all ends up profoundly affecting her desire to serve people,” Lindsley said.

Dole spends at least 30 minutes a day in Bible study and prayer. Her daily time of spiritual renewal gives her the energy and passion to sustain a schedule that she sometimes describes as a “blur.”

Sunday has become sacrosanct in the Dole household as a time to recharge the batteries — physical, emotional and spiritual.

It’s a time for church, friends and no appointments, except for an occasional appearance on a Sunday morning news show.

“D.C.’s power couple” is how some describe Elizabeth Dole and Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole, R-Kan. But the Doles’ private life together departs from the power-broker image. “We’re not on the social circuit,” Elizabeth Dole said.

HELPS YOUNG PEOPLE

The Doles have worked together on projects to help inner-city children, the homeless, senior citizens and the Dole Foundation, a foundation established by Sen. Dole to aid disabled people. All these activities are “an outgrowth of our Christian faith,” Elizabeth Dole said.

In 1991 Elizabeth Dole and her brother, John Hanford, launched “Youth In Action,” a program to build the self-esteem of America’s youth. They established the Mary Cathey Hanford Endowment, named after their mother, and selected Salisbury, N.C., as the site of the endowment’s first project so that their 92-year-old mother could lend a hand in the effort.

Recently, Dole and Darrell Green, cornerback for the Washington Redskins, announced the opening of a learning center for the inner-city children of Washington. The center is operated by the Darrell Green Youth Foundation, but Dole has contributed through the Hanford Endowment.

“She’s very serious about helping young people,” Green said. “Once she sees something that works, she doesn’t waste any time.”