Down-home Diva Finds Strength and Comfort in Prayer

A popular actress's successful life and career are firmly grounded in a bedrock of family and faith.

By Kristin Chenoweth, Los Angeles, California

As appeared in

I’ve never been shy. And I’m definitely not shy about my faith. I grew up in the Bible Belt, in Oklahoma. I’m a Christian and proud of it. I’ve sung about it, mentioned it on talk shows and it’s been an important part of some of the characters I’ve played.

In the new ABC show Good Christian Belles, about a group of women who grew up together in a Dallas church, I play Carlene. She’s a bit of a villain and stirs things up, which is certainly not me (it’s just acting, okay?).

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But just because I’m frank about my faith doesn’t mean I’ve got everything all figured out. I struggle too. We all do. It’s kind of like developing your vocal range when you’re a singer. You’ve got to experience the highs and lows in life to develop your spiritual range and grow in your faith. Stick with me here and I’ll tell you what I mean.

Keep asking the questions.
My Grandma Chenoweth was one of the most fervent, loving Christians I’ve ever known. She had friends in every denomination. Or as we used to say back home, she was a Southern Baptist who played canasta with the Methodists and dominoes with the Church of Christ-ers. In every tough situation she’d do what I’d call a Jesus test to figure out what was the right thing to do. And this was years before WWJD came along.

When Grandma died, her friends kept bringing us food to comfort us, lemon bars and shoofly pie and every casserole known to man (church-lady cuisine is something I sure miss out in Hollywood). Later we went through her things: her jewelry, her hats, her purses, her handkerchiefs. But her Bible was the real treasure.

I’d always heard that you could tell how important the word of God was to a person by looking at their Bible. Grandma’s had a crocheted cover she made herself (it needed a cover because it had gotten so worn and dog-eared over the years) and had notes in her handwriting on practically every page.

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"I don’t understand this verse and need some help," Grandma would write or "I tried to do this and it’s hard for me" or "This is my cross to bear" or "I need to pray about this" or "I’m not sure I’m in 100 percent agreement here." Sometimes she had questions for her minister, sometimes for God, and all of her questions and notes showed what a real relationship she had with the Lord. Nothing was taken for granted. Belief was something she worked at and lived.

I’ve got my own questions for God, everything from "Why is forgiveness so hard?" and "Why do people get cancer?" to "Where on earth do the mates to my socks disappear to?" Sure, I’d love to know the answers one day, but I learned from Grandma that what matters is to keep asking the questions. Write them down, talk to friends and to your minister, and pray your way through them.

Pray big.
I pray all the time. Sometimes I think I pray too much, if that’s possible. I pray for my mom and my dad, my brother and my sister-in-law. I pray if I have to travel (I have the worst travel luck and I just hate to fly). I pray for my friends. I pray for complete strangers.

Jesus said we’re supposed to pray for those who mistreat us. Not long ago I was feeling mighty mistreated by a flight attendant who bumped me from the seat I’d bought (I got delayed in security) and then wouldn’t help me get my bag in the overhead bin (hey, when you’re not even five feet tall, it’s hard to reach up there!). I told her I’d pray for her. Lord knows, we both needed it.

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What’s really important is to make your prayers big, to ask for things that go deep and seem impossible. You might even get more than you ask for. I’ll tell you a story: