Carol Burnett's Lesson in Prayer

Some prayers, like some acts of generosity, need to be shared. But many don’t. In fact, secrecy seems to add power to these prayers.

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Prayer blogger Rick Hamlin

I always loved the Carol Burnett Show when I was a kid and was delighted when she recently did an episode of the show Glee. You might be surprised to learn that there’s a powerful story about the secret behind her success—a story she told in Guideposts. It’s a great reminder of what giving and praying in secret can do.

Back when she was a talented drama student at UCLA, she gave a performance at her professor’s home and a mysterious stranger—there’s no other way to describe him—approached her with a generous offer. He would lend her a thousand dollars so she could go to New York and launch her career.

“In those days I was pretty innocent, but not that innocent,” she wrote. She politely refused his offer. The businessman persisted, introducing her to his wife, explaining that he was serious. He would make the loan on three conditions: that she would pay him back in five years, if she could. That she was to reveal his identity to no one. And that she was to pass along the kindness at some point.

The man could not have known what tough financial straits Carol was in, how her family was barely getting by. In fact, the first thing she did with a portion of the money was get her teeth fixed, dentistry being something she couldn’t afford. Then she went off to New York.

You can fill in the details of the rest of the story. She worked hard, built a career on Broadway and eventually became the Carol Burnett we know and love. She was scrupulous in observing the conditions of the loan. She was able to pay him back on schedule. She kept his identity secret. As for passing along his kindness, she makes the valid point: “Well, that’s my secret.”

Some prayers, like some acts of generosity, need to be shared. But many don’t. In fact, secrecy seems to add power to these prayers. As Jesus said, “When you do a kindness to someone, do it secretly ... And your Father who knows all secrets will reward you.” No secret to that.

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