Patricia Heaton on Second Acts, Sacrificial Living, Giving Up Alcohol, and Surrendering to God’s Will

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Patricia Heaton’s second act hasn’t gone quite as expected so far, but having learned early in life that surrendering to God’s will brings the best results, she is doing her best to take it in stride. She has also drawn inspiration from selfless individuals who, when faced with unexpected challenges, embarked on a new path that benefited not only themselves, but many others. She shares their stories, as well as her own, in the new book “Your Second Act: Inspiring Stories of Reinvention,” and we discussed it recently on “Christopher Closeup” (podcast below).

Recalling her childhood in Cleveland, Ohio, Patricia noted that God created her with a desire to perform, and she would often gather the kids in her neighborhood to put on plays. Building an acting career, however, was much harder.

She said, “It’s easy to make [career] the center of your life when you’ve been given this very strong desire. And even though that desire comes from God, it can’t replace Him. That’s a classic mistake as a human being: to have the center of your life be your career and your pursuit of your dreams. I came to that point after nine years of struggling in New York and banging my head against the wall, not getting anywhere. I moved to California and went on a mission trip for a weekend to Mexico, to an orphanage in Takata, called Sparrows Gate, with our Hollywood Presbyterian Church. Through laying sod down, doing physical labor, and throwing a party for the kids, I came back and had this incredible sense of peace. For the first time in my life, I realized there was something other than acting that I could do that would give me a sense of fulfillment…I said, ‘Okay, Lord, I’m just going to hand this over to You…If the auditions keep coming, I’m going to see that as Your sign to me to keep pursuing it. But if you want me to go back to Mexico, just make it super clear, shut down the auditions.’ I felt released from this pressure to be successful as an actor.”

The auditions kept coming, and eventually, Patricia got cast in the role that changed her life: Debra Barone on “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Looking back on that prayer to God now, Patricia realizes that she presented God with an either/or proposition, but God had something much better in mind.

She said, “I realized this year when I was in Rwanda with World Vision, God gave me both [situations I asked for]. When I was thinking I had to make a choice, He said, ‘I’m going to give you everything. I’m going to give it to you abundantly. We’re just going to do it My way. Your heart needed to be in the right place.’

“I’ve had a career I could never have imagined,” Patricia continued, “and I was able to make an impact in service to the poor in a much greater way than I would have been able to if I had just been toiling away myself at this orphanage in Mexico. With World Vision, I’ve been able to use my platform as an actress on shows like ‘Rachael Ray’ and ‘Entertainment Tonight’ to reach many more people. It just shows you, if we abide in God and abide in His timing, He’s going to bless us far greater than we could have imagined.”

Patricia spent nine years on “Raymond,” and then went on to play Frankie Heck on “The Middle” for another nine years. The latter series came to an end around the same time that Patricia and her husband David became empty nesters, with all four of their children having moved out of the house. The actress decided to don a producer’s hat for her next project, the sitcom “Carol’s Second Act,” which she also starred in as a divorced empty nester who pursues her dream of becoming a doctor after age 50. The series was canceled after one season, leaving Patricia reflective about the experience.

She said, “Failures are part of God’s plan, too. That’s where you grow character. You learn to trust God. You learn to offer up your suffering and your insecurities and your fears…As a Catholic, the way I was raised in the late ’50s, early ’60s, pre-Vatican II…the nuns were always telling you to offer it up. So, when bad stuff comes, I’m always like, ‘Oh, here it is. I’ve been waiting for it.’….One of the great things about the Catholic Church is the focus on suffering. We can offer up our suffering the way Christ did. It gives suffering a transformative and meaningful power. It helps transform your suffering from senselessness. There’s nothing more depressing than not knowing why it’s happening. And even if you don’t know why, you know that there is meaning. And if your character is being changed to be more Christ-like, then suffering should be welcomed. It’s in the New Testament a lot about the joy of suffering, because you get to enter into Christ’s experience.”

Patricia’s work on “Carol’s Second Act” also got her thinking about how other people deal with suffering and unexpected difficulties. As a result, she wrote the book “Your Second Act,” in which she shares the stories of people who have reinvented their lives.

As an example, Patricia cites Yudi Bennett, who “had a son with autism, and she went from being a TV producer, to creating her own computer graphics studio, to teaching kids on the spectrum how to do computer graphics. She now has this school and this studio and contracts with places like HBO and Marvel. These kids are learning to become independent and having a skill and learning pride and becoming functioning members of society. So, wonderful things have come out of the difficulties. Right now, where we are with the pandemic and people losing jobs, I think the timing of the book…couldn’t have been better. It has stories that will help people see there is a way forward through difficult circumstances. You just have to be able to think outside the box a bit.”

The people Patricia highlights in “Your Second Act” also implicitly promote a greater reverence for life. In addition to Yudi Bennett’s story, for instance, there is Dani Klein Modisett, who came up with a unique way to ease the loneliness of dementia patients – and Rachel Arazashvili, who became an advocate for orphans and children with disabilities.

Patricia notes that it’s vital to look at each person as an individual – as a son, a mother, a family member – instead of lumping them into a “category of disabled people.”

She continued, “Our life is a journey of discovery and growth, and it’s those kinds of circumstances which help us to become more compassionate, sympathetic, and empathetic human beings. To try to just eliminate a problem so you don’t have any stress in your life, it’s really not the way to grow and not the way to live in a humane society…People talk a lot about self-care, but if self-care becomes your god, then you’re going to want to eliminate anything that gets in your way…Yeah, we should take care of ourselves as best we can, but it shouldn’t be the whole goal in life to have an easy life. The goal is to live in this community with each other and be there for each other in this world that is tough. My liaison at World Vision, Kathryn Compton, who I travel with to all these countries, said, ‘Christ commands us to do three things: help the poor, help the poor, and help the poor.’ I think we can apply that to all our fellow human beings. That is going to give you more of a sense of self-worth and self-love than maybe a massage – although I love massages. But I think this idea of sacrificial living, it’s been lost. Again, I go back to my Catholic upbringing. It used to feel like a burden when I didn’t understand it. My early Catholic training felt very heavy, and I had to go away from it for a while, but I now understand it more as I’m older and the importance of it.”

Patricia’s reflective nature led her to make a different kind of sacrifice in her second act. She gave up alcohol a few years ago (along with bread and cheese), partially for health reasons. She notes that her sons are likely at least 10 years away from giving her grandchildren, and she wants to still be in good shape when they arrive.

But she also noted another issue: “As you get older, your mortality becomes much more present to you. Things that were your anchors, like your children or your job, when those go you can feel unmoored. And instead of feeling unmoored, it’s easier to have a nice glass of wine or bourbon or something. I sensed that I was getting to a point where that was becoming an automatic response in my life. Once I started getting comfortable drinking at lunch [and saying], ‘Oh, it’s Prosecco, It doesn’t really count,’ I could see it becoming a problem…I was reading [that] statistically, women who have been moderate drinkers all their life become alcoholics or have a drinking problem in their 50s and 60s. A lot of changes happen to women physically, emotionally in those years. It’s easy to go to alcohol to not feel your feelings about all this stuff. So, it’s been interesting to feel more feelings – and God’s been very gracious in helping me maintain that.”

In closing, Patricia shared her hopes for people who read “Your Second Act” – “I don’t want anybody to think it’s ever too late or too early to change. It’s not just for people in my age group. If you’re late 20s, early 30s, and you studied something in college…and it’s not working out, don’t be afraid to change. Don’t be afraid to try something new…Everybody’s taking classes online now. So, that’s a great way to start exploring a new avenue for yourself…And right now a lot of volunteers are needed in a lot of different areas. Volunteering is a great way to step out and explore something new for yourself…People come to this country because of the opportunities here, and even in a time of pandemic, a lot of things have gone away, but new things have sprouted up in their place. And so, there’s always an opportunity if you use your imagination and listen to your heart and look at the talents that God has given you, that you can get out there and explore a new path for your life.”

(To listen to my full interview with Patricia Heaton, click on the podcast link):

Patricia Heaton interview – Christopher Closeup