Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Religious versus nonreligious coping strategies

Psychology and the sciences used to downplay the role of religion and at some instances even made religion pathological.  However, in our recent past,  psychology has begun to look at the importance of religion to its clients.  As psychology has shifted to address this, it finds itself playing catch up to religious adherents who already know and understand the importance of religion and coping strategies.  Most of the research in the area of religious coping comes from the medical model.  Research has been conducted at hospitals with patients suffering from various forms of cancer and sees how religious versus nonreligious coping strategies work or provide relief.  
In discussing the role of religious versus nonreligious coping strategies, it is important to have a basic understanding of personhood; one that a religious and nonreligious person would agree with.  In its basic form, both would agree that a person is both material and immaterial.  A person has a mind, body and spirit.  Where they diverge is in the spiritual aspect.  A nonreligious person believes they have a spiritual (little ‘s’) nature, while a religious person, specifically a Christian worldview,  believes they have a Spiritual (big ‘S’) nature. 
Little ‘s’ spiritual nature is more closely akin to a cognitive behavioral aspect that looks at putting the problem (in this example cancer) in proper terms and being able to come to terms with it.  Nonreligious coping confronts the problem, puts it in perspective, builds support, develops a positive reinterpretation and then tries to confound any denial or avoidance.  All this is done with the individual’s own strengths and limitations.  The coping strategies of a religious person are similar to those mentioned above, yet they take on a transcendent quality because of their belief in God, who comforts, consoles, and is personally interested and invested in the person, not just the issue at hand. 
The biggest difference between the coping strategies of a religious person and a nonreligious person is a matter of the heart.  A nonreligious person’s coping strategies are based on a cognitive behavioral aspect that works at a cerebral level to help the person.  Coping strategies for a religious person   do that but end up going beyond the cerebral and affecting the heart.  It brings peace and joy in the midst of trials.  Yes, a nonreligious person’s coping strategies may lead to a degree of peace, but it falls short of the peace that surpasses all understanding described in Philippians 4: 7.
In the end, God has equipped us to cope with the anxiety and stresses of life.  A nonreligious coping strategy looks at what man can do for himself and rests in their strength alone, while a Christian coping strategy looks at what God can do for man and rests in Him alone. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

How Religion, Stress and Suffering Intertwine

There is a rapid growth in research showing that greater involvement in religion can positively impact an individual’s physical and mental health (Oman & Thoresen, 2005 as cited in Krause, 2010). A large number of these studies are based on data that were obtained from large probability samples (Schieman, Pudrovska, & Milkie, 2005 as cited in Krause, 2010). Nevertheless, when researchers analyze this type of data, they often group study participants from different faith traditions into one single large undifferentiated group (Ellison, Boardman, Williams, & Jackson, 2001 as cited in Krause, 2010). This particular data analytic strategy is based on the implied assumption that religion is experienced the same for all people regardless of their faith background; also, that the same facets of religion affect all study participants in the same way (Krause, 2010).
Krause (2010) performs an interesting study to empirically evaluate the unique coping response of ‘suffering in silence’ among older Catholics. Two hypotheses are examined in this study, the first predicting that older Catholics will be more likely than older Protestants to suffer in silence when experiencing economic difficulty. The second hypothesis stipulating that the potentially harmful effects of financial problems on depressive symptoms will be offset for older adults who would cope by suffering in silence. Data obtained from an ongoing nationwide survey of older people in the United States was able to provide support to both hypotheses (Krause, 2010).
            We live in a fallen world and we experience the results of this either in the lives of those around us or personally. Experiencing a fallen world is applicable to both the believer and the non-believer, although, how we deal with difficulties may differ. As Christians, there is a notion that if you serve God well enough and have enough faith that can move mountains, you will live a pleasant life with little or no hardships and trials. Or if we experience difficult times, we should act as though it never happened and everything is fine. The Bible prepares us for the trails and heart ache we will encounter as believers.
Jesus discloses that in order to be his disciple and follower, we will have to die to self, pick up our crosses and follow Him (Luke 9:23). In what way does any believer interpret this as having a blissful life with no troubles? We are warned about the trials that we will experience as followers of Christ throughout scripture, for example: 1 Thessalonians 3:2-4 “2 We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, 3 so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. 4 In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know.” Another passage that prepares believers for trials is James 1:2-4 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Some believers might interpret James 1:2-4 as a suggestion to suffering in silence through hard times when this is not at all the case.
            Stress and suffering is inevitable no matter what religion or lack thereof an individual holds. It will be beneficial for Christians to take hid to the warnings of suffering and stress rather than ignore it, deciding to establish ways in which they might effectively cope when these trials arrive. Suffering in silence rather than sharing and dealing with difficult situations and hurts, does not help one attain the kind of  spiritual maturity mentioned James 1:2-4, it will instead produce the adverse effect. It is a matter of when, not if one will face trying times.
The already unsettling conditions in the world usually find a way to keep getting worse and our only hope as believers is in Jesus Christ and life eternal with Him. I love this quote from the book Mere Christianity, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” Life has thrown many curve balls my way and more times than not, I did not take it like a champ nor did I practice a healthy coping strategy, even though based on what I know from scripture, I should have almost expected it. No one really enjoys going through the discomfort of trials and tribulations but if we develop healthy coping strategies we might be able to allow these trials work for our good rather than cause us more distress. Please find time to watch the video below of Francis Chan teaching on suffering.

Krause, N. (2010). Assessing coping responses within specific faith traditions: Suffering in silence, stress, and depressive symptoms among older Catholics. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 13(5), 513-529. doi:10.1080/13674670903433686

NDE's and Atheism

Recently, neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander wrote an article in Newsweek about a coma he had in 2008 in which while he was in the coma he had a near-death experience (article can be found here).  In it he vividly described all sorts of about how his conscience was alive while his brain lay dormant.  From this Dr. Alexander makes an argument for the veracity of heaven and Christianity.  He said before this happened he was merely Christian by name only, but not anymore.  He has proof for heaven’s existence.  If NDE’s are real, this posses grave threat to atheism.[1]  An atheist believes all there is matter.  There is no mind distinct from the body.  So NDE’s cannot be real and atheism be true.  So because of Alexander’s article, many atheists have blogged and written about how Alexander is wrong and his experience does not prove anything.  However these atheist arguments all fall short of truth and logic.
Dr. Jerry Coyne and Sam Harris both quickly wrote articles in response to Alexander.  Coyne’s argument against Alexander is as followed, “Give that man a Templeton Prize! My explanation: Alexander had a long dream, one conditioned by his religious upbringing (he describes himself “as a faithful Christian”).  Isn’t that more parsimonious?”[2]  This is the extent of his argument.  He simply writes it off.  This is what all atheists have to do.  They cannot take the account as true.  If they did, it would fly in the face of their world view.  Sam Harris intellectually engages in the argument in a better way.  Not believing Alexander’s brain ever shut off, he writes that

This poetic interpretation of his experience is not supported by evidence of any kind… Coma does not equate to “inactivation of the cerebral cortex” or “higher-order brain functions totally offline” or “neurons of [my] cortex stunned into complete inactivity”. These describe brain death, a one hundred percent lethal condition. There are many excellent scholarly articles that discuss the definitions of coma.[3]

So Harris argues Alexander never lost conscience.  Since this arguments goes way out of my field of expertise I will not comment on it except to say Alexander is a brain surgeon so his knowledge of brain conscientiousness cannot be overlooked.  But what I do want to comment on is Harris’ end argument.  He believes Alexander’s brain had a surge of DMT release thus causing him to go into an ecstatic state.  This, This, Harris writes “is pure speculation, of course, but it is a far more credible hypothesis than that his cortex “shut down,” freeing his soul to travel to another dimension.”  Harris believes his argument is correct not bases on science but because it makes his worldview correct.  He already comes at this from a preconceived worldview.  He is not open to seeing if Alexander’s experience is true.  He is merely showing how is presuppositions are true. Alex Lickerman makes the best argument when he uses scientific experiments to disprove NDE’s (information on this scientific research can be found here).  He writes

Neurologists have since recognized that the temporoparietal region of the brain is responsible for maintaining our body schema representation.  When external current is applied to this region, it ceases to function normally and our body schema “floats.”  Further evidence that this phenomenon is an illusion comes from experiments in which people who’ve had out-of-body experiences when transitioning from sleep to wakefulness were unable to identify objects placed in the room after they’d fallen asleep, strongly suggesting the picture they viewed of themselves sleeping in their beds was reconstructed from memory.[4]

This however, ignores the veracity for the NDE’s which can be proven.  Michael Egnor writes,

Indeed, about 20 percent of NDE's are corroborated, which means that there are independent ways of checking about the veracity of the experience. The patients knew of things that they could not have known except by extraordinary perception -- such as describing details of surgery that they watched while their heart was stopped, etc. Additionally, many NDE's have a vividness and a sense of intense reality that one does not generally encounter in dreams or hallucinations.[5]

                  The problem with NDE’s for atheists is that it destroys their worldview.  If NDE’s are true, everything is not made of matter; there are incorporeal substances in existence.  That is, our mind or conscience can live on when our bodies cease to live.  Atheists have a problem with this because that means there is more than just molecules going off in our brain.  We have a mind which is not physical matter.  However atheists cannot allow for more than just matter.  They believe everything is matter.  Because NDE’s dismissal of materialistic thought would destroy the atheist’s worldview, they need to defeat NDE’s veracity.  They do not come to the discussion of NDE’s with an open mind.  They come needing to destroy it.  And in the process ignore the truth.  NDE’s are another proof that the material world is not all that is.

[1] Atheism and materialism are used synonymously in this blog post.
[2] Jerry Coyne, “OMG: Newsweek touts the Afterlife as Real,” http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/10/08/omg-newsweek-touts-the-afterlife-as-real/
[3] Mark Cohan, quoted in “This must be heaven,” http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/this-must-be-heaven
[4] Alex Lickerman, “The Neurology Of Near-Death Experiences,” http://www.happinessinthisworld.com/2011/05/15/the-neurology-of-near-death-experiences/#more-7165
[5] Michael Egnor, “Near-Death Experiences: Putting a Darwinist's Evidentiary Standards to the Test,” http://www.evolutionnews.org/2012/10/near_death_expe_1065301.html

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Anger, doubt, and well-being

   According to Exline and Grubbs (2011), for most individuals, having a personal relationship with God provides a sense of security and comfort that meets our attachment needs. Oftentimes, people that have a personal relationship with God also believe he is very involved in their lives. Exline and Grubbs (2011) explain that when things go awry, spiritual struggles can take place that create feelings of anger. Each person will deal with their anger towards God differently, but the impact it has will typically range somewhere between "disengaging from their faith to actually having their faith strengthened" (Exline & Grubbs, 2011). Some individuals may even develop emotional distress from their anger and doubt. If God is active in their life and something bad happens, there's suddenly internal conflict.

   In an online survey of 573 men and women, Exline and Grubbs (2011) found the participants had anger towards God due to “death of loved ones, interpersonal offenses/conflicts, personal illnesses or injuries, financial problems, loss of home or job, or were struggling with the suffering of a loved one due to terminal illness”. Unlike some of the participants that were able to overcome their anger, 256 of the participants were still struggling with their anger even after some time had gone by since their anger developed. Exline and Grubbs (2011) sought to determine if sharing their feelings of anger with another person would be beneficial. They found that, typically, at least one person had been told about the participant’s anger towards God. However, there were often fears that went along with revealing such feelings, such as “social disapproval, rejection, being misunderstood, believing that it was a personal issue that was between themselves and God, and even fears that revealing their anger would hurt or offend others” (Exline & Grubbs, 2011). Being open and honest about anger towards God is not always easy, especially since a relationship with God is different for each person.

   What the study found was that revealing anger to another person could improve the relationship between the angry individual and God. However, it also was impacted by the listener’s response to hearing that the person was struggling with anger. For those that were supported, the study found that those individuals were able to “stay spiritually engaged” (Exline & Grubbs, 2011). On the other hand, those that were met with unsupportive responses, found themselves feeling “guilty, shamed, judged”, and less likely to move beyond their anger towards God. Furthermore, they were more likely to spiritually disengage, suppress their feelings of anger, rebel, withdraw, or even question God’s very existence (Exline & Grubbs, 2011). Ultimately, the study concluded that if anyone is struggling with feelings of anger towards God, it is helpful to realize that the feeling isn’t unique to you and be aware of others who try to shame or judge those feelings.

   While it would be nice to live in a world where we could have a perfect relationship with God, it’s not reality. More than likely, you will experience at least one period in your life where your religious faith is shaken. Things don’t go quite right and some find themselves angry and doubting God for those events or their outcomes. It is helpful to be aware of the fact that you are not the only one who has ever felt angry towards God. Hopefully, by being aware of your feelings and being able to talk with God and others, the anger will dissipate. In Scripture, Jonah paints a very real picture of just what anger and doubting God can cause. We need to be encouraging to one another when there are seasons of anger and allow the Holy Spirit to be the one working and changing the individual from the inside out.

*** Disclaimer: The video clip shown is only a small portion of the actual movie and what is shown was not edited by myself. The character shown is fine in the end of the movie.***

Exline, J. J., & Grubbs, J. B. (2011). "If I tell others about my anger toward god, how will they respond?" predictors, associated behaviors, and outcomes in an adult sample. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 39(4), 304-315.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Flinch

I once worked in the office of a Christian Camp where we often pursued the important task of rubber-band wars. We got really good at popping each other, and we all tensed for that dreaded moment when we knew we’d get hit. My friend, Lisa, had the unfortunate timing of being in the office as one of these wars broke out. I had the perfect opening. Her face contorted and she let out the worst squeal, “NoOOo! That’s my worst fear!” Her flinch was classic and dramatic.
We all flinch. It’s an instantaneous wince and recoil to a known experience of pain. I do it while driving. Well, mostly when my husband drives, to his irritation. I’ve been blind-sided once too many. When you’ve seen headlights from the driver’s side window, you tend to flinch at even the possibility of impact. You look for it. You are wary. And you anticipate it even when there’s only a possibility that it might happen. Even if you know your husband is a good driver. My husband knows my tells. I wince with my eyes. I clench my fist for the briefest of seconds. Often he describes the situation or reminds me of his good driving. I know these things. I still flinch. Such is it with God. We flinch with Him, too. We’ve built a lifetime of experiences, some great, some horrific. We experience pain, betrayal, loss, confusion in so many areas of our lives. And when we come to God – we flinch. It looks a little different. It’s a flinch of the heart. Our tells may be anxiety, longing for His presence yet fearing it, trying hard to ensure His good favor because in our minds He is scowling. Or we may be avoidant, capable and comfortable and fearful of exposing the raw emotion of our inner worlds to Him, so we suppress it because it is easier to deal with.
Many of us know good theology about God: He is loving, He is present, He is powerful, He is kind, etc. Yet, in experience, the image of God that our minds produce look strikingly like our mothers or fathers: distant, or angry, or weak, or manipulative, or selfish (Thomas, Moriarty, Davis, andAnderson, 2011).  What are we to do when we know that God is loving but cannot feel His love? Do we simply mentally muscle through it, noting that our feelings do not indicate reality? How does this fit into experiencing God when we aren’t experiencing Him, at least not properly or fully?

Research has indicated that several factors shape the nature of our experience with God: early human interactions with parents, our relational interaction style, how we view ourselves, and how we form love relationships (Beck, 2006). These early experiences and ingrained interaction styles can provide us with good relational tools or with poor ones and these get used when we try to relate to God. The Bible describes our relationship with God in both parental and marital terms. It is not surprising then that our concept of God is tainted by our relational experiences. After all, half of this God relationship includes us. The factors that shape who we are get carried into every relationship we have, including how we interact with God. In other relationships, we simply call it baggage. Baggage in our God relationship means that we may struggle in our relationship with God either fearing His abandonment or avoiding His intimacy despite our theological convictions. We may know the truth of scripture yet still struggle in approaching Him. Instead of running to God, expecting warmth and security, we flinch. Those who have grown up in abusive homes know this struggle well. At times it may be difficult to even fathom what biblical kindness and love looks like. In such cases, knowledge of truth does not erase the experiences of error. These struggles not only hinder our relationship with God, they also create additional negative outcomes in our lives when it comes to loss, grief, meaning, purpose, and pursuits (Kelley and Chan, 2012). Secure God attachment has been defined as seeing God as loving, present, stable, warm, trusting, and intimate (Hall, Fujikawa, Halcrow, and Hill, 2009; Beck, 2006).  This type of attachment to God is very biblical and the desired outcome of all Christians. He is, after all, our father and our husband. Our relationship with God has always been intended for our good, but often the sin of this life cripples us from experiencing Him truly.

Richard Beck (2006) makes a compelling case that, just as in any love relationship, there will be times of intimacy struggles, communication failures, and ebb of passion. Disappointment and dissatisfaction are inevitable. It is the nature of the messiness of life. Pain and hardship deeply affect us all. Solomon says it this way: “Surely oppression can destroy a wise man’s reason (or turn a wise man into a fool).” Rather than an indication of ungodliness, struggles with God may be seen as a flinch of our nature: the ingrained expectations of harm working against our knowledge and our willpower. The flinch inevitably happens, but we can learn to relax. The flinch can be softened, intimacy strengthened. Complaints with God can be taken to Him in a Psalm-like lament in order to share our hearts, even the pain and anger, with God (Snow, McMinn, Bufford, and Brendlinger, 2011). Individual counseling can help us recognize change our ingrained patterns and beliefs. Learning about and meditating on the biblical truth’s of God can help counteract our reactions to God. Experiencing nurturing, stable relationships can give us new insights into healthy relationships which can help us view God more accurately. Additionally, meaningful spiritual art, music, and stories about God can encourage new positive interactions with God (Thomas, Moriarty, Davis, and Anderson, 2011). Learning to abide in Him is learning to recognize that He is bigger than we can imagine and can handle our raw emotions. And often we find that He is closer than we think, abiding with us, despite our flinch. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Prayer Heals

When praying to the one and only true God, prayer is absolutely influential on healing, whether that healing is physical or spiritual. Many people believe that prayer has the power to bring physical healing. I believe this too. Many scientific studies have seen the power of prayer heal many people. However, not every time we pray for physical healing for ourselves or our loved ones does that mean that every person who prays for healing with receive that healing. I believe that if you truly pray for healing, you will find that healing in some way. There are many instances where the power of prayer leads to a miracle and there are also instances where prayer is still just as powerful; however, it does not always lead to complete physical healing. Sometimes the real healing that needs to happen before physical healing is the healing of the heart. Other times healing comes when Jesus takes that loved one home to be with Him.
                  I want to dig deeper, not into what science has to say about the power of prayer proving to heal people from physical illness and injury, but instead I want to look at how prayer is still powerful even when physical healing is not seen. I had written before that my mom had passed away after battling cancer for 19 years. I had grown up in a Christ centered family. Both my mom and my dad were the strongest Christians I had ever met. We went to a church that loved the Lord and prayed diligently to Him for the healing of my mom. My whole family prayed for the healing of the Lord with faith that He would indeed heal her. Through my prayers, I started to experience Christ in a way I had never experienced Him before. He started to prepare my heart for something I wouldn’t be able to go through on my own. I constantly prayed for the Lord to heal my mom. Although my mom wasn’t healed from her disease here on earth does not mean that Christ did not hear my prayer. I believe he healed her body by making it new in heaven. Some people have proposed many ideas to why people are not healed from their disease that they prayed the Lord would heal them of. Some of these ideas include “personal sin (Isaiah 59:2), not forgiving others (Mark 11:25), a lack of faith (James 1:5–8), rejecting God’s law (Proverbs 28:9), or a lack of compassion (Proverbs 21:13).” However, “another response is that the request did not accord with God’s will”(Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic). I believe that it is important to pray for God’s healing; however, I think it is even more important to pray that the Lord’s will be done in our lives.
                  While, prayer did not physically heal my mom of her disease, prayer brought comfort and peace to her heart and to mine as well. After the death of my mom, through prayer, the Lord mended and healed my broken heart. The Lord will always heal in some way if we truly pray for healing, whether it is physical healing, cognitive healing, or spiritual healing.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Offering Hope to the Hopeless

It is common among the secular population to view religious coping as a copout and a hindrance to efficient recovery. However, this is untrue for studies show that applying religious coping strategies actually enhances acceptance of circumstances and one’s ability to overcome the pressure of the demands placed on the individual experiencing negative situations. One major area in which religious coping strategies are constantly employed is in the diagnosis of cancer. In fact, these coping strategies play an integral part in the success of the individual maintaining self-esteem, having a firmly established sense of hope and emotional stability, and still being able to retain a sense of importance and purpose amid a trying and difficult reality. Religious coping seems to reduce distress and increase illness adjustment as pertaining to cancer patients. However, the positive effects of religious coping are primarily isolated to evangelical patients for it is actually negative for other religions, especially Catholics. This is certainly seen in such examples as those pertaining to seeking encouragement and aid from church membership in which the results were positive for evangelical women but highly negative for the Catholic denomination. Prayer is one specific religious coping mechanism that may have either positive or negative effects depending on the religions view of God. For instance, among evangelicals who understand God to be a loving God and have a secure relationship with Him, the experience of prayer is typically positive, whereas for those in a religious denomination that view the illness as a potential punishment from God who view the relationship with God as less secure in which they must struggle to maintain his favor; in such cases the experience is negative and enhances stress (Social Science and Medicine).

Therefore, there is a difference between whether or not the religious coping strategies are influenced by religions that demonstrate positive religious coping strategies or negative religious coping strategies and sometimes this is subject to the individual and other times it is directly influenced by the religious teaching of specific denominations. For instance, positive religious coping strategies such as praying in collaboration and cooperation with God concerning stress or illness served some adaptive functions and led to some relatively long-term improvements in mental health among patients as well as their significant others; they also experienced less depression, anxiety, and distress (Religious Coping). On the other hand, negative religious coping, such as feeling that illness or particular stressful or negative circumstances are either caused by God for punishment or are the work of the devil, while not causing lower self-esteem or a lack of purpose in life, did actually result in an increase in depression, anxiety, and distress. So, it is not sufficient to simply subscribe to implementing religious coping techniques arbitrarily and it may be more beneficial for a person to not be religious as opposed to being involved in a religion whose coping strategies cause negative impact such as that of Catholicism. The best option according to the results of the research on the subject is to be involved in an evangelical denomination which would provide positive impact through religious coping.

There is, however, a personal responsibility involved with personal coping. Regardless of the typical religious beliefs held by any set religious affiliation, the choice to use religious coping strategies may be either positive or negative based on the perspective of the person. If a religious person believes in God but decides to blame him or run from him in times of distress then the religious coping strategies will become negative and more burdensome because they will add additional stress and anxiety since they consciously put themselves at odds with God and as a result feel guilty of their rebellion while at the same time being unwilling to restructure their attitude. Otherwise, a person may allow the circumstance to strengthen the relationship with God and increase positive and cooperative communication with God which will in turn allow them to receive imbuement of strength, courage, hope, and value from God causing their levels of anxiety and stress to drastically decrease. Personally, I would advise pursuing God according to the only true source of Truth, particularly concerning matters pertaining to His character, that source being the Word of God, the Bible, Holy Scripture, and to learn of the Most High and Powerful God and to come into a true and meaningful relationship with Him for ultimately it will be who He is that brings us hope, comfort, peace, tranquility, strength, courage, purpose, value, and joy; not what we practice or do ritualistically, but what we know and experience intimately through relationship with God, this is what shall bring hope to an otherwise hopeless situation.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Iron Sharpens Iron: The Effect of Social Support on Positive Religious Coping Skills

           Solomon, a renowned man of wisdom, seemed to hit the nail on the head when he stated in Proverbs 27:17, “iron sharpens iron, as one man sharpens another” (English Standard Version).  According to research, religious social support or accountability may be a positive religious coping mechanism. Essentially, when one undergoes much stress, whether it has physical, mental, or emotional components, they cope with the stress in a variety of positive or negative ways. A religious coping mechanism consists of a person responding to a stressor in a religious fashion. Religious coping mechanisms are, but not limited to, prayer, fasting, biblical counseling, and religious social support. Further, much research has supported the claim that, when a person is faced with a medical stressor, the usage of positive religious coping mechanisms resulted in greater health outcomes (Cummings & Pargament, 2010).  
Similarly, research has also pointed out that social support is a mediator between religious coping and positive outcomes. Essentially, when a person leans on social support as a way to cope with personal stress, it seems to minimize the distress that person experiences. Other research has showed favorable results that religious communities are associated with a greater quality of life (Cummings & Pargament, 2010). Krause, Ellison, Shaw, Marcum & Boardman (2001) in their study  about the effect of social support and religious coping found that  people more often use positive coping mechanisms when they receiver social support from loved ones, friends, or family that share the same religious beliefs as them.  Thus, it should be noted the beauty behind these results. When religious social support encourages the usage of religious coping mechanisms, the church is essentially doing their job: working together to give glory to God while bringing each other closer to the throne of God.  Jesus exemplifies this point when he commands his disciples in John 12:34-35 (English Standard Version), “a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
 As Christians, we should desire to edify one another, lift one another up, and continuously encourage one another. It is to be noted that empirical research has shown time and time again that people who engage in religious social support will enjoy better health outcomes and will desire to use prayer, fasting, Bible-study and other positive religious coping mechanisms when stress is on the rise. Further, the effect of religious social support increases the body of Christ. Krause et al. (2011) noted in their study that social support increases church memberships. These results make perfect sense in relation to counseling techniques. It is a little blessing when empirical research points to Biblical principles and enhance one’s belief and knowledge of the presence and existence of God. During times of stress, counselors always encourage social interaction; furthermore, they discourage the stressed person to be alone or isolated from others.
 C.S. Lewis notes the importance and blessing in friendship and social support when he stated, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival” As a practical application, it is important for us as the body of Christ to be receptive to the needs of others, especially social needs. We should always be looking to lift one another up; as a result, I believe God will bless us with a person that will do the same for us when we fall into times of stress. “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (English Standard Version). 

Cummings, J. P. (2010). Medicine for the spirit: Religious coping in individuals with medical conditions. Religions, 1, 28-53.
Krause, N., Ellison, C. G., Shaw, B. A., Marcum, J. P., & Boardman, J. D. (2001). Church-based social support and religious coping. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 40(4), 637-656.
Wiley, J. (2011). Bible verses about friendship: 20 good scripture quotes. Retrieved from http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/bible-verses-about-friendship-20-good-scripture-quotes/

Friday, October 19, 2012

Prayer and Healing

Prayer and Healing: Is it Important to the Believer?         
          I know that we have all heard the cliche  "stuff happens" but how many times in our lives when stuff happens do we respond by praying and seeking God for an answer to our discomfort?   As Christians, sometimes I wonder how often our first response is to call someone else for an answer to what is going on in our lives rather than call on God in prayer.  I believe that prayer is an essential part of why some of us receive our healing.  Is.53:5 states, "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed".BibleGateway.com. Sometimes I believe that it is difficult for us to understand this concept; however, understanding this concept raises our level of faith and helps us in our discomfort.  Hebrews 11:1 states that "now faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen"; verse 6 also states that ....it is impossible to please God without faith BibleGateway.com So therefore, it takes faith to believe for healing when we are praying. 

        According to research, prayer has played a vital role in healing for various cultures throughout history.  The word "prayer"s derived from the Latin "precari", which means, "to entreat".  Prayer may also be defined as an intimate conversation with a higher being for the purpose of imploring or petitioning for something or someone Lorentz, (2004). Additionally, one of the first actual research investigations on the usefulness of prayer as a spiritual intervention for healing was conducted in 1951.  It was shown that cardiovascular disease and AIDS had positive results in prayer and healing Lorentz (2004). Different people have different beliefs about prayer and healing and how the two work together.  Dr Herbert Benson of the Harvard Medical School was one of the first medical researchers to study the health benefits of prayer and meditation.  Additionally, his research proved that a person's belief system, is responsible for producing healing Lorentz (2004).  Prayer has been proved to decrease heart and respiration rates. 
        I am a firm believer that prayer, faith, and healing work together.  I am reminded of a few years ago, I was in a tragic car accident, which took the lives of two people who I loved very much.  My friends and I was on our way to church and we were hit by a drunk driver.  The accident left two people dead and myself and the other two young girls fighting for our lives.  No matter what the doctors said to my family, prayers were being prayed for us.  People were praying that God would heal us and God did exactly what His word said that He would do. Although I was in a coma for seven days, God still healed my body.  I know there were people praying for me who I did not know; however I believe because of those prayers, God moved for me in a miraculously way.  I am a firm believer that prayer can and will have a positive effect on us when we pray and believe or when someone else is praying for us and believing.  Healing belongs to us and by the stripes of Jesus we are healed.  We must pray to God for what we want and pray in faith.  There is nothing to hard for God.  I believe whatever we need we can find it in God.  I believe God can heal us from the inside out, but we must believe that he can do it.  I also believe the more time we spent in the word of God the more we know and understand who God is and how praying to Him helps us understand the power of prayer and healing. 
Be Blessed,