I spent most of eighth grade begging God to persuade the boy of my teenage dreams to like me. And while I gave up that particular desire years ago, I do, still, pray. Mostly blessings for other people now, prayers of gratitude, the occasional plea or grouse. And yes, I've even been known to beg a time or two. Please God bring me: a prom date, that check I'm waiting for, the assignment I want. Please God, let my baby be well, don't let the cancer spread. But I also find myself asking for peace and compassion so I can make some sense out of this life experience. And, crazy or not, I feel lighter after I pray. I feel better.
The power of prayer has been argued, celebrated, disputed, debated, and studied for a centuries. Now there is intriguing research that indicates prayer does work, just not in the believe-and-you-shall-receive-the-winning-lotto-ticket kind of way (though I'm not sayin it will or won't it just wasn't covered in this study).
Two experiments led by Nathaniel Lambert, a Florida State University psychologist indicates that directed prayer might foster forgiveness.
In one study researchers had people pray a single prayer, for their romantic partner's well being, while another group simply described their partner. Scientists found that those who prayed for their partner had fewer vengeful thoughts and were more likely to forgive. Researchers defined forgiveness as "the diminishing of the initial negative feelings that arise when you've been wronged."
In the second study, researchers had people pray for a close friend every day, (rather than just one time), for four weeks. Other participants in the study simply thought positive thoughts about their friend, but did not pray for their friend's well-being. Psychologists also measured the level of concern study participants felt for others.
According to the study published in Psychological Science, researchers found that those who did pray, showed greater concern for others, which boosted forgiveness.
How does this work? Psychologists speculate that prayers shift us out of the singular self focus that emerges within us when we feel like we've been wronged. When we're upset, angry, resentful, we become the center of our own emotional universe more concerned with our own feelings that those of others. Prayer, the scientists say, might just shake us out of that self-absorption by shifting the attention back to others. This makes forgiveness easier.
Interesting to think about, for sure. And no matter where you line up on the power of prayer it's hard to argue the value of forgiveness. If we can release the negative energy that keeps us stuck and angry and vengeful, by forgiving those who have hurt us we're free to move in a more positive direction - one that fills us with energy and passion and health and well-being. I'm not saying this is easy - though sometimes it can be. But living without forgiveness is even harder. And now you have the power of prayer to help.