I was always taught there were two things you never discuss in polite company: religion and politics. But working in a hospital with as many sick and injured kids as I do, prayer is always going to be a part of the healing process for some families. It is an extremely personal, moving and powerful experience to see families with their heads bowed asking for relief or resolution during one of the most difficult and challenging moments in their lives.
That’s why we have chaplains at all of our hospitals. Prayer is an enormous comfort, and there are a lot of “Why?” questions that can come up when children get sick. Leaving those questions aside, there are some measureable, testable benefits of prayer.
A study published in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine tested whether people had less anxiety and depression one month and one year after prayer intervention (they define a prayer intervention as six, one-hour weekly sessions). At the end of the study, participants did have lower levels of both anxiety and depression.
Does this mean that every person was profoundly and personally affected by prayer? Not necessarily. Does it mean that some people may have found some meaning or deeper peace after prayer? Perhaps. In addition to possibly helping depression, prayer may also have some interesting affects on another important component of healing—pain relief.
In the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 20 religious and non-religious participants were given a minor shock. Those who prayed reported 34 percent less pain intensity and 38 percent less unpleasantness than their non-praying counterparts. Though these conclusions need more testing, the meditative aspect of prayer may have a calming effect, allowing people to endure what might otherwise be a difficult experience.
To play down the middle of the fairway, there are some studies that indicate benefits of prayer are dubious. Dealing with pain and loss is different for every family—and much of the personal benefits of prayer might be best explained in Sunday school or around the dinner table. For families dealing with tragedies in their lives, prayer may be the answer.
Have you ever had a prayer answered? What are some things you do to cope with difficult experiences in your life?