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Prayer Can Get You Through Hard Times


During hard times, sometimes the best way to get through it is to pray. Now a new study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison has looked at how prayer can provide comfort from emotional pain.

Prayer allows you to be angry without reprisal

A considerable amount of research has been done on the power of prayer. Recently a study from the University of Toronto reported that if you want to reduce your stress level and feel less upset, think about God. Researchers found that when people think about God, their brains respond in ways that allow them to react with less distress.

Other studies have indicated that religious people tend to be happier and more satisfied with their lives, and that turning away from religion is associated with a decline in health. And despite controversy, there is a federally recognized “National Day of Prayer” in the United States, a tradition that began in 1952.

In the new study, Shane Sharp, a graduate student in sociology, evaluated how prayer may help individuals who are experiencing emotional turmoil. He conducted in-depth interviews with dozens of people, most of whom had a Christian background, who were victims of violent relationships with intimate partners.

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Sharp learned that people who were extremely angry found “a readily available listening ear” when they prayed. Venting to God was much safer than venting to the abusive partner because “they could be angry at God while praying without fear of reprisal.”

Prayer also allows individuals to see themselves in a more positive way. Sharp noted that “during prayer, victims came to see themselves as they believed God saw them,” and this tended to be in a positive light. This “helped raised their senses of self-worth that counteracted their abusers’ hurtful words.”

Although the act of praying is not the same as a face-to-face interaction with another person, Sharp noted that for individuals who pray to God, “the important point is that they believe God is real, and that has consequences for them emotionally and for their behavior.”

But does prayer always lead to a positive outcome? No, according to Sharp, who learned that some victims learned to forgive their abusers through prayer. While this can be positive for people who leave the abusive relationship, it can be harmful for those who stay in it.

That’s why Sharp emphasizes that while some people say religion is either all bad or all good, “it’s way more complicated than that,” which is one reason he believes prayer “deserves more attention.” For the 75 percent of Americans who pray on a weekly basis, prayer may be helping them get through the hard times, and those are not in short supply.

University of Wisconsin-Madison