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Do You Believe in Miracles?
Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.: Tue, Feb 26th 2013
No, I'm not talking about the U.S. victory over the Soviet Union in the hockey semi-finals of the 1980 Olympics (although that truly was an awesome moment). Instead, I'm talking about those moments that take our breath away and solidify our faith because they're too incredible to be passed off as coincidence.
The validity of miracles has been a controversy between faith and science since the beginning of time. There's not as much debate, however, about their impact on our wellbeing. That's because this hasn't really been studied until now.
In a recent issue of Sociology of Religion, Nicolette Manglos reported her results of a study about what she calls "faith pinnacle moments." According to Manglos, faith pinnacle moments share three qualities:
- They renew the person's bond with his or her higher power
- They occur in response to severe stress
- They support the person's wellbeing
She focused her study on young adults who identified themselves as religious but unaffiliated. Her findings intrigued me. For instance, she found that young adults who reported severe stress from some kind of personal trauma reported more miracles than those who did not experience such trauma. Most of these miracles appeared in the form of healings and similar events.
On the other hand, young adults who experienced severe stress from some kind of relationship breakup reported fewer miracles than those who did not suffer a breakup. For all of the participants, miracles were associated with increased life satisfaction and protection against the negative effects of stress.
What accounts for the difference in the frequency of miracles? Assuming that miracles occur (I believe in them, but I am not asking you to agree with me), I don't think that fewer miracles occur when it comes to relationships than when it comes to personal trauma. I think it has more to do with the individual's perception of the situation.
Personal traumas are - well, personal. They only involve the individual and anything that changes in that person's universe can be interpreted as a miracle (a new medication, the sun deciding to shine that day, a new book that appears to have all the right answers). On the other hand, relationship breakups are - well, relational. They involve another person, and any change in the situation depends on that other person either proactively changing or altering his or her response to a change in you. Fewer events in the universe can be seen as miracles in these dire situations.
When I think about my own life, I can pinpoint a handful of miracles, but they weren't apparent to me right away. The miracles emerged over time. For instance, when I made a difficult decision several years ago, I didn't know what was going to happen to me. It was only later that I realized what a miracle it was that I had been guided to make that decision, because so many wonderful things followed.
However you choose to interpret the amazing events in your life, I hope that your interpretations enrich your wellbeing and fill up the wellspring of your faith, as mine do. In essence, miracles help us cultivate gratitude, which is always a good thing.
Manglos, N. D. (2012). Faith pinnacle moments: Stress, miraculous experiences, and life satisfaction in young adulthood. Sociology of Religion, Online Advance Access, doi: 10.1093/socrel/srs071