Let Us Pray
The Psychological Benefits of Prayer
After that night, I wanted to find out why prayer does such good things for me. I started with Catherine Munz, the rector of my church in Northampton, Massachusetts. "When I pray, I don't feel like I'm alone," Reverend Munz says. "I can imagine God is sitting in the car with me, listening to everything I say. Prayer connects you with your Creator."
That God-in-the-car sensation makes you feel less isolated, explains Shannon Craigo-Snell, an associate professor of religious studies at Yale University. "It's a comfort to know God is in the middle of this mess with you, working for your good." Writer Anne Lamott takes it further: For her, prayer is not only the companionship of God in the car but the relief of relinquishing control. "I told God I was taking my sticky fingers off the steering wheel," she writes in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. "God could be the driver and I'd be just another bozo on the bus."
Most of us backseat-drive, though, don't we? We tend to pepper our Higher Power with a lot of really specific directions and requests. Please God, land this plane safely and I swear I'll give up smoking this time. Please heal my dad's stomach cancer. Or, and this one goes out to all my jobless friends, Dear God, I need money.
These very specific requests may not always get you what you want, but they tend to make you feel better anyway. That's because they give you the framework for stating your needs, says Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman, director of Hiddur: The Center for Aging and Judaism at Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, in Wyncote, Pennsylvania. This thinking-out-loud quality leapfrogs you to a better place. "If you think about it, prayer connects you to hope," Rabbi Friedman says, "because it gives you an opportunity to articulate what it is you aspire to or hope for."
For women, prayer is a way to bypass male-dominated hierarchies and go straight to the source. When you pray, there's no priest, rabbi or imam required, points out Craigo-Snell: "You don?t need a man to help you do it." Another thing that?s attractive for women: Prayer acts as a calm counterweight to the multiple responsibilities -- jobs, housework, child rearing -- that can make you feel crazy. Praying offers tremendous focus and centering and is just the opposite of multitasking.
Still, why does prayer seem to help, even when your prayers go unanswered? Deep down, most of us know that our entire laundry list of requests can't always be granted. Planes don't always land safely, after all, and cancer does sometimes have its way. I like this answer from one commenter on Beliefnet.com: "Some prayers are just emotions trying to make peace with reality."