Faith Exposed by Science

I was three years old and my thumb was crushed and stuck in the gears of a chamois wringer at a gas station. I was screaming, and blood was everywhere. The only way to get it out was to ring it backwards as I screamed and eventually passed out. The news was grim. Within a short time, gangrene had set in, and at least my thumb (and perhaps part of my hand which would have included other fingers) would have to be removed. Except for faith.

Vision + Determination + Anticipation = FAITH!

Recently, there was something I wanted to have faith for so desperately because it was something that I longed for in my life. Have you ever felt that way before? I’m sure you have. It may seem impossible … except for faith. The dilemma is: do we have enough faith to pursue it?

So what is faith? The dictionary defines faith as the acceptance of something often without prior actual or logical verification. 

I have heard it said that vision + determination + anticipation = faith. That’s the definition that has always seemed to make the most sense for me. It lines up with my experience of faith.

Many people only equate faith with the Bible. Certainly, the Bible is loaded with statements and stories about faith. Faith has been explored and researched for many years by science as well. As early as research conducted in the 1800s. I’d like to look at faith from research perspectives. How research indicates faith affects our health and well-being, as well as what happens in our brains when we exercise faith.

Let’s start with our brains on faith (as opposed to brains on drugs!) Studies conducted at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital have done incredible work helping us understand what occurs in the brain when we exercise faith. To accomplish this, they have used SPECT imaging and functional MRIs to show what areas of the brain are activated or deactivated when we are practicing or experiencing faith.

The studies revealed that during faith, the frontal lobe of the brain (which is our attention center), the language center of our brain, and emotional reaction region are the most activated centers. In addition, those regions associated with stress and distress are deactivated.

They found that those who spent more time in those regions of the brain activated and deactivated during faith moments had improvement in brain function, memory, and other types of brain dysfunction (such as thought disorders). Clearly, there is great benefit to practicing faith (the belief in things that have not yet occurred).

Let’s take a look at further research that indicates what occurs in those who practice faith. Approximately 80% of the scientific research done around faith has to do with mental health. The result revealed these benefits of those who practice faith are listed below. These are increased or decreased directly into the amount of time spent in faith:

  • Reduces stress
  • Improvement in coping with adversity
  • More positive attitudes and emotions such as more compassion
  • More forgiving
  • Increased grateful
  • Greater degree of happiness and hope
  • More optimism
  • Greater sense of meaning and purpose
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Balanced sense of control of anger and negative reactions
  • Higher likelihood of volunteering or serving others
  • More fulfilled relationships
  • Stronger character traits
  • Decreased depression
  • Less suicidal ideation
  • Significant decreases in anxiety
  • Decreases in bipolar disorder
  • Easier to get along with
  • Less outbursts
  • Decreased substance-abuse
  • Fewer encounters with the law
  • Decrease in nicotine habits
  • More likely to exercise
  • More likely to have a healthy diet

There were also improvements shown in regard to health. Benefits of practicing or experiences faith on health issues included:

  • Increased coronary (heart) health
  • Decrease in hypertension
  • Decrease in cerebrovascular disorder (less stroke potential)
  • Decrease in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
  • Increase in immune function
  • Increased endocrine function
  • Decrease in cancer occurrence
  • Increase in overall health
  • Decrease in pain and somatic issues
  • A 37% increase in quality and length of life 

This is not an exhaustive list. It is a summary of research done over the past 25 years. Although I already had faith instilled in me at three years old, just the scientific results alone would inspire me to practice faith.

Yes, at three years old, faith became a very real concept in my life. After the ringer incident with my thumb, with the doctor planning to amputate my thumb and perhaps part of my hand …  my Mother called her Mother, my Mamaw. I loved my Mamaw, and when I returned to my quiet little Methodist church after visiting her two summers later, my Sunday school teacher asked me what my grandmother did in her church when I was telling about my summer. My response was one of pure innocence, and the only way I knew to describe her passionate belief in faith: “I don’t really know but I think she’s the head cheerleader.“ That was an accurate description of my Mamaw.

You see, she made an all night trip to get to me when my Mother had called and told her the fateful news about my hand. She had told my Mother, don’t let them do that until I get there to pray for that little hand with great faith.

She arrived in the early morning hours, and took my little hand in her hands. All I remember her saying was, “I have faith that this little hand will remain and will do great things, holding many hearts in her hands as she heals them!” (Little did I know …)

The only thing I remember is that my hand had felt cold and numb for three days, and when she prayed it felt warm. But of course, I knew the warmth of the love, care, and cuddling of my Mamaw. So it was not surprising to me that my hand became warm.

Shortly after that, we went to the hospital, and the doctor was whispering about what might happen, and had my mother sign all of the paperwork. I saw the tears fall down on the paperwork my mother was signing. My Mamaw remained silent with my hand in hers.

Finally they took me to the back and allowed my Mother and my Mamaw to come while they prepped me. I knew that when they removed the bandage it would hurt terribly, but I was trying my best to be strong because I had already seen my Mother’s tears. I looked away because I didn’t want to see what I saw a couple of days earlier, which was flesh, bone and blood dangling from my hand. As they unwrapped it, my mother held my other hand as my Mamaw stroked my hair. And then I heard a couple of gasps, and then my Mother burst into tears. I knew it must be very bad.

The doctor said the infection was gone. My little thumb that they had reattached was healing nicely. I will never forget what my grandmother said when the doctor said, “I just have no idea what happened here.“ She said one word, “FAITH!“ At that moment, faith was sealed in my heart forever.

So when I realized recently there was something that I so desperately wanted in my life, it wasn’t difficult AT ALL to hear my Mamaw say “FAITH!” in my mind and heart. My heart’s desire was something that looked impossible. And yet I remembered the definition of faith I so love. Vision + determination + anticipation = FAITH. I got a vision of what I so desperately desired as if it had already happened. I became determined… and as many of you know, determination is a key component in my life. (If you’ve not read my blog on determination you can read it by clicking here). Then I developed a sense of anticipation. That it would happen without effort on my part. That it would happen soon. That it would occur in an unusual way. To me, that is what faith is about (not scheming on how to make it happen, but somehow expecting it to occur).

Then I received an unexpected message that opened the door of opportunity. An opportunity that is quite different than I expected, but 100 times richer and more meaningful than I ever dreamed! Why? How? FAITH!

Whether you are at an all time high of practicing faith, or whether you barely have enough faith that you will make it through another day… It’s not too late to join in those singing the my favorite Christmas Carol, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!“ 

You may be thinking, “But Dr. Neecie, you don’t know where I am, and you don’t know my situation”. You are indeed correct, but I know that practicing faith will dramatically improve your situation. Here’s the how:

1. Get a vision. When we focus on what’s wrong or the unfortunate situation, we spiral downward. But if you can catch a vision of what it might look like if faith actually was real… Faith begins to function in your brain. I encourage people to create a vivid vision, and support the vision with pictures, a vision board, or something that reminds you regularly.

2. Become determined. Determined that you will not stay where are you are. Determined that better days are ahead. And determined that you will find those better days somehow.

3. Start anticipating. How do you do that? Get up every morning and say to yourself, “today could be the day!“ And when you go to bed at night (if that wasn’t the day), instead of saying: “Well today was awful”… say, “Well tomorrow could be the day!“

All of that equals faith! Faith is sometimes challenging for me, but because of my three-year-old experience, I can easily move myself back into a realm of faith. One of my favorite references to faith in the Bible is about how faith can move mountains. That’s why my business cards say: “Specializing in moving mountains!” Because of faith, I’m a mountain mover! And you can be one too. It only takes a little faith!

Get started today! Get a vision, get determined, and start anticipating.

I believe that in a short time, you can be singing with me, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” (No matter what time of year you read this!)