Do you consider yourself a person of faith? If so, you’re not alone.
- 8 out of 10 Americans identify with a religious group
- 1 out of 3 nonaffiliated individuals consider themselves ‘spiritual’
- 1 in 2 pray every day
- 38% attend religious services weekly
- 8 in 10 say religion is “fairly” to “very important” in their daily lives
- 9 in 10 believe in God
Faith plays a major role in people’s lives in a multitude of ways. If you are a “person of faith,” you have probably experienced how your faith influences your life. If you are not religious, you can tell from these stats that every single day you encounter people who are. Whether it’s for your own fulfillment or in service of helping you better understand others, knowing how faith plays a role in people’s lives can be critically important in your interactions with others.
Let’s look at just three ways faith affects people from a psychological perspective. These are:
- Gives meaning and purpose
- Provides emotional comfort
- Connects us with others and a ‘higher power’
Meaning and Purpose
One of the most important aspects of happiness is living a life of significance. While for some, meaning in life can be derived independent of faith, for many their faith informs their purpose and motivates them to live out this purpose. For example, the world’s major religions all teach the importance of loving and serving others, as well as giving to and doing our best for God. Believing in something bigger and more important than one’s own needs and wants can lead us to use our strengths, including our time, skills, and energy, for a good greater than ourselves.
In times of stress and crisis, people often turn to their religious or spiritual beliefs for solace and comfort. Prayer, meditation and reading religious scriptures (texts) can affirm, in those who are “believes,” that God is present in the midst of pain and cares for the individual during times of trial. Faith traditions typically help people maintain hope, be optimistic that they will overcome challenges, and practice patience and perseverance as they journey through life’s trials. Faith traditions teach that it is through these experiences that one develops spiritually and personally. Some may also derive comfort from their belief that “everything happens for a reason,” whether they know that reason now or have yet to discover it. Still others are confident that God can transform even the most difficult of our tragedies into something healing over time.
Most major faith traditions also teach the value of forgiveness, which, when the time is right, can be key in regaining emotional health after some real or perceived transgression.
Religious communities can be an extremely important source of social support, caring, and belonging. They can help us feel a kinship, bond, and a sense of unity with those who hold a similar worldview and set of values.
“You are not alone” – these simple, yet powerful words, can be the salve that helps to heal us when we feel the most wounded. We may not need others to “fix” our problems or give us solutions. We may need to know that someone, whether human or divine, genuinely cares about us, and is willing to stand with us.
Whether it is clergy or other members of one’s faith community, we can find someone who is willing to “bear our burdens,” be a listening ear, offer caring words and pray with us. Faith communities are often very well equipped to provide a network of practical support during times of crisis, whether that is help with transportation, food preparation, home visits or medical care.
So in the end (so to speak)…
It is important to acknowledge that faith may not be for everyone and that some choose not to be part of a formal religious organization, or believe in a ‘higher power’ or God. Overall, research indicates that those who do consider themselves ‘believers’ often find that their belief in a benevolent higher power can help them navigate through life with a sense of meaning and direction, provide comfort in times of challenge and a sense of belonging and support from others.
If exploring faith traditions are of interest to you and you want to ‘Get Faith”, consider talking to a Department chaplain. Our chaplains are from many different faith traditions. They are not here to proselytize nor ‘convert’ anyone – they are a resource to help you find what you might be looking for, and/or serve as resources during times of need. Each division has one or more chaplains you could speak with, or, if you’d like, contact the Department’s Chaplain Coordinator at 213-486-0190 for assistance.