This Is Your Brain on Faith

You may recall that I recently posted about how different experiences can “change our brain” and create more empathy (see The War For Kindness by Jamil Zaki — Book Review). 

Well, I have more good news for you!  In the brain health class I’ve been taking at the local senior center, I’ve learned that religious disciplines such as prayer and meditation also change our brains in a good way.  Such practices calm down the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that regulates the fight/flight response to fear.  During meditation the brain becomes more balanced and we experience calmness and peace.  Over a period of time as short as eight weeks, the brain actually changes and depression and anxiety can be decreased.  (Of course, as Christians we know that we do not meditate on nothing, but on something, and even more important on someone!)  There is a relatively new branch of science called neurotheology which studies the effect of faith on the brain.  This quote from Why God Won’t Go Away:  Brain Science and the Biology of Belief describes some of the findings:

“The sensation that…. the Franciscans attribute to the palpable presence of God is not a delusion or a manifestation of wishful thinking but rather a chain of neurological events that can be objectively observed, recorded, and actually photographed. The inescapable conclusion is that God is hard-wired into the human brain.”

In addition, humans are a gregarious species, and isolation and loneliness contribute to dementia.  People who regularly attend worship services, and belong to a community of faith live longer, and have a reduced risk for developing dementia.  They are encouraged to forgive, and forgiveness actually rids your body of toxins!  They have a purpose in life, which contributes to staying active, excited and animated while aging.

My question is this:  why are people flocking to the gym, and not to church?  It looks as if the evidence points to this as a simple way to increase your health and quality of life.

My assignment for my next class is to write a personal mission statement.  If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know I already have one.  You can read it by going to this post:

What’s My Mission?

My mission statement has helped me immensely in making important decisions about what I want to do next in my life, how I want to behave toward others and prioritizing.  I also recommend that everyone try to articulate their personal vision.




What’s My Mission?

In a recent post, Beth Ann wrote about learning to know yourself.  Nothing has helped me more in that quest than developing a personal mission statement.  Why?  Well, a mission statement helps you differentiate between the things God has chosen for you to do, and those that may be fine to do, but not necessary and those that you really shouldn’t bother about.  I find that in this busy world most of us are overwhelmed with opportunities.  How do we choose?  What is our focus?  A personal mission statement helps with that.

So, we come to the YBH question (yes, but how?).  Here are some tips for writing your statement:

  1. Think, pray and journal about it.  Read over the Bible verses that are most meaningful to you.  Write down your most fulfilling life experiences.  What are the things you enjoy doing?  When have you felt God’s pleasure?
  2. Ask a few close friends to give you a list of your best qualities and talents.
  3. Read a book or do a Bible study on the topic of spiritual gifts. (I think I’ve recommended some in a previous post). Understand what your particular gifts and talents are.
  4. Your statement should be fairly short, and to the point.  It should give you direction but not be too detailed.  For example:  “to become a better Christian” is too vague;  “to write Sunday School materials for preschoolers” is too focused.

Here’s my personal mission statement:

“To keep in mind that I am a pilgrim on a journey to draw closer to God’;  to recognize and respect this pilgrim quality in others and use my God given talents, insights, and resources to encourage them;  to enjoy the life, friends, family and work with which I have been blessed and to be a peaceful and harmonious influence in all of these places.”

My statement focuses on my primary spiritual gift (encouragement) but allows latitude in how I might use it at any given time;  as many friends affirmed my tendency to bring peace to stressful situations, I included that quality.  I wanted to remind myself of my blessings and remember to “bloom where God planted me.”

I would love for other authors and readers to share their personal mission statements, or let me know if I can help you to develop one.  God loves you and so do I!