Magical thinking is a trap into which many fall, particularly when difficult circumstances hit. When I was married to my first husband, a typical narcissistic abuser, I regularly fooled myself into thinking that eventually he would mature out of that stage and morph into a responsible, loving adult. As a result of this magical thinking, I dedicated much prayer towards this end and I closed myself off to what was real. In the process, I endangered both my children and myself.
And magical thinking is not merely applied to relational desires. I think money is an area in which I know I have a tendency to use magical thinking rather than taking responsibility. Weight loss and careers, really anything that comes under the heading of what we long for is fair game for magical thinking. Understanding, then the difference between this delusional thinking versus having a faith that will bring us to the realization of our dreams is crucial.
It is what it is and not something else.
One of the hallmarks of magical thinking is a lack of logic. To make a connection between a cause and effect without understanding the actual causation is to make a dangerous assumption. In my case, no evidence existed that could lead me to believe that my ex would morph into a responsible, caring husband and father. In fact, his mental health only steadily deteriorated. But I genuinely believed, at the time, that if I was a good enough girl and prayed hard enough, God would change him.
My faith was in my prayers and behavior, and also in some mystical moment in which he would see how terribly he treated us. This meant my faith was on shaky ground. In truth, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, according to psychologists, has never been cured. Note that I don’t say it is incurable, merely that no one has yet been cured. Of course, we all have some narcissistic tendencies but a personality disorder and a tendency are quite different. But then, my magical thinking prevented me from really examining the facts. It also kept me from hearing God tell me to leave.
Magical thinking denies personal responsibility; faith requires it.
I understand the lure of fantasy. Denial feels so much better in the short run. Weight loss is a touchy subject for most people. I have listened to many men and women give me reason after reason why they are overweight. I get it. I have my list of excuses as well. Fad diets and pills, even surgery, have their place in our economy because choosing to be healthy can be hard. And it is easier to imagine that one is fit and at a healthy weight than it is to get there.
And yet, magical thinking has never yet cured anyone of diabetes. Faith, on the other hand, is taking those food cravings and the emotional bondage so often attached to our eating habits to the Lord. It is allowing Him to change us from the inside out. Faith goes to a counselor and gets to the bottom of a food addiction or compulsion. Faith admits to an eating disorder. Faith takes out the scale and stands on it to figure out where one is really at. Faith seeks truth rather than avoids it.
Magical thinking is passive, but faith requires action.
Over the years, many people have told me that God has a great ministry planned for them. He has called them to some great evangelistic mission or to some outpost in a dark place somewhere in the third world. Decades later they still have not fulfilled that great destiny. I am not placing myself in a position of judgment. Sometimes God makes us wait, a long time even. But if we are passively waiting for a ministry to drop into our laps, we deceive ourselves.
Faith actively pursues destiny. Being faithful is showing up every day and asking what God has called you to do that day, knowing that obedience will reap a real harvest. We must ask ourselves every day what we are doing to move towards our dreams. Magical thinking leaps from point A to Z. Faith understands the whole alphabet.
Magical thinking lacks power, but faith is empowering.
Objects require outside force to move them. Magical thinking is objectifying in that we are caught in an endless cycle of waiting for others to act. Once all of the stars finally align, then what we have been longing for will come to pass. Playing the lottery requires some magical thinking. Once those numbers line up, we will be rich! It is just a matter of time! Once our mates get their act together, our boss quits being a jerk and our kids start acting right, then we will be able to have what we always wanted.
But faith is more practical. I remember reading Catherine Marshall’s account of her lengthy illness. The Lord told her if she wanted to get better, she needed to start moving around. She couldn’t stand for any length of time, so she sat at her table and cleaned it off. That was the beginning of her recovery. Sometimes Jesus may say to us get up and walk. Other times, He may say to us just do one little thing at a time. Either way, when we move in faith, we move in power. We are able because He enables us to do the things to which He calls us daily. Our actions come from a place of love, power, and a sound mind, rather than being reliant on whether others do what we want.
Lastly, magical thinking sometimes masquerades as faith.
I find this a difficult subject to write about, in part because I have fooled myself time and again. I believe in miracles. I have experienced them first hand. But magical thinking does not produce them. It is faith that brings about the kingdom of God. The key to discerning the difference is humility, I believe. Are we willing to be guided by the loving but firm hand of the Lord? My submission to Him always requires giving up some aspect of magical thinking.
I have witnessed many earnest Christians led astray by the idea that if they just believe, wildly, blindly, for what they want, God will give it to them. As a person who believes that prayer is mighty, I find the difference to be subtle yet telling. When I am focused on my desire, my thinking goes astray. When I am focused on God’s will at all costs, miracles follow. Take your magical thinking captive, lay your desires on the altar, and listen for His voice. Your faith will make you well.
I owe such a debt to the authors below. I am so grateful for their work.
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