Make an Appointment: 484-933-4370 |   [email protected]

  • Asking the Miracle Question

    The following is an excerpt from Unconditional: Learning to Love Your Authentic Self by Annalisa Smithson, LPC (currently in press; please email us if you are interested in being a beta-reader for this publication!)

    “What kind of answers do people normally give for the ‘miracle question’?” My client asked nervously.

    “If I told you that, I’d give away the magic!” I answered.

    She half-smiled at the journal lying open in her lap, but I could sense her worry.

    “Jo,” I told her gently, “there are no right or wrong answers. It’s your life. You get to imagine your own miracle. Your ideal.”

    She nodded, looking relieved for a moment, having won the latest battle with her inner perfectionist. She picked up her pen and started writing. Benji hopped off the couch and left her to her creative work. He would come back if he was needed.

    What, exactly, is the “miracle question”? So glad you asked.

    The miracle question is a simple but powerful therapy visualization technique co-created by Solution-Focused Brief Therapy founders, Steve de Shazer, Insoo Kim Berg, and their colleagues. There are many variations of the technique, suited to children, families, adults, and couples. This technique is important to do in the therapy room, with a trained counselor. Part of the power of this exercise is in the slow, meditative quality of the asking. It gives your creative brain time to construct a full answer in your imagination. The short version of the miracle question is this: “A miracle has happened in your life—what’s different now?” However, it is important to walk through the visualization step by step.

    The truth is, there are no “normal” answers to the miracle question. Responses swing wildly from resurrecting the dead to realizing world peace. Some people keep it simple, imagining a quiet cup of gourmet coffee just for themselves each morning, enjoying it before the family wakes up. It may not feel like a miracle for everyone, but for a stressed-out, overworked parent who leaps out of bed, shakes the kids awake, and runs ragged for the next eighteen hours, a bit of peace and quiet can feel magical. We all have the potential for magic in our lives, but few of us know how to tap into it. The miracle question helps us envision that magic at work. It’s the first step to creating our own miracle.

    In my miracle world, I greet the sun as it rises each morning, welcoming the warm potential of the day. Benji is asleep at my feet, of course. I send my happy, healthy family off to start their days, and I notice that I’m genuinely excited for my day of work. I’m a successful entrepreneur. My practice is staffed by well-paid, hardworking clinicians, who also feel fulfilled in their work. Books line the walls, creating that unique paper-and-glue scent we bibliophiles love to luxuriate in. The place is surrounded by trees and walking trails—the healing power of nature at our fingertips. There are happy, healthy (well-trained) dogs playing in the greenspace. It’s a place of healing for everyone who visits, clients and staff alike. It’s a most unusual therapy practice, and it works.

    Now I’ll give away the punchline. It’s not actually a miracle at all. Perhaps a windfall of start-up cash would feel like a miracle, but the brick-and-mortar is not actually the point. The feeling I get when I talk about my miracle—that’s the point. Understanding what I would experience from this “miracle” is the critical part of the exercise. When I imagine my miracle world, I feel inspired, confident, and motivated. I feel surprise and a little bit of self-doubt. I feel happy. And I feel hesitant to sit with those feelings. While the answers themselves never fit a “norm,” the outpouring of emotion is universal.

    Envision Your Ideal Life

    I’ve adapted the following exercise to help you visualize your ideal life. It won’t pack as much punch as it would if you were addressing a problem in therapy and processing “the miracle question” with a trained counselor. Even so, there is no harm in envisioning your ideal life.

    Step One

    Read the following paragraph slowly. Before jumping into answer mode, read it again. You may even want to copy it into your journal, so your brain is forced to slow down to the pace of your handwriting.

    “Imagine going home tonight knowing in my heart that there’s a solution to my problem. I climb into bed with a ‘tip of the tongue’ sensation. I fall asleep comfortably and while I’m sleeping, a miracle happens. I don’t wake up right away. The miracle takes care of itself while I get my rest. In the morning my body and mind awaken feeling refreshed. I sense that the miracle has happened. I notice something different. What is it I’m noticing?”

    Step Two

    Close your eyes and fully immerse yourself in your imagination for several minutes. Let yourself explore this miracle. Let yourself notice what is different.

    Step Three

    After exploring your imagination, open your eyes and continue writing in your journal. Answer each question in turn.

    1. What does the room or space look like?

    2. What can you hear?

    3. Are there any smells or tastes in this miracle world? What about these foods and scents is special?

    4. If people are speaking, can you identify the speakers? What are they saying?

    5. Best of all, how do you feel?

    As you construct the miracle world in your mind, you may notice your confidence and motivation growing. Your self-doubt may dwindle. Ideally, the positive feelings stick with you even after you open your eyes and finish writing. The miracle question helps us envision the solutions to our problems, yes, but it can do more than that. It can give us insight into our emotional landscape.

    “I’m waking up in a house that is mine, but it’s not where I live now, ya know?” Jo’s eyes are closed and there’s a crease in her forehead, like she’s concentrating hard. “It’s bright and sunny because I was able to sleep late. It looks… homey. One of those corny ‘Home is where I’m with you’ plaques is on the wall.”

    As she lapses into silence, I prompt her. “What else?”

    “I’m just surprised. There’s someone in bed with me. My husband.”

    “What can you hear?”

    “His breathing. And some sounds. Outside the door there’s talking. We have kids. I never wanted kids before. I’m almost forty now and I’m worried it’s too late—”

    She opens her eyes and brushes away tears. I wait for a few moments, giving her space. Then I invite her to come back to her miracle world. She describes the smell of clean laundry and the taste of breakfast foods. She talks about the family she has—her sisters and parents—and the family she wants—a husband and kids. When I ask her how she’s feeling, she hesitates.

    “I don’t always know how I’m feeling. Sometimes I think I don’t have feelings.”

    “I promise you have emotions,” I tell her. “It’s part of the human condition.” We both glance at Benji, who stares back at us with the sad intensity of a hound dog not being petted. He jumps back onto the couch and gives her an unsolicited lick, breaking all the therapy dog rules. “Maybe emotions aren’t exclusive to humans,” I concede.

    Jo takes a breath, revived by the short distraction Benji had offered her. “I’m feeling sad and worried and… maybe confused? Independence is really important to me and I never wanted a family. But now that I’m nearly forty years old, I’ve changed my mind. I was never the princess wedding girl. I don’t care about that. But NOW I want a husband and kids?” She seems incredulous of herself. “What if it’s too late?”

    “What if it’s not?” I counter with my usual directness. “What else did you feel?”

    Jo smiles despite herself. “Happy. Warm, I guess.” I hand her an emotions chart—a trusty stand-by in my office—and she continues. “Serene. Trusted. Valued. Loved.” Her tears had started again, but they were a different kind of tears now.

    The miracle question can be a powerful experience so it helps to have someone to process it with. But you can do it in the privacy of your own journal, too. Just be gentle with yourself.

    We often surprise ourselves by the image we construct in our miracle world. It’s surprising because, in life, it’s easy to get caught up in goals and activities that don’t lead us to our miracle. Even Benji gets distracted from his miracle world by things as small as squirrels. We find ourselves focusing on jobs that aren’t fulfilling, relationships that aren’t healthy, and projects that don’t feed our creative souls. It’s also surprising how often the answer to the miracle question isn’t a miracle at all. Even people who wish for impossible things like time travel or spaceships are really just yearning for a specific feeling or opportunity. Perhaps a chance to start fresh in their tired career. Or perhaps a feeling of wonder and adventure. By processing not just the answer to the miracle question, but also how it feels to envision the miracle, we can achieve deep, revealing insights into our needs.

    Today’s Act of Relentless Self-Love

    Ask yourself the miracle question. Slow down and write not only the prompts in your journal, but also your answer to the question. Take time to notice how you feel as you explore your answer.

    No one-word answers! Embrace your emotions as you write. Don’t shy away from negative emotions, but don’t neglect the positive ones either.

    Today’s Journaling Prompts

    ● What is my miracle?

    ● What would be different in my life after my miracle happens?

    ● How do I feel imagining my miracle?

    Thanks for checking out our blog! For more paw-some content like this, subscribe to our monthly newsletter and receive a FREE how-to guide for starting your self-care journey! You’ll be the first to know when the full version of Unconditional: Learning to Love Your Authentic Self becomes available!