Find comfort in overwhelming times.
This past Sunday, I turned on the live stream of the church I used to attend somewhere in one of the fly-over states. The pastor had started to preach, which meant I’d missed the singing. Fine by me.
God and I aren’t doing so well these days.
Well, let me rephrase that, since I’m sure God is just fine. It’s me who’s having the problem. A spiritual crisis, of sorts. A dark night of the soul.
Sunday’s sermon was supposed to instill hope. The pastor shared that heaven will exceed our wildest dreams and imaginings. All that’s nice, but frankly, I don’t care. I mean, of course it matters, but going to a fantastic afterlife is not one of my end goals. Getting to heaven doesn’t light my passion or fuel my faith. It’s just one of the nicer perks.
Does God Care?
What I want to know is, does God care? Not in the global sense of the word. Yes, I know he’s provided for my salvation through Christ’s death.
But does he care about me today? A middle-aged, divorced, and widowed woman who lives alone and has three grown children, one of them in remission from a deadly cancer.
Does he know I can go days without seeing another living soul outside of my working video calls? How small my world’s become? That I’m lonely, and that my future scares me?
After surviving childhood abuse and a traumatic marriage, it’s no surprise I have relationship issues. Big ones. Trusting others tops that list, and it includes anyone and everyone. Especially God.
“Find comfort in God,” I hear. Then, that well-meaning individual references a well-worn Bible verse, “Cast all your care upon Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7, Modern English Version).
It’s an incredible promise, no doubt about it. But there’s an inherent problem. It requires that I have enough ability to trust in an authority figure’s ability to show up and come through for me.
Struggling to Relate to God as My Father
Jesus often used the world his listeners knew to give a taste of what’s possible with God. He shared that “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field” (Matt 13:44, NIV).
Ok, I can understand that. If I were to discover an ancient treasure chest filled with gold doubloons hidden in the middle of some field, I, too, would do whatever it took to buy that piece of land. This story is relatable. I’m motivated by money and hooked by its premise. If Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is even better than this fortuitous discovery, then Wow! I’m sold!
But when Jesus uses the idea of parenting to teach us about God, I’m in trouble. Take, for example, this verse in Matthew, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear….Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (6:25, 26, NIV).
I struggle with that passage. The flowers and birds part makes sense. But the idea of God as my heavenly father? That’s the tricky part.
Our Attachment Styles Affect Our Relationship with God
Here’s the rub: each of us relates to others through one of four identified attachment styles: the Secure, the Anxious, the Avoidant, and the Disorganized (also called the Fearful-Avoidant). Based on our childhood experiences, we’ve learned one of these as a primary way of connecting with others. These styles of relating affect all our relationships, including our connection with God.
Those of us who’ve experienced “good enough” parenting, or what’s called a Secure attachment, understand what Jesus is describing in these verses. We’ve learned that others are “available, responsive, and helpful.” Trusting in God and believing that he cares isn’t much of a leap.
Those with an Anxious attachment style are also probably close to God since we use relationship proximity to manage our fears and stress. I suspect we would clutch at these verses, re-reading them over and over again for reassurance. For a few moments, we’d find God very comforting until we are overwhelmed one more time. Then we look to him again to reaffirm that he’s near, good-hearted, and invested.
The Avoidant among us are good with God being “over there.” Fiercely independent, we tend to go it alone. God is a great concept, but we don’t count on him to improve our day-to-day circumstances. Those of us with this attachment style wouldn’t fuss much over God’s faithfulness. We’d think to ourselves, “God is great as a concept, but we’ve got this.”
Disorganized Attachment Style’s Difficulty With Trust
Then, there are those of us with the Disorganized style of relating. I fit into this group. We are in trouble when it comes to trusting God.
Our early experiences were a mixed bag. Sometimes our loved ones showed up, and sometimes they didn’t. The ones we needed and turned to most were often the same people who hurt us. When things went wrong, they went very badly wrong. We ended up traumatized and fearful. We long for connection but distrust anyone’s ability to come through for us.
In her article, “The Forgotten Attachment Style: Disorganized Attachment,” Mariana Bockarova, Psy.D explains that, for the Disorganized, “forming intimate attachments to others can seem like an insurmountable task because any new intimate relationship formed takes a tremendous and continuous act of trust put forth onto his or her potential partner, from which consistency and reassurance are needed near-constantly.
Those of us with a disorganized style of attachment need God. Desperately so. Lacking persuasive earthly examples, however, we fear him. If flesh-and-blood people have failed us, then how can a spiritual entity do better? With our broken childhood and failed adult relationships, we can’t grasp what it means to have a loving heavenly Father.
In Desperate Need of God’s Help
So all of this puts me in a spiritual crisis of sorts. And it’s this: I’m in desperate need of God’s active intervention. A few more verses slapped on top aren’t going to fix this, which I’m sure stresses some of my Christian friends.
Is God up to the challenge? I’m sure he is. After all, he’s God — the Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent One.
Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, encourages me too. He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3, NIV). He isn’t referring to being humble or “low in spirit.” No, he’s describing an all-out-crisis. Such dire straits that we find ourselves spiritually bankrupt. In the article, Who are the Poor in Spirit?, Jim Miller defines spiritual poverty as, “spiritually emptied of self-confidence, self-importance and self-righteousness.”
That’s me — at the end of myself. On my own, I cannot fix my attachment style. I need a new relationship experience with someone reliable, patient, and understanding. In short, I need God.
So I’m waiting with great fear and trepidation for a more significant experience of God. I believe God knows and understands me, my attachment style, and my desires, and that gives me hope.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy is a clinical psychologist, mother of three grown sons, writer, and author of the devotionals: Jesus, The Ultimate Therapist: Bringing Hope and Healing, Jesus, The Ultimate Therapist: Healing Without Limits, and Pain as a Starting Point.
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