Sometimes we have a tendency to engage God not based on the reality of who God is, but rather through our own issues and struggles.
In my own life, I have a tendency to relate to God from a place of anxiety and guilt. Even if I’m in a pretty good place, I’m always on guard for when I might make a mistake or do something wrong. I often have this sense that God is angry or disappointed with me if I miss the mark.
When I think logically about it, I don’t think my view of God is correct. The reality is that God is a God of grace, who loves and accepts me no matter what I do. The reality is that God is a God of peace rather than anxiety, and that His burden is light. But I don’t see God clearly. I view God through the lens of my own issues and struggles.
I was talking with a friend the other day about how he viewed God. He viewed God as distant, as if he didn’t love or care about him. He felt as if God had checked out and abandoned him.
Similar to my situation, I don’t think my friend’s view of God is correct. The reality is that God says that he will never leave us or forsake us, and that he loves us like a good father loves his child. The reality is that God has been faithful throughout history, and promises to remain faithful in the future. But my friend didn’t see God clearly. He views God through the lens of his own issues and struggles.
Attachment is a fancy term in psychology that talks about how we form intimate bonds and connections with others. Our first attachment is generally to our parents or primary caregivers. We also create strong attachments to our romantic partners and to God.
There are three main styles of attachment. First, people who have a secure attachment are comfortable with closeness to others. They tend to have stable relationships, and are able to balance dependence and independence. Second, people who have an avoidant attachment are uncomfortable with closeness to others. They tend to be independent and steer clear of developing close relationships. Third, people who have an anxious attachment strongly desire closeness with others, but worry about the relationship. They come across as dependent and needy.
Research on attachment to God has found that most people tend to have a similar attachment style to God as to their primary caregivers. We engage with God using the same relationship template that we had with our parents or primary caregivers. We take our ‘style’ of relating, and apply that to God, irrespective of whether it is true or not.
In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes about this struggle to see God clearly. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).
What can we do to correct this? How can we drop our relationship baggage and not let it affect our relationship with God? I think there are three steps that can help us toward this goal.
Look for parallels. The first step is to look for parallels between how we view God and our experiences in other relationships. If there is a close fit between the two, there’s a good chance that we are using our relationship template and applying it to our relationship with God.
Work through our relationship issues. None of us grew up in perfect families. None of us had perfect parents. It’s important to work through the relationship issues we have developed growing up in our family of origin. Join a small group. See a counselor. Work through your relationship issues so that they do not determine your future patterns.
Get clear on who God is. One of the great things about the Bible is that it gives a long history of how God engaged with people over the course of history. The Gospels are especially helpful, because Jesus is our best representation of what God is like. Start reading the Gospels and get a clear sense of who Jesus was and what he was about.
Discussion: Do you see any parallels between how you view God and your own issues and struggles? What is one step you could take toward having a clearer picture of God?