Created To Attach

by Ricky Chelette, Executive Director

We live in the most connected era in human history. Almost nothing happens in our world that we don’t immediately know about it. We are all connected. With the click of a button, we can talk with friends across the room or around the world.

Social media has allowed us to have hundreds, thousands, even millions of “friends” online. With so many people connected, you would think we would be the happiest people ever. But that is not the case. 

Loneliness, suicide, self-harm, and isolation have increased exponentially. Each of us longs for a deep connection that we lack with the most important people in our lives. 

We are lonely people.

Just look at this recent study about loneliness in the world. 

In the past few decades, psychologists have been intrigued by what they classify as “attachment theory.” Bonnie Poon Zahl, a psychologist, puts it this way:

Attachment theory explains how people learn to experience and respond to separation and distress in the context of core, close relationships from very early on in their lives. Interestingly, the effect of attachment on human relationships also seems to include our relationships with God.

Our attachment styles can influence how we experience, remember, and interpret important relational events in our lives. We often do so in a manner consistent with the attachment style we developed during childhood.

Overall, attachment relationships are hotbeds for some of the most powerful human emotions. As Bowlby puts it, “Many of the most intense emotions arise during the formation, the maintenance, the disruption, and the renewal of attachment relationships.” Separation seems to elicit feelings of loss, sadness, grief, and sometimes anger, while reunion seems to elicit joy and closeness for some but more mixed emotions for others.

 I am struck by the profound parallels between the subject matter of attachment theory—the sequence of separation, distress, and reunion that all human beings repeatedly experience—and the Christian narrative of alienation from God because of sin, the suffering that alienation causes, and the reunion with God through his grace.

The Psalmist describes God as “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps 46:1), and St. Paul writes of how “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm 8:38).

The way that we experience God and what we find him to be like hangs in part on a scaffolding of relational knowledge that was given to us.¹

We see from the book of Genesis that we are not meant to be alone (Gen. 2:18). Most people will get married or at least have a partner in their lifetime. Marriage is the most common relational reality for humans. In marriage, there is a sharing of life, love, and attachment. 

The first marriage we see in scripture is Adam and Eve. Though we don’t have much detail about the daily lives of Adam, Eve, and God in Eden, Gen. 3 indicates that they were in the Garden with God and freely interacted with God. God provided all that they needed, and they wanted for nothing. In psychological terms, they had a secure attachment to God.

God Himself exists in a community as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In much the same way, we, as image-bearers, are designed to be deeply attached and connected in community for human thriving. Our community greatly influences our lives and shapes our understanding of self and the world.

Jim Wilder, a neuropsychologist and theologian, says that true character is only formed when we are in a community, as the community shapes a person’s character. The people you hang with truly impact the kind of person you are. Choose your friends carefully. 

In Genesis 3, we also read about the fall of man. The fall not only causes man to die but changes the attachment relationships between both man and woman, as well as humanity and God. The man and woman are no longer in sync with each other as they were before the fall (suddenly, they knew they were naked). As a result of the fall, Adam and Eve and all humans who would follow them would forever experience a curse, which would cause enmity between the man and the woman. Attachments would always be different. The couple are cast out of the Garden, and God is no longer physically present with them, walking with them in the Garden. Additionally, no longer will the earth freely give up its fruits for the good of man. 

Why is attachment important? 

Why am I bringing all this up, and why is it important to those of us who struggle with sexual and relational issues in our lives? Well, because I believe at the core of our acting out, our desire for same-sex relationships, even our longing to be sexually, romantically, and emotionally connected to another person, most often originates from the way we attached to the most significant individuals in our lives. 

When those attachments don’t happen early in our lives, establishing a deep sense of who we are and how we are, we spend the rest of our lives looking through a lens forged in the confusion and often pain of our childhood.

An article in Psychology Today put it this way, 

“When adequate attachment between child and caregiver is lacking, the child grows up with an impaired ability to trust that the world is a safe place and that others will take good care of him or her. Childhood abandonment, unpredictable parental behavior, unrealistic parent expectations, and physical, verbal or emotional abuse teach children that their environment is not a safe place and that the people they encounter cannot be trusted.”

Many of us had sexual abuse in our lives. That sexual abuse and the keeping of secrets required of us communicated that not only were we the property of another, but no one was really able to protect us. You had no voice. And those who were supposed to be trusted could not be trusted. YOU WERE NOT SAFE. You may believe attachments are dangerous, and understandably so.

As a result, you have a hard time trusting anyone. You long for a relationship but are sure that if one is forged, you will either be abandoned at some point or it will require some physical exchange of yourself, a price you are unwilling to pay.  

Attachment Avoidance

Attachment avoidance also ranges from low to high, with people high on attachment avoidance exhibiting a distrust of others, a discomfort in being intimate and emotionally close to others, excessive self-reliance, and a tendency to suppress their worries and emotions.²

If you were a child who feared being left alone and your parent(s) didn’t comfort you and assure you of their return or presence, you may have become anxious about the dependability of others to care for you. As a result, you may have become very self-reliant and narcissistic or a person who overly cares for the needs of others without regard for yourself, your time, and your personal well-being. 

Attachment Anxiety

Attachment anxiety ranges from low to high, with people high on attachment anxiety exhibiting a high need for approval, an intense desire to be physically and emotionally close to others (especially romantic partners), and difficulties containing their distress and emotions in relationships.3

Understanding our attachment template can help us better understand how we relate to and connect with people and even some of the roots of our struggles. 

But we need more than information alone to solve our attachment problems. We can’t go back and be an infant or toddler. We can’t continue to blame parents or significant caregivers for every trouble in our lives, and we can’t always form the best attachments with the most important people in our lives, as they may be dead or incapable of providing the love, care, and healthy attachments we need. So, what’s the solution? 

God understands our need for attachment.

I find it fascinating that from the Old Testament to the New Testament, we see evidence of God recognizing our need for attachment and, being the God He is, providing for that attachment through a relationship with Him. 

God makes a covenant with Noah (Gen. 6:18) and, after the destruction of the flood, reassures Noah of His care and love for Noah and his family (Gen. 8:21-22; 9:8-11). 

God also makes covenants with Abraham in Genesis 17 and with Moses regarding the children of Israel in Exodus 6:11ff. 

In the New Testament, God shows His attachment to us by becoming one of us and entering our world as a baby. 

“The Incarnation shows us that God himself took on, fully, the very same kind of body and, along with it, the same kind of mind and the same kind of relationships with family and friends that give rise to human attachment patterns. There is something awesome and wonderful in how God entered the world as a baby, a baby who no doubt formed attachment relationships with his parents and grew to have strong friendships with his disciples. There is something terribly human in the fact that, on that Cross, he was abandoned by his closest friends and completely separated from his own Father. It means that Jesus Christ knows—not by doctrine, but by experience—the joy, love, fear, pain, anger, and sorrow accompanying our attachment relationships. It means that when we feel abandoned by God, God himself understands.”4

The Gospel brings personal experience to God’s attachment to us as He took on our sins and gave Himself for us. 1 John 4:10 states, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

Or in passages like these: 

1 Jn. 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

1 Pet. 2:10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Gal. 3:26-29 says, in Christ Jesus, you are all sons of God through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Gal. 4:7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

We are created for attachment.

We are created for attachment—first with God, then with family, and then with community. We can’t always control the attachments we experience as children or the traumas we experience later in life from others who have sinned against us. Still, we can do something about our attachment to the Father. But the devil is determined to keep us unattached.

It is an old play, straight out of the Garden. Satan convinced Eve that the tree could provide what she needed rather than an attachment to God. She ate and shared it with her husband, who was with her, and the rest is history. 

The same scheme is at work today. When tempted to sin, we desire to attach ourselves to something temporal that we believe could better meet our needs than the Creator and our Father, who promises to give good gifts to His children (Matt. 7:11). Don’t fall for the lie. Don’t forfeit the attachment Christ has provided you through His redeeming work on the cross. Remember the Psalmist’s wisdom in Ps. 16:11, “in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Let’s stay attached to the Father. He will not disappoint!




3 Ibid.

4, Making and Breaking of Affectional Bonds, 1979.