Day 18 – Attaching to God
When we encounter deep longing for connection and love, we need discernment … especially as it relates to the sexual temptation which can be present. We need to be able to understand the processes and patterns that shape us and direct our thoughts and behavior. In addition, our discernment needs to be grounded in an experiential relationship with God. In his book, Discernment, Henri J.M. Nouwen offered: “God has created you and me with a heart that only God’s love can satisfy. And every other love will be partial, will be real, but limited, will be painful. And if we are willing to let the pain prune us, to give us a deeper sense of our belovedness, then we can be as free as Jesus and walk on this world and proclaim God’s first love, wherever we go.”
In most of our communities of faith, we are familiar and comfortable with the idea that we are in a relationship with God. And we are likely not resistant to the idea that God loves us. However, we may have little to no experience actually encountering the love of God as more than an idea or theological truth. The love of God contains implications, in terms of truth and ideas, that are incredibly compelling and even helpful for framing things and developing an understanding of God and our lives. At the same time, the love of God is something to be experienced in such a way that we don’t just say “God’s loves me, this I know,” but “yesterday, God loved me as I sensed His presence during my time with a friend” or “God said that He loved me this morning in my time of listening prayer” or “I didn’t know what to say in a meeting yesterday. I paused and listened and heard a still small voice reminding me of something.” When we are experiencing God in an interactive way, His love becomes a part of our lives in more ways than simply a truth perspective.
When we are experiencing and listening to God throughout our day, we are being transformed by His love. The primary word in the Hebrew scriptures for love is the word hesed which speaks of loyalty and connection. In Psalm 103 and 117, we read a description of this hesed: “great is His steadfast love toward us.” The wordgreat is a word that means “powerful” and is often translated “prevail.” The idea is that His love is not just a powerful idea but has a real, shaping power in our lives. How exactly does this work?
We are shaped by our attachments. As we understand God’s love as an attachment kind of love, we can rightly assert that His love is powerful. In his book Renovated, Jim Wilder writes: “in the human brain, identity and character are formed by who we love. Attachments are powerful and long lasting. Ideas can be changed more easily. Salvation through a new, lasting attachment to God that changes our identities would be a very relational way to understand our salvation: we [are) both saved and transformed through attachment love from, to, and with God.” What is being highlighted, with the help of neuroscience, is that we are brought into a relationship and held in that relationship because God has attached Himself to us. Then, as we actually live in that relationship, we are being loved by God and becoming attached to Him.
This is why Paul was so concerned about sexual immorality. The relational processes that create bonding and attachment are enhanced significantly by the sexual experience. Chemicals that wash over our brain as a result of sex supercharge the bonding process. And that is a good thing – a gift from God. However, when that bonding process is mixed with false beliefs/false gods, it can wreak havoc. And, if the bonding process occurring in sex is ripped apart by casual sex or not in the context of a covenant relationship, it does damage to our attachment capacity. Trauma, addiction, and other kinds of relational hurt can affect our capacity as well.
In the coming days, we will explore more about finding healing and restoration where damage has occurred. For now, let’s stay with the reality of God’s attachment love toward us. In Psalm 63:1, 3, David wrote: “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” There is a connection between our longings and steadfast love (hesed) being better than life. Do you see an experiential connection to this in your life? Not, do you believe this? But, are you experiencing this? Sit with this reality and this question for a few moments. What do you notice? What is God bringing to your awareness? How is God shaping your understanding of His love? What practical implications are you noticing?
As you experience a longing for connection, it is important to discern several things. First, it is helpful to discern and distinguish when we experience this kind of longing that only God can fully meet … so that we can name it and not just respond mechanically. Second, what are the ways that you tend to respond to the longing for connection and attachment? What might it be like to develop a habit and pattern of bringing those longings into a prayerful awareness with God?
In this context, Henri Nouwen shared: “The real work of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me. To gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and to trust that I will hear the voice of blessing – that demands real effort.” Take a few moments and ask God to bring your longing for connection and attachment to your awareness. What questioning voices come to your awareness? Gently let them go and stay present to how God wants to connect with you. Notice His voice and presence with you.
Being established and renewed in the love of God does not happen overnight, but through consistent, patterned response to our longings for connection. Then, God becomes our all and the foundation from which we encounter all other relationships.
Question for reflection: how is God speaking to you? If you haven’t already, sit further with the questions above.
Prayer: Lord, I desire to know Your love – not just intellectually but in my bones. I desire for You to be the one to whom I am attached before all others. May all other relationships flow from the love I experience with you. Amen.