Now I wish I had read Becoming Attached when it was first published in 1998. Robert Karen, PhD has provided a very readable history and research findings about (the subtitle) First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love. I could not resist carrying these empirical findings into the spiritual realm to gain deeper insights into the truth of the Bible. Specifically, I think our early attachment experience shapes the way we attach to God. So I have played with the patterns of Securely Attached and Anxiously Attached children (a la Mary Ainsworth, 1913-1999) to see how they might describe the Christian notion of “Abiding in Christ” as written in John 15. There are several patterns that are amazingly parallel! For example, in a “Strange Situation” in which mother is away, the securely attached baby actively seeks mother when distressed, maintains contact with her when she comes back, and is readily comforted. The anxiously attached baby in the same situation avoids mother when distressed and seems blasé. Furthermore, this child is difficult to soothe after separation. The child is angry and seeks comfort simultaneously. Isn’t this a picture of how we abide in Christ? If we are secure in our faith and in our relationship with God, then when we don’t experience his presence with us, we actively seek Him and, when we connect with Him, we are readily comforted. But if we are anxious and insecure about our abiding relationship with God, we avoid Him in the midst of stress and we are hard to comfort, even angry at God for “letting us down.”
The appendix on page 444 of the book summarizes nine such patterns that I think describe our personal relationship dynamics with God very accurately. It supports my belief that the way we experience parents as infants and toddlers greatly influences the way we view God as adults. Fortunately, nothing is totally determined and any early programming can be reprogrammed to allow for more personal growth.