Attached to God: A Practical Guide to Deeper Spiritual Experience by Krispin Mayfield

Attached to God: A Practical Guide to Deeper Spiritual Experience Cover ImageSummary: Attachment style has an impact on the way you approach and interact with God.

I primarily am approaching this book from my role as a Spiritual Director, but as with many books about spiritual practices, there is also personal relevance.

Krispin Mayfield is a counselor adapting his understanding of Attachment Theory from his counseling background to an understanding of spiritual formation. This adaptation of social sciences to bring insight into our understanding of spiritual formation is immensely helpful, even if not every instance of it is perfect. Some examples are Stages of Faith by James Fowler, Trauma in the Pews: The Impact on Faith and Spiritual Practices by Janyne McConnaughey, and Something’s Not Right: Decoding the Hidden Tactics of Abuse–and Freeing Yourself from Its Power by Wade Mullen.

Many within the Christian world are distrustful of the social sciences. And there is a long history of the misuse of social sciences. But Christians should have a commitment to All Truth is God’s Truth (a phrase coined by Augustine) and the idea of General Revelation while also understanding the role of discernment in discovering what truth is. The problem with many (but not all) critics of the use of social sciences in Christianity, and especially in understanding Christian formation, is that critics often do not have the background to understand what they oppose. That is where content area specialists like Mayfield can bring social sciences back to Christian practices more easily than theologians, pastors, or spritual directors can go out and learn the social science necessary to work out a similar idea.

The basic idea of Attachment Theory is not too difficult to communicate easily. Infants look to caregivers to understand the world around them. They form affectional bonds with those caregivers for needs like safety and protection. To maintain those bonds children learn responses to maintain those bonds. Mayfield clearly states that we should not draw too straight of a line between our attachment style and parents. Parents often do their best, but there can be reasons why different attachment styles develop other than bad parenting. But the theory also emphasizes why adoption, trauma, abuse, divorce, and other impacts on the parent/child relationship can significantly impact our lives.

One of the helpful threads on the fictional Starbridge series that I have been writing about is that almost all people have some issues with their relationship with their parents. And that often occurs even when parents try to do the best they can, and there is simple miscommunication or differences in temperament that create distance. Sometimes the very act of trying not to make the parents’ mistakes can create new problems in a different direction.

There are three basic Attachment patterns,

  1. Secure Attachment (which is the largest group of people),
  2. Anxious Attachment is where there is a continuous concern about whether the connection is a good one. A more passive variation is where a person tends to shutdown when an anxiety is expressed. Or the second type, the Anxious-Avoidant, is where there is an active avoidance of situations where they can feel like they will be rejected as a means to avoid anxiousness around attachment. This second type is most associated with children whose needs were unmet or where there was neglect as opposed to more traditional abuse in the first time of anxious attachment.
  3. Disorganized Attachment is where the attachment seems contradictory. This style was most associated with major loss and unresolved trauma.

Again, a person may move between the categories even if there is a more dominant mode. And there may not be explicit abuse or neglect in people who do not have a secure attachment style.

The book is particularly helpful in looking at our language and spiritual formation writing which seems to reflect less secure attachment styles. In discussing this, Mayfield says, “If you think about it, church history is full of spiritual heroes who focused on God above all else.” (kindle location 911)

Or in another place,

Many Christian practices create ecosystems for perfectionism to grow, because on the surface the effort appears to flow from a deep relationship with God. While this spiritual insecurity can feel like a constant knot in your stomach, it may often bring applause from a church community. You always show up to Bible study having completed all the homework and with the best insights. You volunteer for three ministries at your church. You regularly read books about growing closer to God. You appear to be devout—and you are. But this devotion is driven by an underlying feeling that without spiritual activities, the connection will evaporate. Without regular routines, you doubt that God will stick around. (kindle location 983)

Mayfield points out that Anxious attachment styles find it difficult to relax in God’s love and we are oriented toward what we need to do to maintain God’s attention on us.

Mayfield is not only descriptive, he has many exercises and ideas about how to seek healing for a more secure attachment with God.

There are reasons to change and grow and heal and transform, but getting closer to God is not one of them. If we try to change ourselves because we fear disconnection, it won’t lead to healing. If we conclude that we are the problem, then we think the solution is to get rid of ourselves, often through self-destructive ways. (Kindle Location 1626)

While I found the book helpful in thinking about spiritual direction, the main personal benefit is being reminded to relax in God because God in the person of Jesus was not disgusted with humans but intentionally came to be with them.

Based on the popular teaching that God can’t stand sin, we’d expect that God would be disgusted with humans, especially those least holy in society. Surprisingly, when Jesus comes to earth, he doesn’t start puking everywhere. He’s not disgusted. He delights in people, loves spending time and sitting at tables with those who would never have been welcomed into the temple. Jesus, the perfect picture of God, delights in us. This doesn’t mean God’s not upset about harmful systems in the world—Jesus culled corruption from the temple by overturning tables. But clearly he delights in people, including those marginalized by oppressive religious structures. (Kindle Location 1691)

Attached to God: A Practical Guide to Deeper Spiritual Experience by Krispin Mayfield Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook

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