Learning Another Path that Connects to God
A Feature Review of
Attached to God: A Practical Guide to Deeper Spiritual Experience
Paperback: Zondervan, 2022
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Reviewed by David Libby
In Attached to God, author Krispin Mayfield invites readers into a new way of experiencing their relationship with God. As a therapist, Mayfield has spent significant time researching attachment science, which he calls “the study of how we get and keep connection with others.” Specifically, attachment science focuses on emotions– how people feel in their relationships. Mayfield argues that viewing our relationships with God through the lens of attachment science might help us to experience God in fresh ways.
Mayfield says that we all have an attachment style, and our attachment style explains how we approach relationships. There are three attachment styles, which Mayfield defines as anxious, shutdown, and shame-filled. Everyone falls somewhere on the spectrum of these three styles, and generally favors one style over the others. He begins his book by helping readers discover their attachment style. He then spends the bulk of the book describing how each attachment style can negatively impact our relationship with God, and points readers toward a better way of experiencing God.
The first attachment style that Mayfield describes is an anxious attachment style. Someone with an anxious attachment recognizes that any relationship can be broken by one party walking away. Therefore these folks are likely to work hard to make sure that their relationships remain close. When it comes to their relationship with God, those with anxious attachment may work themselves into exhaustion to make certain that God remains close. For example, an anxious attachment style may take the form of a prayer and devotional life of such intensity that it comes at the cost of one’s relationships with family and friends. Mayfield says that the basic need of someone with an anxious attachment is “to know God won’t abandon me, no matter what.” Often an anxious attachment style of faith will lead to burnout and exhaustion, as the person never finds a moment of peace from the work of keeping God close.
Unfortunately, the amount of work carried out by someone with an anxious attachment paradoxically makes the person feel less secure in their relationship with God. If they work themselves to exhaustion in order that God feels close, it reinforces in them the idea that the closeness will leave if they ever slow down their efforts. Anxious attachment can cause someone to pursue perfectionism, fearing that sinfulness will drive God away. Mayfield argues that regular Sabbath practices are needed for someone to rest and become secure in the truth that God is close– that God loves them as they are.
The second attachment style described is a shutdown attachment style. Shutdown attachment is based on the belief that a person of faith ought not to exhibit negative emotions; therefore, they try to eliminate these emotions from their life. Mayfield says that the desire of someone with a shutdown attachment is “to know God is present with me in all emotions – even sadness and worry.” A person with a shutdown attachment believes that there is no place for worry, fear, shame, or pain in one’s faith journey. “God is in control,” they might say, “so I have no reason to fear.” I hear this line of reasoning constantly from pastors and other Christians. A church sign in my city recently said “Worry or Worship: You Can’t Do Both.” A cursory Google search of “worry and worship” offers up hundreds of articles, books, blog posts, and YouTube videos offering the same thought: worship and worry cannot coexist. Truthfully, as a pastor, I have been known to make a very similar argument during some of my sermons.
People with a shutdown attachment will inherently focus much of their lives around the pursuit of head knowledge and right theology. This becomes a way of avoiding the negative emotions that they fear will push God away. For example, if a loved one dies, they might revert to Christian cliches to explain the situation (“God decided it was time to call him home”), rather than face the worry, pain, anger, devastation, and fear that they feel. This leaves the person feeling isolated and lonely. Mayfield offers an alternative to those who experience shutdown attachment in the form of different scripture reading practices like lectio divina, as well as the practice of lament. These practices allow a person to connect their emotions to their relationship with God in ways they may not have done before, and help them better engage with God.
The final attachment style that Mayfield describes is a shame-filled attachment. Those with shame-filled attachment will blame themselves for their imperfections, and believe themselves to be undeserving of love and affection. Mayfield says that their basic need is simple: to “know that God likes me.” However, what they constantly experience is self-criticism.
Growing up, much of my biblical knowledge came from Sunday school teachers and youth leaders who instilled in me the idea that I was inherently bad, therefore Jesus had to die. It makes perfect sense that young people would internalize that message as “I am undeserving of love from God.” The title of Mark Russell’s comedic paraphrase of the Bible, “God is Disappointed in You,” may as well describe the thoughts of someone with shame-filled attachment. Mayfield argues that the need of someone with shame-filled attachment is to experience belovedness, and offers some helpful exercises that can help move someone toward a sense of belovedness.
Mayfield ends most of his chapters with spiritual exercises meant to help the reader experience a new way of engaging with their faith. As someone with an anxious attachment style, I resonated with the breathing prayer exercise that Mayfield presents at the end of chapter 3. This practice is very similar to some meditations and body scan exercises that I practiced during my time in therapy. For me, these practices have been about presence, awareness, and paying attention to my body and thoughts without judgment. Until reading this book, however, I had not considered these exercises to be potential methods of prayer. Inviting God into this practice was, for me, a fresh way of experiencing God.
Attached to God offers readers a new way of experiencing their relationship with God. The exercises found within offer some simple and practical steps to help move the reader toward more depth and growth in their spiritual life, and readers will likely find one or two practices within that connect them with God in new ways. This book will help anybody who often finds difficulty believing that God loves them just as they are.
David Libby is a pastor at St. Johns Church in Portland, Oregon, where he lives with his wife and two kids. He also is the author of Scrappy Flock of Sheep: The Cost of Loving Your Neighbor (2021).