Faith Attachment Theory

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Sunday, February 10, 2018
Scripture: I John 4:19 & Luke 5:1-11 (NIV)
Rev. Jessica Hauser Brydon

Jesus Calls His First Disciples

5 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret,[a] the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Attachment. What is it? What are some things that come to mind? Maybe you think of items that get attached to something. Like how we attach our church nametags to our shirts (which I confess I never seem to be able to remember to do this). Maybe we think of attachment like an attachment to emails. Or maybe attachment like the burrs or lint that mysteriously attach to our clothes, shoes, or coats especially when we least want them to.

The attachment I want to talk about today is the attachment living things make to one another.  When we see it in animals sometimes we call it imprinting. Many of us have seen in childhood science videos or reels of the famous images of baby ducklings following their mothers and remember the observations scientists made that when ducklings were exposed to other living things before their mothers (like humans or dogs) the duckling would imprint on them. This week I found a pretty cute example to share with you if you haven’t seen this phenomenon before [VIDEO]. Super cute, right?

Attachment is similar to imprinting. Attachment in humans is the process in how we learn to be human and learn how to interact with others and with the world. Child psychologists explain that attachment “refers to the interpersonal bond between a child and his or her parent or caretaker” (Purvis 28). This kind of attachment is an essential component to having a healthy and thriving life. It seems like a no-brainer, right? We should be lovingly connected and attached to other humans in our world. But as many of us both learn and see in life, seemingly simple things don’t always turn out to be so simple.

Before we talk more about attachment and our scripture passage today, I want to share with you an example of our own HB adventures in attachment. [Picture of Laila] Here is a picture of our dog Laila. Laila will be 12 years old next month and she has been a part of our lives for 11 years. So doing that quick math, she spent the first year of her life in the care of other people. We don’t know a lot about that time other than she spent 5 months in one home and the next 6-ish months on a farm with a great couple who fostered upwards of 8 dogs at a time. We first saw a picture of Laila on Petfinder, and agreed to have this couple bring Laila to our house and see if we would be a good fit.

We had about a two-hour introduction to the foster folks and Laila, and we must have passed the sniff test, because the couple turned to Troy and me and said, well this seems great, we are going to head out. We didn’t even have a leash, a food bowl, dog food – nothing! But we were the owners of a sweet 11-month-old mutt that we named Laila.

The happy news to share is that we have enjoyed having Laila as a part of our family the past 11 years. She has been a great dog. We are her people and she is really attached to us in many ways. But even to this day, we see signs of how not having those early months with her has impacted how she interacts with us and her world. She is a nervous dog, never aggressive, but she does not welcome new folks easily into her world. Her favorite places to hide are the bathroom or under our bed. When Troy moved from Georgia up to Michigan 3 months before we did in 2013, Laila became very sick. I took her to the vet several times but they couldn’t figure out what was wrong. When Troy came to visit for spring break, her symptoms magically disappeared. We figured it out. She was anxious and depressed. The vet didn’t think so, but we knew. Although very attached to our family, part of our dog’s story will always include some anxiety of those times when she didn’t have secure connections.

The past few Sundays Pastor Troy has been walking you through the Gospel of Luke, sharing with you the stories of Jesus’s early ministry and he has also been exploring with you how we as individuals and as a community form and shape our identity as People of God and Followers of Christ. This week, our reading and our continued focus on identity formation links well with what we know about the importance of secure attachment to fellow humans but even more importantly secure attachment to the God who loves us.

Our Luke passage today is known as the passage where Jesus calls his disciples to come follow him in ministry. Many sermons have been crafted from this passage about being called and what is our call in life. Today I’d like to take a closer look at what is going on with Jesus and his disciples in this passage in the sense of identity formation and attachment.

When Jesus called the disciples what did he do? He came to where they were and spent time with them in their environment. He initiated contact with them and invited them to follow and enter into community with him.

Why do you think that Jesus called him to leave what they were doing, leave their families, and follow him into ministry? Couldn’t he just have hung out with them when they weren’t working or in their homes?

Well, I’m thinking that Jesus knew a thing or two about attachment theory and the best way to teach, model, shape, and instill was by being together, sharing in life and learning.

Think about the many things that the disciples and Jesus experienced in the short 3 years of their ministry together. The disciples got to hear and see Jesus respond to expected and unexpected circumstances. They experienced miracles, they helped Jesus feed people, they prayed with Jesus. I imagine they laughed with Jesus and they cried with Jesus. Though the disciples couldn’t see it at the time, Jesus was instilling in them the skills they would need when they would eventually go out into the world to share the gospel and love of Jesus with others.

Jesus’ intentional attachment to and formation of his disciples continues to serve as a model for how we are to approach our faith formation today.

Just as Jesus called the disciples to journey with him as a new kind of family and community, Jesus calls us today to bring ourselves and our families together to be a new kind of community, a new kind of family together. One that is rooted and attached to the Creator. Again, sounds simple right?

Well I have some Good News, Bad News, Good News to share with you all. The Good News is that the Bible tells us and we heard a few minutes ago the truth that “We love because God first loved us.” Author James Smith, in his book You are What You Love, unpacks this truth a bit and says, this claim is not just that we love God because God first loved us, but that we LOVE [at all] because God first loved us.” (111). Because God loves us, we have the creative capacity to attach to God and with this attachment have the capacity to love others.

How do we love God and others? Ok, this is the bad news. Smith also shares that “an hour and a half on Sunday morning is not sufficient” to be able to create a secure bond with our Creator especially in light of the rival liturgies of life (113). Think once again about healthy human attachment. If we spent only one hour a week with our children, our spouse, our boyfriend or girlfriend, or our parents would we have a secure bond with that person or people? Would we really know him or her?

Think of our church family here. Each week, we say together, we are called to be a Christ-centered community but do we feel secure in these words? Do we feel attached/connected to our family of faith?

Now I promised that this was a Good News, Bad News, Good News situation.

The Good, no Great News is that Jesus does not leave us to our own devices to figure out how to make healthy attachments to others and our family of faith. We are given tools both within and outside these church walls that can help us build attachment to each other and to Christ.

Some of these ways we already know. We know that to build attachment we need to know the other person. Ways to get to know Jesus are to read God’s Word, to pray to Jesus, and to talk about both of these things with other people. The more we immerse ourselves in these practices, the more natural we will feel speaking about them.

Other tools we have but we might not realize are the bonding rituals within our faith community. Think about Baptism. [Picture] I picked this picture because 1. the baby looks so darn happy and 2. I liked the connectedness I see in the child’s eyes and the minister’s eyes. What is powerful about infant baptism in our tradition is that it is a sign and a symbol that this child belongs to and is part of something bigger than just his or her nuclear family. That while their family is important, baptism connects the child to the family of faith. Baptism makes the claim that our own families can’t and shouldn’t provide all that we need (Smith, 117). Rather, Baptism invites and challenges us to build a larger community of protection, love, and encouragement united in the bonds of faith.

Another tool given to us by Jesus to help us in our faith attachment is our ritual of the meal [Image]. The meal is something that has been so central to our Christian identity for thousands of years. Certainly, we know the communion meal that we celebrate together each month. But think of the ways that we get to know our families, get to know each other. How did Jesus get to know his disciples? It was through the sharing of a meal. We gather together each month to share in the bread and the cup to remember what Jesus has done for us, but it also reminds us that every meal we have is an opportunity to reconnect with each other and with our Creator.

Perhaps my favorite memory so far here at FPGH was the Maundy Thursday meal and communion service we had together in our coffee hour lounge last year.

For those of us who were not able to be there, we gathered in the lounge and had a regular dinner together. When that meal was completed, we brought loaves of bread and cups of grape juice to the table and celebrated the last supper together. Having the opportunity to celebrate communion in this manner was powerful for my whole family. It made connections between the ritual in the sanctuary and the rituals we carry out every day.

So why is our faith attachment important? Why does it need to be more than just a theory? We need each other. We need each other so very much. James Smith shares that our families of faith stand in stark contrast to the modern image and value of the American family. Our society paints a picture of a family as the incubator of good citizens, dutiful producers, and eager consumers and at the same time…it shuts up the family in a private, closed home as part of the American ideal of independence (117).

Whereas, Jesus’ family, the Church, challenges this narrative. We need each other to learn about Jesus, to grow in our faith, to ask the generations before us “how did you face this issue in your life” and to encourage the younger generations that their faith and questions and hopes matter.

We need Jesus and we need each other because we all see the challenges of this world. The fragmentation of our families, our communities, and our social support systems, all have massive consequences.

I see them every day in my work as an Early Childhood Social Worker. I see this when I work with a three-year-old who only knows how to get attention from adults through violence acts. I see it with the parent who has to make the decision of whether to stay with an abusive partner and have a roof over my family’s heads or do I risk traumatizing my children further by seeking safety in a shelter. I see it in the eyes of a preschooler who can’t stop eating at the lunch table because she isn’t sure if she can count on food being on her table at home. I see it in parents who love their children but never see them because they need to sleep in the day in order to be able to stay functional and safe at their third-shift job.

These attachment busters are not just things that affect the most vulnerable in our society. This affects all of us. How difficult is it for you to connect with your family at a meal together because of work, or school, or sports? How difficult is it to practice self-care and connection to our Creator when we are worried about our parent’s health and where the money is going to come from to care for them and our children, let alone ourselves. How much easier it is to watch that T.V. show, have that glass of wine, or make a witty post on twitter or Facebook, rather than seek connection with others. Yes, this affects all of us.

Without secure attachment to each other and to Christ, life is that much harder to navigate. This is why I am thankful for you, FPGH. What we have as a Church gives us a start in our ability to love and care for each other and to seek the love and guidance of our Creator. We have the amazing potential to grow and deepen in our faith attachment together.

Is it easy? No. It is worth it? Jesus promises us that it is.