What are you attached to?

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Did your attachment tendancies start with a pacifier or your favorite ‘blankey’?

linus Or were routines, like story-time right before bed your go-to comfort? Whatever it was for you as a child, you probably have some items or practices or even a person in your life that make you feel more secure.

Reading 2 Chronicles 26 about King Uzziah of Juda this morning raised the matter of attachment. Here’s how verse 5 reads:

He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper.

The French translation of this verse adds a richer understanding.  The verbal phrase reads:  “Il s’attacha à Dieu…” (He attached himself to God…)

This amplification feels like a quartz vein shot through with gold, worth the effort to mine it.  Here are 2 questions to kick off our digging:

  • Why do we attach?
  • and, how do we attach?

First, why do we attach?

I think humans and animals are wired by God to crave certainty and security.  But He has designed us to look to Him to meet that need, not to anything He has created.  Given that the Fall fractured both us and all of creation, we are misguided. We look for substitutions for God that FEEL real.  For even though God is as real as anything we can see or touch, He is spirit, thereby immaterial and invisible to us at present.

On to the second question –  how is it that we attach?

Primarily by thinking about, talking about, keeping near, and treasuring.  A small child keeps his blanket close by.  A crying baby calms down with his trusted pacifier. When I was bulimic, I grabbed cookies or M&Ms to tame the stress.

For some, a variation of attachment might be an acted-out routine that has brought peace. I know friends who routinely undertake remodeling projects as a diversion from anxiety or for stop-gap immediate relief some go shopping or clean out a closet (me!)  More dangerous measures include gambling, porn indulgence, use of drugs or even some extreme sports.

(If you are curious to learn about some non-biblical, psychological reasons for attachment, here is a link to various views.)

Beyond inherent and obvious dangers, what’s wrong with the above attachment items or practices?

The only reason that counts is simply this: these stress-relievers are just as uncertain as the uncontrollable circumstances that bring suffering.  When LIFE happens, pressuring us, what if we are circumstantially kept from our go-to stress reliever?  Maybe that’s the origin of the expression ‘going postal’! Our God knows there are times we humans explode in anger or act otherwise irrationally.

God offers a different way of handling life’s uncertainties and stress, one that the apostle Paul learned.  This morning, while reading a bit of Puritan pastor William Gurnall’s teaching on holding on to faith in the Triune God, I glimpsed a connection to Paul’s teaching on contentment.

You are familiar with this early Christian boasting in having acquired the ability to be content in all circumstances.  ‘All’ included the gamut of experiences ranging from physical comfort and ease all the way to the many times he suffered beatings, imprisonment or calumny from his fellow Jews. (Phil 4:12)

I think Gurnall provides the method for Paul’s method of ‘learning’. Gurnall writes that in times of blessings, plenty and the absence of suffering, we should practice  “Keep(ing)…(our)..minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.” Col 3:2

Then when the times of suffering and deprivation come, we should be more equipped to continue to feed ourselves on the rich truths of heaven, the expectations of one day enjoying our inheritance presently kept for us by Jesus.  Directing our imaginings Godward takes practice. You’re probably like me.  My thoughts DO NOT automatically tend toward meditating on the ‘diverse excellencies in Jesus Christ’ (Jonathan Edwards). It takes effort to dig and work a groove in my mind, through much exercise.

I mention Edwards’ line above about what to think about when meditating on Jesus. Because when I first considered devoting time to building a habit of thinking about ‘things above’, my first reaction was:

  • just what should my mind focus on?

John Piper gave me a clue when he quoted Jonathan Edwards in a sermon I recently heard. An example of these very different but astonishing qualities of Jesus would be how He is both the Lion and the Lamb.  Powerfully fierce and humbly submissive, all at the same time.

There ARE multitudes of rich treasures to be mined in the Bible.  And I think this is what is meant by God’s teaching us to ‘attach ourselves’ to Him.  We attach primarily by what we think about and talk about.  If I’m attached to my children, then I will pull out pictures and extol all the cute things they do.  Likewise, if I’m attached to God, I will boast in how great He is.

Contrary to what a material naturalist might argue, we are NOT deterministic beings.  We have been given the gift of imagination, of choosing what to think about.  Paul knew that. Therefore, I think his secret of learned contentment was harnessing and directing his thoughts God-ward.

That encourages me.  I know that I have plenty of time when my mind can float.  I do have the power to direct and focus those thoughts.  I CAN practice a new and different way of thinking.   I want to build up these mental and spiritual muscles of my mind during those periods when I’m not struck down by suffering.  Then when pain does come, I will know how to flee to my true refuge.

I’ll leave you with the French exhortation:

Attache-toi à Dieu!

Shaky assumption for what will make me happy

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The King was a praying man, after all hadn’t Zechariah mentored him well from God’s word?  And as long as he prayed for favor in Judah’s battles against the Philistines, the Arabs and the Meunim, his armies prevailed.  His and Judah’s successes became the talk of the world that even the Ammonites paid tribute, aka protection money, rather than fight.

But then…..Uzziah grew complacent and tired of having to ask God daily for this and that.  As the writer of the book of 2 Chronicles explains,

16 But when [King Uzziah] was strong, he became proud to his destruction; and he trespassed against the Lord his God, for he went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.

Uzziah

The rest of the story is pretty dramatic.  The priest in charge, Azariah, confronted the King, reminding him with a strong rebuke, that God forbade anyone but the priests from burning incense in the temple.  As King Uzziah exploded into rage, incriminating censor in his hand, leprosy broke out on his forehead.  In hindsight, it would have been better for Uzziah to continue in his daily dependence on God’s strength, rather than crave his own strength.  His desired independence, what he thought would make him happy, led to his downfall.

I’ve been thinking a lot about some of my assumptions when I pray.  At the bottom often of my anxiety is the fear that God is going to withhold what I want, what I know/think will make me happy.

Isn’t there always something we are asking God for, something that will make us more content, happy, complete, and peaceful?   But what if we are wrong in our assumptions?

Mike and I have started watching Frank Capra’s classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. 

In this 1946 Christmas movie, George Bailey has finally earned enough money to take the trip of his dreams.It's a wonderful life

 

 

He longs to break out of the claustrophobia of his small hometown, positive that the wide world holds what he wants.  But the unfortunate timing of his dad’s death delays the trip. One set of unexpected circumstances leads to another, until he is maneuvered into staying put in Bedford Falls, the very future he worked hard to avoid.

His unrealized dream of travel, to be followed by college and then a profession of building modern structures never materializes.  He had always projected certainty that his version of the future was best for him.  Apparently his dad had repeatedly expressed hope that George, as oldest son, would accept his offer to take over the family’s Building and Loan Association.  In an offhand remark that wounds his dad, George dismisses 40 years of laborious efforts to secure loans for many of Bedford Falls’ working class families.  This is not the career or the life that George wants.

You can watch the movie again, if you have forgotten what George learns in the end.  But what I realized in thinking about King Uzziah and George Bailey was that often our assumptions about what will make us happy are not correct.

My thinking seems to go like this:

  • I want X (for example, a different job)
  • Why?  Because when I think about X, I picture a more content Maria.
  • But I’m afraid that God won’t allow X to happen.  There’s no guarantee that He will bring about X, even if I pray fervently in faith. (might I be……trying to manipulate God???)
  • If God does not grant X, then I won’t be happy

But what if the TRUE scenario is this:

  • God alone knows what will make me happy/content/’better off’ as He defines it.
  • What if what I THINK will make me happy, my X, actually is bad, dangerous, painful or somehow disastrous for me?
  • After all, isn’t God omni– good/loving/knowing/powerful/wise/holy/giving…..
  • Why should I think that I know best?  that what I think I want IS best?

So, are we not to pray for what we want?  Are we just supposed to resign ourselves to….being miserable?

That’s bifurcation, the fallacy of a false dilemma.  It’s not an either/or situation – My will = happiness versus God’s will= misery

(Could that false idea come from Satan?)

When I get scared that maybe God WON’T give me what I want, here’s the promise I fall back onto:

Psalm 84:11

“No good thing does the Lord withhold from those whose way is upright.

  • good = pleasant/excellent/valuable/appropriate,  Hebrew word Towb
  • upright = authentic (with integrity),  Hebrew word Tamiym

When I think of how to be upright, I picture myself looking UP at God, and not at what I want.  I don’t have enough information to know what is best for me.

upright

I’ll still ask God and pray for what I want, but I’m learning to hold those requests loosely.

What is your experience in wanting something really badly and then finding out it was NOT what you thought or (worse yet) it turned out to be harmful?

 

 

 

 

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