The other day when I was out doing my early morning workout, I had an unexpected visitor. As I sweated through a pushup routine back behind the abandoned baseball field, I was surprised by the immediate presence of a squirrel-size, red-haired dog. As I reached out to pet the dog, I found him to be friendly, yet scared. Lacking tags or a nearby owner, I wondered if he might come home with me, at least temporarily. I picked up the little dog and held him securely in my arms, his tiny frame shivering with anxiety. He trusted me enough to carry him, yet continued to shake. I held him near my chest, whispering words of comfort to him.
Thankfully, walking in the right direction led to his caretaker finding him. As I left the experience, that picture lingered in my mind. I thought about how we so often quake with panic and how God truly is waiting and wanting to pick us up and hold us until the quivering fades. I wonder if that’s what God envisioned when he inspired 1 John 4:18, sharing the reassuring words “perfect love drives out fear”. I imagine God reminding us that his perfect love embraces us as our trembling dissolves. Psalm 32:10 echoes the similar sentiment that “the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him”.
Yet, even though many of us believe God is love and He cares, we so often run to other forms of comfort when we are unstable within. Like Peter, we are so quick to deny the One we serve when the pressure mounts. We experience a range of uncomfortable emotions and look for stability in any number of addictive distractions. Yet, how many times have we realized after our escape into sin that what we’ve done is reject the One we love. As Peter did when the rooster crowed, we too may awaken from our rebellious escapades and weep bitterly (Luke 22:62). We return to God afterwards, but what opportunity for comfort did we miss that will never be recovered?
The Great Competition
With all of this in mind, I want to offer an alternate perspective on sin. In the work I do as a therapist, particularly in the area of addiction, the model that guides my work is attachment theory. In working with couples, I’ve learned it is impossible for them to foster deep connection when an addiction is active in the relationship because the addiction becomes a “competing” attachment. Relating to sexual addiction, Reid & Woolley (2006) explain this concept this way:
“Hypersexual behavior typically robs the relationship of the emotional energy of at least one partner. The deception, guilt, and shame that accompany hypersexuality distract from accessibility and responsiveness. Additionally, the attention devoted to the hypersexual behavior reduces commitment and time that could have been devoted to the relationship. Hypersexual behavior can become a type of competing attachment in which the person engages in hypersexual behavior to be soothed or feel safe or important rather than finding safety, soothing, and validation in the primary relationship.”
Can you see how sin is a competing attachment with our active relationship with God? Wherever we go for comfort in times of anguish is where we connect. When we connect with sin through an experience that numbs our inner turmoil, we no longer need God for that and we miss opportunities of meaningful connection. When we look to sin to provide “safety, soothing, and validation”, how can we experience those from God? It is not that God is withholding them from us, it’s that we are choosing to get those needs met from somewhere else. This weakens our attachments with both God and others whom we love. Sadly, when we look to food, pornography, drugs, alcohol, and other addictive substances or experiences, we find ourselves spent and thirsty, never satisfied. That is the tragedy of sin.
No wonder the Scriptures speak of God’s jealousy. In choosing sin, we actively disown God, to our own destruction. Like the committed Lover who wants to embrace us in our pain, God’s heart breaks as we choose another. We miss the peace and security of being held. And God misses being the One who holds us. His perfect love does not calm our fears because we do not choose to let it.
One day as I sat with God, he brought me through some powerfully vivid imagery that deeply reflected this concept of sin being a competing attachment. I sensed God saying to me:
“Do not run for cover in another shelter. The sin shelter feels safe and warm but is full of darkness and shame. The sugar shelter takes the edge off your pain but it will crash down on you quickly. Only my shelter is stable and protects you from the pounding rain outside. Trust that I am available. My ears are open. I have a warm fire waiting for you. I have a hot cup of tea, to bring comfort. My presence is available, my ears and arms are open. Let me wrap you in my blanket of love. Let me rock you and hold you, whispering into your ear, “it’s going to be okay. Daddy is here.” Don’t leave this shelter. Stay in My arms. Trust my arms. Listen only to my voice. Evil surrounds this shelter, chanting its lies. But tune them out. Tune out the voice that calls you away from me, that siren song. Let me envelop you with the warmth of my love. I am enough, my grace is enough. I do not hold you to the guilt of your sin. I am just so grateful you are here with me.”
Doesn’t that picture communicate volumes about God’s availability and desire to connect with us? Similarly, this attitude toward us is reflected in Jesus’ invitation: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). God wants to be our rock, our refuge. The band All Sons & Daughters describe it this way:
“Lay Your peace
Like a blanket over me
And as I lay down to sleep
I will rest in You”
How would our lives change if we believed God related to us in this way? If we truly experienced God as our refuge when our circumstances grew dark, would that reality change our everyday lives? As we all recover from the trauma and sin that have plagued our lives, may we trust that God doesn’t just care from a distance but his love wraps around us like a warm blanket. And He will hold us steadfastly in those moments when fear permeates our souls. All we need do is turn to Him.
As long as we’re alive, we have an open invitation to rest in God. As we understand more fully the competition that is at work in our hearts and for our hearts, may be choose today to rest in God, allowing Him to soothe our weary souls.
“Steady My Heart”
Even when it hurts
Even when it’s hard
Even when it all just falls apart
I will run to You
‘Cause I know that You are
Lover of my soul
Healer of my scars
You steady my heart
And I will run to You
And find refuge in Your arms
And I will sing to You
‘Cause of everything You are
I’m not gonna worry
I know that you’ve got me
Right inside the palm of your hand
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