Have you ever had one of those days where nothing seems to be going right? Many years ago, when I was having one of those days, I started driving to the beach.

I had just been cut from the Carolina Panthers football team and had just gone through a breakup. And, of course, on my way to the beach, a police officer pulled me over for speeding. Because I had prior tickets, I was worried about losing my license, which would put my job at risk because I drove for work. 

It’s safe to say that this was not one of my best days. I felt like I was losing everything, and there was nothing I could do about it. 

At that moment, I decided to pray. This was not just a rote prayer—it was a decision to completely and totally attach to God. 

That prayer stands out to me because I truly feel like God gave me the strength to get back up and keep going. It taught me that closeness to God doesn’t mean we get everything we want, but that we have the power to go through everything we will face in life.

Lord, even when your path takes me through the valley of deepest darkness, fear will never conquer me, for you already have! You remain close to me and lead me through it all the way. Your authority is my strength and my peace. The comfort of your love takes away my fear. I’ll never be lonely, for you are near.

[6] So why would I fear the future? For your goodness and love pursue me all the days of my life. Then afterward, when my life is through, I’ll return to your glorious presence to be forever with you!

Psalm 23:4,6 TPT

As David wrote in this psalm, being attached to God allows us to be strong and at peace no matter where life takes us. Attaching to God means we look to him when we are scared, alone, confused, or in need—much like a child would look to a parent to care for them. When we cling to God, we can trust that his love and guidance will bring us through our hard times stronger, more courageous, and more confident about our future.

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Even science acknowledges the positive impact of spirituality on our well-being. “Most studies have shown that religious involvement and spirituality are associated with better health outcomes,” said researchers at Mayo Clinic in a recent study, “including greater longevity, coping skills, and health-related quality of life (even during terminal illness) and less anxiety, depression, and suicide.”

Building a deep emotional connection to God has great benefits, but it can be surprisingly hard to do. Sometimes we detach from God because our emotions feel too difficult to handle. We attach our hearts to the wrong things—like status, wealth, or people—because we can see them and they seem easier to hold onto than God. We might still go through the motions of religious behavior, but we lack a true relationship with God because we have distanced our hearts from him. 

Attaching to God is more like an art than a science; it can’t be boiled down to an equation or a set of precise behaviors. Attachment is emotional, personal, and vulnerable. It’s incredibly rewarding, but it can feel elusive at times. 

Join me in this study as we explore what might be detaching us from God, and how to attach to him.

Does pain distance me from God?

Before we can attach to God, we must understand what causes us to detach from him. 

They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

Ephesians 4:18-19 NIV

We become separated from God when we harden our hearts, which is a common way to handle painful or difficult emotions. Life can be painful at times, and a few recent statistics show it:

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33 NLT

As Jesus told his disciples, it’s an unfortunate truth that we will have trials and sorrows in this world. But with God on our side, we can face them victoriously. We need God’s strength to overcome the stress and pain of life. Without it, numbing ourselves often seems like the best option.  

So how do we know if we are hardening our hearts? Ephesians 4:17-19 gives us several signs that we are hardening our hearts:

1. We lose sensitivity

Because our emotions seem overwhelming, we begin to ignore them. Unfortunately, ignoring our feelings has consequences. We become less sensitive toward other people’s pain because we ignore our own, and we tend to lack compassion. We may begin to feel numb:

Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed and weak within me [wrapped in darkness]; My heart grows numb within me.

Psalm 143:4 AMP

They have closed their unfeeling heart [to kindness and compassion]; With their mouths they speak proudly and make presumptuous claims.

Psalm 17:10 AMP

2. We give ourselves over to sensuality

When we numb to normal human emotions, we become consumed with feeling through our senses/sensuality. We look for comfort, pleasure, and relief in all the wrong places. As a result, we can’t find the healing we truly need:

This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that says, ‘When you hear what I say, you will not understand. When you see what I do, you will not comprehend. For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes- so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them.’

Matthew 13:14-15 NLT

3. We become greedy for more

Ephesians 4:19 says we become “full of greed” when our hearts are hard. To be greedy is to have an intense and selfish desire for more; it’s not only about wanting money, as we often assume. We can become greedy for power, comfort, attention, or really anything. We stop caring about things that bring our life meaning and purpose – like close relationships and serving others – and only care about ourselves and what makes us feel good. 

Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.

1 John 2:15-17 MSG

4. We get separated from God.

Over time, our hardness and the resulting sin and guilt  can create an even greater distance between us and God. 

People of Israel, the LORD’s arm is not too weak to save you. His ears aren’t too deaf to hear your cry for help. But your sins have separated you from your God. They have caused him to turn his face away from you. So he won’t listen to you.

Isaiah 59:1-2 NIrV

There is a real danger in being hard-hearted. It leaves us separated from God and detached from friends. We need to re-attach to God if we want our hearts to soften and get the healing and strength we are looking for.

Pause and reflect

  • What pain, shame, or strain do I tend to ignore or avoid?
  • What signs of hard-heartedness do I see in my life?

How do I attach to God?

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

1 John 1:5-7 NIV 

The Bible consistently equates being in “the light” with being honest, transparent, and fully known. The courage to attach is the courage to be fully known by God and friends. We all want to be loved for who we are (Proverbs 19:22), but if we aren’t fully known, we will never feel fully loved. 

Though being completely honest about who we are can feel scary, when we look at it through the lens of being loved by and attached to God, it can actually be comforting. God wants our authentic selves! God sees us, he hears us, and what we say means something to God.

God already knows us, but he wants us to share our whole hearts with him. This takes courage!

Brene Brown wrote about this type of courage in her book The Gifts of Imperfection

“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is ‘cor’ — the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experience.”

Jesus shows us how to have the courage to be honest in Hebrews 5:

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. [8] Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.

Hebrews 5:7-8 NIV

Jesus handled the most difficult time in his life by attaching to God. He poured out his heart to God with great honesty and vulnerability. Let’s learn from Jesus’s example how we can attach to God in the same way.

1. Be teachable

The Bible tells us that even Jesus had to “learn” obedience. He approached God with a teachable and receptive heart. Though he poured out his own feelings, he was also willing to submit to what God wanted to teach him. We want to know what God thinks and feels about us (we can do this by reading our Bibles to know God).

We can imitate Jesus’s attachment to God by approaching the Bible with a teachable heart. Even when our feelings are strong, we can still submit them to God and decide to believe God’s Word. 

 I find joy in the way shown by your written instructions more than I find joy in all kinds of riches. I want to reflect on your guiding principles and study your ways. Your laws make me happy. I never forget your word.

Psalm 119:14-16 GW

2. Be honest

Jesus held nothing back when he prayed to God. Similarly, if we want to attach to God, we can’t hold back our most personal thoughts, feelings, and needs. We need to be honest about the areas we feel we are falling short and about even our deepest temptations. Jesus honestly asked God to take away the suffering he was about to endure. He didn’t pretend to be someone he was not. 

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” [37] He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. [38] Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” [39] Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Matthew 26:36-39 NIV

3. Be vulnerable

Vulnerability and honesty are similar, but vulnerability means being willing to feel pain. When we are vulnerable, we invite God in to understand our pain. We open ourselves up to feel not only our own pain but also the pain we cause God. We express and embrace our weaknesses as well as our need for forgiveness.

Jesus’s prayers were loud and tearful. At times, he felt crushed by his emotions: 

He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. [38] He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Matthew 26:37-38 NLT

But rather than hardening his heart to his grief and anguish, he was vulnerable. He shared his feelings with God and his friends. This can be difficult to do, but it’s key to attaching to God. When Jesus shared vulnerably and then surrendered to God’s plans, he found the resolve and strength to carry out his mission on the cross. Vulnerability with God will bring his power into our lives. 

4. Be confident in God’s good purpose

Jesus found the strength to go to the cross and endure the worst kind of physical, emotional, and spiritual pain because he trusted God’s plan.

We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.

Hebrews 12:2 NLT

The pain Jesus endured at the cross had a bigger purpose; it would set each of us free from our own guilt and condemnation so that we could have a relationship with God. Jesus’s attachment to God helped him trust God’s plan and find joy in his pain. 

If we trust that God always works every detail of our lives into something good, we will stay close to him no matter what comes. Rather than distancing ourselves from him when we feel pain, we will hold to him more tightly because we need his strength to keep moving forward. 

Pause and reflect

  • What is my attitude towards honesty? What is my attitude toward vulnerability? 
  • Which of the four keys to attaching to God would help me most right now (teachability, honesty, vulnerability, or confidence in God’s good purpose)? What steps can I take to grow in that area this week?

Attachment to God attaches us to others

I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.”

Acts 26:17-19 NIV

The apostle Paul learned how to attach to God, and that connection implanted in him a vision that was bigger than himself. 

He had been a very religious man before he met Jesus, but he relied on his own behavior more than his connection with God. He had to learn to value attachment over achievement:

For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort, [4] though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more! [5] I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin-a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. [6] I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault. [7] I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. [8] Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ…

Philippians 3:3-8 NLT

Paul’s deep connection with God kept him content during hardship and confident in the face of rejection. Paul’s attachment to God changed him from a harsh, self-righteous man (Acts 7-8) to someone who deeply attached to others. He learned to connect with, rather than criticize others:

Or we were like a mother feeding and caring for her own children. [8] We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too.

1 Thessalonians 2:7-8 NLT

Paul’s story tells us that we don’t need to “be” anything but connected to God. Paul’s power and love—which changed countless lives and fueled the spread of Christianity—flowed from his connection with God.

The more attached we are to God, the more we can learn how to love other people and the more courageous we will become. This love for others grows out of God’s love for us:

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love [for others growing out of God’s love for me], then I have become only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal [just an annoying distraction].

1 Corinthians 13:1 AMP

Live in me, and I will live in you. A branch cannot produce any fruit by itself. It has to stay attached to the vine. In the same way, you cannot produce fruit unless you live in me. [9] “I have loved you the same way the Father has loved me. So live in my love. [10] If you obey my commandments, you will live in my love. I have obeyed my Father’s commandments, and in that way I live in his love. [11] I have told you this so that you will be as joyful as I am, and your joy will be complete. [12] Love each other as I have loved you. This is what I’m commanding you to do.

John 15:4,9-12 GW

If we want to grow in our ability to attach, we can start by learning about how attached God is to us.  When we see all the ways God has loved us, all we need to do is give to others what he has given to us. It’s this kind of simple, consistent love that changes the world.

Pause and reflect

  • Who has God put on my heart to love?
  • What is a quality of God’s love that I admire? How can I show that same quality to a friend this week?
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Sam Manuel

Sam is a former outside linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers. Since retiring from the NFL, Sam has worked in the ministry serving communities in the Bay Area.

Sam Manuel

Sam is a former outside linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers. Since retiring from the NFL, Sam has worked in the ministry serving communities in the Bay Area.

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