Secure Attachment: Relational Nutrition for Life

Secure Attachment: Relational Nutrition for Life May 21, 2023

Here is a picture of a “widow looking at a young family.” The artist is the late Marcus Stone. The picture was taken on 20 November 2019. Creative Commons.

In this post, I reflect upon the importance of secure attachment and how it provides the necessary relational and spiritual nutrition for one’s life. I will define the psychological concept of secure attachment shortly. But I want to begin with a short account of what got me to thinking about this theme over the weekend. Later, I will account for the biblical emphasis on secure attachment that God’s love provides.

This past Friday morning, I received a call from my son Christopher’s adult care facility that my son’s feeding tube developed a hole. They found him lying in the feeding solution and scheduled to have him taken to the ER that morning for the tube to be replaced. I got over to the hospital as soon as I could and remained at Christopher’s side the whole day (apart from when he was wheeled in for the procedure).

I found Christopher on a gurney in the hallway alongside the nurse’s station. While he was safe, there was so much commotion and inattention to his more immediate needs given that it was a typical ER setting. I had to ask for hydration, pillows, and other forms of assistance, all of which took a great deal of time to secure. I am confident that Christopher was as relieved as I was that we were together.

But in the end, the hospital staff got the job done. My understanding is that they replaced his PEG tube with a G-Tube. The previous tube was worn and ragged. Christopher had been scheduled for a replacement at the hospital this coming Monday. So, it was most unfortunate the tube could not hold until then. While there was much consternation resulting from the ordeal, it appears that Christopher’s new tube is secure and functioning fine.

It is easy to take a feeding tube for granted when it is secure. But life becomes a real mess, or worse, when the feeding tube is not securely attached, or there is a hole or tear in it. It is also easy to take for granted that my son was once completely dependent on the secure umbilical cord connection to my wife in her womb. Just like he was dependent on the umbilical cord to my wife, he has been completely dependent on the secure connection to a feeding machine and solution providing nutrition for life since his traumatic brain injury in January 2021.

Consideration of Christopher’s connection to his mom in the womb is a fitting entry point to the psychological category of secure attachment. Here is one account that talks about the connection between parent and child that goes back even further than the cradle and extends all the way to the grave:

Research has shown that the attachment between the parent and the child (especially within the first two years of birth) form the basis of the future relationships with parents/ peers/ partners/ other human beings.

The process starts inside the mother’s womb when the would-be parent develops an imaginary connection with the growing fetus. This is called prenatal attachment.

This relationship takes a new form after the baby is born. The newborn baby develops a connection with the parents (or caregiver). This is called the parent-infant attachment. Depending on the response/ parenting, the baby develops one of the few attachment styles (secure/ insecure/ disorganised).

The parent-infant attachment is carried by the human being throughout (childhood, adolescence, and adulthood) the rest of the life (‘cradle to grave’).

Going further, let’s provide a working definition of secure attachment. According to one article,

Secure attachment is the healthiest form of attachment. It describes an attachment where a child feels comforted by the presence of their caregiver. Securely attached children feel protected and that they have someone to rely on. Children with secure attachment prefer their caregiver over strangers, seek comfort in their caregiver, and are comfortable exploring their environment with their caregiver present.

Secure attachment is seen as crucial to healthy development because it has lasting impacts on an individual. By growing up with a sense of stability and care, securely attached children find it easier to investigate and interact with the world around them.

One can find other accounts of secure attachment here and here.

My wife and I do everything we can as Christopher’s parents to provide secure attachment for him. We are also grateful for the security others provide, as in the case of nurses and CNAs at his facility. It was readily apparent to me how relieved Christopher was to return to his own room at the care facility in the early evening after the ambulance service transport. His nurse and two CNAs whom he knows readily consoled, changed, and repositioned him for a good night’s rest. We both needed it after an exhausting day. I stayed with him for quite some time just to be a comforting presence. He was also a comforting presence to me.

It is not just my son Christopher who requires secure attachment. We all do. The Bible invests a great deal of consideration in this topic. God’s love provides security to the believer. The Holy Spirit provides the divine lifeline. How so? By pouring God’s love into our hearts: “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5; NIV). Elsewhere Paul writes,

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19; NIV)

It is important that we join Paul and pray for one another that we might experience the infinitely mysterious and immeasurable love of God that knows no bounds. With this point in mind, I sometimes sing “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” to Christopher. I performed in his presence at his beloved grandma’s memorial service back in 2020. It was one of her favorite songs, and so I think Christopher likes it and even puts up with me singing it to him.

So many things can clog or tear a whole in the cord that connects us to God’s love. God continues to pour his love out, but how well am I responding? What distracting, self-denouncing, and others-renouncing thoughts clutter my mind and disconnected actions pull me away? It is important that I keep returning to where I first began in my Christian sojourn. It is not that I first loved God. Rather God first loved me and makes it truly possible to love others and myself in a relationally nutritious way. So, too, God first loved you and continues to love you from before the cradle to the grave and into eternity.

Yesterday was no exception to this growing awareness of the need for secure attachment. The point of this post came home to me just before I took our granddaughter Jaylah home to be with her mother, Christopher’s wife. Before departing, Jaylah wanted to play the piano for her dad. This is the same piano she occasionally sat at and played with him by her side a few years ago. She placed a keepsake Christmas ornament that includes a childhood picture of her daddy in front of her. She looked at it as she played. While Jaylah has not taken piano lessons yet, she still found a way to play a beautiful, soothing melody in tribute to her dad.

I will never forget this experience and pray that someday Christopher can sit down once again next to his daughter at the piano his grandma gave us to listen as Jaylah plays. Even now, she experiences secure attachment from all the memories she has of her daddy caring deeply for her.

Each of us, no matter how much or how well our parents loved us, can experience the deep and abiding love of the heavenly Father revealed in Jesus. May we reflect that love to one another so that together we may grow in secure attachment that provides the necessary relational nutrition for life.

For all the various posts and updates related to our journey with Christopher and TBI, please go to this link. Thank you for your prayers!


About Paul Louis Metzger
Paul Louis Metzger, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology & Culture, Multnomah University & Seminary; Director of The Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins; and Author and Editor of numerous works, including The Gospel of John: When Love Comes to Town (InterVarsity Press, 2010) and More Than Things: A Personalist Ethics for a Throwaway Culture (IVP Academic, forthcoming in 2023). You can read more about the author here.

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