Throughout her life, Natalie felt unwanted and distant in her relationships. No relationship felt stable, secure, or safe. She didn’t know why until she started to pay more attention to her early childhood story.
When she was an infant Natalie’s mother put her up for adoption. Nora carried a deep sense of being unwanted and would constantly anticipate rejection.
Her adoptive parents responded to her cries with a corrective attitude, “Don’t cry. Stop crying. There’s nothing to cry about.” They didn’t want to encourage the crying behavior so they were careful to not match her emotions in fear that validating the crying would encourage that behavior to persist. They didn’t express curiosity as to why Nora was crying, they were primarily interested in making the crying stop. Nora learned how to control her behavior but didn’t learn how to identify why the emotions were there in the first place. Emotions were confusing to her.
Natalie’s expressed needs and wants were also corrected. “I’m hungry” was responded to with, “You’ve already eaten, you’re not hungry.” “I’m scared” was responded to with, “There’s nothing to be scared about.” “I don’t like cheese” was responded to with, “You love cheese! You ate a bunch last week!” Natalie stopped having preferences or expressing needs. She learned to conform herself to other people’s expectations of her.
When Nora became a Christian, she always wondered if she “believed enough” when she prayed the sinner’s prayer. She would often repeat that prayer when given the opportunity, just in case. She didn’t trust God’s commitment to her so she tried to make sure that she was pleasing Him just right. She didn’t know how to express her emotions or needs and preferred to address God as “Lord”. That term made sense to her, whereas “Father” was confusing and even scary. She like to serve God, but had no idea how to “be with God”. She always thought Martha was seriously misunderstood in that one Bible story. She served on multiple ministry teams at Church and was glad she was doing everything right.
Emotions would suddenly flood over her and she would lose control of herself. She didn’t understand emotions and they tended to make her life worse. She had experienced a lot of broken relationships because of her emotional explosions and she was terrified of bringing them into any relationship.
Natalie needed to relearn what a father really was. She started to tell God the story of her childhood. She told God about the deep fear of rejection and how being put up for adoption contributed to that in a big way. She told God about how her adoptive parent’s dismissal and lack of empathy made her inner world crazy confusing and frustrating. She told God about the cost that all these things had had in her life and how it make relating to God Himself really difficult. She told Him how she didn’t know how to fix herself and that she felt like a failure because she hasn’t figured all this stuff out yet.
Natalie had a huge list of things to forgive, but she plugged away at it as the Holy Spirit brought it up. She didn’t have the emotional energy to intentionally go looking for things to forgive, but she would do the hard work when stuff showed up on its own. She started to notice old patterns and habits becoming less powerful and she was surprised when she noticed that she was acting differently.
Years later she realized just how different her relationship with God was. She didn’t pray as much as she used to, but when she did it was casual, honest, and intimate. She felt seen and understood in those prayers. She didn’t ask God for a whole lot anymore. She knew that He cared and didn’t worry too much about making requests from Him. Maybe that was why she prayed less now. Her prayers now were more about telling God what was going on inside her, what she thought and felt about her experiences, and even asking Him questions, “What do You think, Papa?” That was her favorite way to address God now. It felt genuine and special. Almost like a nickname. She liked that a lot. Sometimes she would just breathe deeply and think about His closeness. Each breath in was like inhaling His love and each breath out was like releasing the tension, stress, and poison that tends to build up inside her still.
She stopped serving at church, but enjoyed being around the people there more than she ever had before. She didn’t feel guilty if she missed a Sunday, but she was sad. She liked being there with God and those people.
Something had changed in her and she had a hard time putting her finger on it. It was like it no longer mattered if she had the right answers. It no longer mattered if she saved the world or converted people. It no longer mattered if she did everything she was supposed to do. There was a deep sense of stability and safety in her relationship with God that didn’t depend on her getting it right. Somewhere deep inside her she knew that God was committed to her even if she wasn’t committed to Him. That He would be faithful to her even if she wasn’t faithful to Him.
Natalie was taught insecure attachment and through intentional, long, messy processes discovered the beauty and rest of secure attachment with God.