As I researched infant bonding for my latest book, a far-reaching reality slowly dawned on me: we were created for a peace found only in love. Here’s that reality in neurological terms: A baby’s brain has only two modes, based on two entirely dependent variables (meaning that either both variables are present or neither are). The variables are security and attachment, or put in the negative, anxiety and detachment. Picture baby skin to skin with mommy, cooing contentedly, then baby pulled away from mommy, flaccid little arms flailing, immediately emitting the gurgly squawk of tiny newborn vocal cords. Babies can’t have peace outside of relationship, and neither can big babies like you and me.
Amazing things keep popping up to validate this. For starters, check out this video in which a man named Johann Hari studies addiction and concludes that we’ve got it wrong. He cites a fascinating study where researchers put two water bottles in a rat’s cage, one with plain water and the other with heroin-laced water. The rats quickly drink themselves into junkies. Then the researchers ask if perhaps the stark, lonely cage itself contributes to the rats’ addictive tendencies, and create instead a rat playground, complete with bits of cheese, colored balls, and lots of other rats. This time around the rats almost never drink the heroin water. One observer says that maybe we shouldn’t call it addiction, but rather bonding. It just so happens that in the absence of healthy bonds, we bond with inanimate things that mimic the brain chemistry of relationships. Therefore, the best preventative for addiction to drugs is “addiction” to healthy, godly, happy love.
Reading this type of thing can increase the despair of already-lonely people, who, according to John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago, are multiplying by the day. Cacioppo says loneliness has increased from 20 percent in the 80s to 40 percent today.
A generation after social media took over, the research about its use correlating with loneliness has begun to pour in, validating the strange phenomenon that the most technologically-connected generation is also the least actually-connected. I recently shared a talk about loneliness with a group of older folks and they really resonated with these findings. They remember the days when people sat around the dinner table and talked.
Let me speak into the despairing cycle into which many of us have tumbled. We know we need to love and be loved. We feel the absence of it in our lives. But the sheer momentum of broken relationships and failure to bond causes us to wonder if we were the ones Thoreau spoke of when he said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”. The hippies called for peace and love but achieved neither. Humanists believe that we can generate these goodnesses, but, try as we might, we come up empty. It would have been cruel of God to create us with this yawning chasm of need and then allow us to tumble into a fallen, loveless world to scratch out our existence in futility if—and if is a big word here—He hadn’t met the emergency with Himself.
When horizontal relationships fail, and they will, we can still go vertical. “He reached down from heaven and took hold of me,” Ps. 18:16. God reached down in sending Jesus to re-bond heaven and earth. He reached down in inspiring His Word, His love letter to all people. God reaches down moment by moment through His Spirit to re-bond with you. When human relationships fail, there is still love. “Every soul is as fully known to Jesus as if he were the only one for whom the Savior died. The distress of every one touches His heart. The cry for aid reaches His ear. He came to draw all men unto Himself. He bids them, ‘Follow Me,’ and His Spirit moves upon their hearts to draw them to come to Him.” Desire of Ages, 480.
You don’t have to spend your life in anxious detachment, the infant within wailing for a warm embrace. No matter what, where, and who you are, because of Him, you can love and be loved.
How has God revealed His love to you lately?