Overcoming Spiritual Abandonment Issues In Your Relationship With God
Dr. Aryn Ziehnert
Life has an abundance of negative experiences that it throws our way. We encounter broken relationships, and sometimes those we trust can betray that trust in one way or another. When that happens, our entire outlook on life can shift and it has many domino effects on our relationships with others down the line. However, the many “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that life sends our way – such as abandonment issues – that don’t have to diminish our joy nor do they have to make us cynical.Abandonment issues can stem from not having one’s needs met. They can develop in children when a parent or caregiver doesn’t provide the child with consistent warm or attentive interactions, with the result that the child is left feeling chronic stress and fear.
Experiences of abuse, trauma, and loss of a loved one through death or literal abandonment can deprive a child of the means of getting their emotional needs met, and it can generate a fear of losing future relationships and significant others.
If a person lives in an unhealthy fear that the people, places, and things they’ve depended on and grown attached to will eventually leave or reject them, it can result in several negative behaviors and patterns of thinking.
One can begin to cling to those places or people in ways that may ultimately be detrimental to their health, or they can choose to reject others first and engage in self-sabotage so that they don’t have to experience rejection. Both of these ways of relating to others lead to unhealthy relationships that are either shallow, transient, or toxic.
Are spiritual abandonment issues real?
What has been described above is what is typically understood when talking about abandonment issues. However, there is another dimension to abandonment issues, and it concerns our spiritual relationships, especially our relationship with God. ‘Spiritual abandonment’ simply names what happens when abandonment issues touch upon our spiritual relationships.
Just as people can find their emotional and physical needs being neglected, and they can experience abuse and trauma in those areas, the same can be said about our spiritual lives, which are intertwined with every other facet of our lives.
Many things can happen that can make one feel spiritually let down, disappointed, betrayed, and abandoned. Spiritual abandonment can occur when a person rejects you for spiritual reasons, or if a beloved spiritual mentor leaves, whether through death or due to scandal.
Spiritual abuse can occur alongside other forms of abuse, such as when an influential spiritual figure takes financial advantage of others. Sometimes, going through a tough time can make one feel abandoned by God during a time of need.
As with typical abandonment issues, people who have gone through such negative spiritual experiences often find themselves reacting in different ways to those experiences. The loss of a loved one doesn’t automatically lead to abandonment issues.
Similarly, negative spiritual experiences don’t necessarily lead to spiritual abandonment issues. Often, a complex interaction of environmental, social, emotional, psychological, and spiritual factors plays a role in whether abandonment issues develop.
If a person experiences spiritual abandonment, they may react to that in the same way one does to other fears of abandonment – by clinging to or rejecting other similar relationships. The issue for many people is that they respond to spiritual abandonment by rejecting all such relationships and refusing to commit themselves further.
Perhaps this is one reason why many people in our culture are happy to call themselves “spiritual” but not “religious” – they get to maintain control over “spirituality”, and they can commit to as much as they feel comfortable, while what is popularly termed “religion” may require deeper and more standard expressions of commitment.
Other people can respond to spiritual abandonment by clinging even more tenaciously to relationships that aren’t healthy. The desire to avoid rejection can lead people into spiritually hazardous territory such as uncritically accepting teaching that is detrimental to their well-being.
Sometimes, people will surrender control over their own lives and do whatever will please a spiritual leader. The desire for belonging and being part of something can blind one’s discernment and lead them to go so far as becoming part of a cult, especially if they are feeling vulnerable.
Abandonment issues will also often manifest in distrust, and that holds for spiritual abandonment. If one feels like God let them down, they may struggle to trust Him again and remain vulnerable with Him. Perhaps they prayed for healing but healing never came as they hoped, or perhaps they lost a loved one and blamed God for it.
Or perhaps someone they looked up to in their walk with God disappointed them somehow, and they no longer trust spiritual leaders. This can make progressing spiritually in community with others quite challenging.
Overcoming spiritual abandonment issues.
Abandonment issues can harm a person’s spiritual relationships, especially their relationship with God. One can either walk away from God or enter into relationships that distort healthy ways of relating to God and others. To overcome some of these abandonment issues, consider the following:
Remind yourself of the gospel.
The good news of Jesus is that God loves and accepts sinners because of what Jesus did on their behalf on the cross. John 3:16, arguably the most famous verse in the Bible says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV). We are reminded of God’s love in other places such as in Paul’s letter to the Romans:
God never accepted us or loved us because of our performance and anything good in us, but because of His unmerited grace toward us (Ephesians 2:1-10).
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation – Romans 5: 6-11, NIV.
If ever you are tempted to feel like your acceptance is conditional, you should remind yourself of these truths. Yes, God desires you to be faithful and walk in a manner that is worthy of the high calling you received, but if you fall short, all you need do is to go back to Him, confessing and repenting of what you have done, and He will “forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-10, NIV).
Learn more about God’s character and nature.
Learning more about who God is will help us trust Him more and give us a proper frame of reference to understand His actions toward us. From the Bible, we learn about His sovereignty, love, and providential care for us (Jeremiah 29: 1-23; Romans 8:28; Matthew 6: 25-34; 1 Peter 5:6,7; John 10: 1-18).
We will learn that though we may go through hard times, what is meant for evil and our destruction, God intends for good (Genesis 50:20. Going through hardship does not mean that God has abandoned us, or that he doesn’t care, and we can rest in the knowledge that God, our loving Father, is in control, so we don’t have to be.
Interrogate your emotions, thoughts, and experiences.
What we go through can influence us in subtle ways. It’s possible to go through the motions of believing God but find that you no longer trust Him. Instead of allowing our thoughts to influence us, we should interrogate ourselves and learn to discern what’s going on in our hearts.
Our hearts can be deceptive (Jeremiah 17:9), and so we need the help of the Spirit to sift them and to know ourselves (Psalm 19: 12-14), and to interpret our experiences. You can use journaling to do this, as well as to chronicle the ways God has been faithful.
Pursue a healthy community.
One way to address spiritual abandonment is to pursue a healthy community that can stand with you and remind you of all that God has for you in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1: 1-15). A healthy community can shore up your sense of community, and it is a space where you can be loved, ask questions, grow, find support, and use your spiritual gifts for others.
A healthy Christian community is one where Christ is at the center of the life of the community and not any one leader. Being in community will also ask you to be vulnerable and willing to share yourself with others, but that is part of what it means to be part of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12: 3-8).
A healthy community doesn’t mean that there will be no issues; rather, it creates room to forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32), bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:1-2), and love one another deeply, from the heart (1 Peter 1:22).
Christian counseling for abandonment.
Whether you’ve experienced loss, trauma, neglect, or another negative life experience that has led to fear of abandonment, it’s possible to overcome that fear. If your abandonment issues touch your relationship with God and your spiritual life, that can lead you into unhealthy patterns of thought and behavior regarding God and others.
Instead of either rejecting God and the spiritual community or clinging to unhealthy forms of community, it’s possible to experience healthy spiritual relationships and trust God in the business of life.
Christian counseling for abandonment issues will help you discern any unhealthy patterns of thought and behavior that are undermining your well-being and your relationships, and your counselor can also help you unearth the roots of your fear of abandonment and set healthy boundaries where necessary.
Being able to overcome deep-seated fear takes work such as self-care so that you’re healthy in mind, heart, soul, and body as you substitute unhealthy ways of being for constructive ones. If you struggle with abandonment issues, and if those issues are affecting your relationships with other people or with God, seek out the help of a Christian counselor who can help you to flourish and have healthy relationships.
“Dunes”, Courtesy of Keith Hardy, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Last Chance”, Courtesy of Mishal Ibrahim, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Bible”, Courtesy of Aaron Burden, Unsplash.com, Unsplash+ License; “Hold Out Till the End”, Courtesy of Billy Pasco, Unsplash.com, CC0 License