It’s Official – You Add “Life” when you stand by your loved onesMay 13, 2021
by. Dr. John Trent
There are so many incredible clinical studies coming out today that support something I learned years ago at the movies. Something that I hope and pray you have in your life – and are sharing with others around you in your practice and especially in your home.
For me, it happened when I was tricked into attending a movie. It was a Billy Graham movie. I was a senior in high school. My father had left when I was two months old and I hadn’t met him yet. My mother had spent the last year in and out of hospitals in Indiana getting surgically replaced knees and elbows. My two brothers and I were raising ourselves. I was doing a really bad job of it. Being suspended from school. Fights. Drinking so much I was becoming like my father who was an alcoholic – and I’d never met him.
What we are seeing in more and more studies the incredible need for attachment. That crucial need for bonding, not just with children, but adult and couple bonding as well. As well as a cascade of new studies showing the damage from growing up so “unparented” and unattached. But attachment assumes you have someone choosing to stand next to you – no matter what.
Standing next to me that night as we walked into the movie, back when I was that spiritually lost and emotionally unattached teenager, was my Young Life leader, Doug Barram. He had invited six of us who were on the football team to this movie. All of us were unbelieving pagans in the late 60’s – and if you remember the 60’s, you weren’t there. Or at least I wasn’t there most of the time between the alcohol and newly exploding drug scene.
But I was sober that night. (Of course, the night was early). But then something happened that changed the direction of my life and future. You might have anticipated this given the kind of movie we were attending. I didn’t see it coming. But at the end of the movie, like at all Billy Graham movies of that day, someone got up afterward and gave an “invitation” to come to know Jesus.
I was so lost. So hurt. So tired of being alone. Whoever that person was upfront, he had me at, “Do you want to change the pictures of your life story?” Actually, 5 out of the 6 of us broken, hurting athletes walked down the aisle that night and gave our lives to Jesus. But here’s how that links with something crucial they’re discovering today that applies to those of us who are counseling others.
When we walked down the Kachina Theater in Scottsdale, Arizona, Doug was upfront waiting for us. We didn’t know he’s already been through the “training” to be there. We all surrounded him and he went through a track on coming to Christ. We all prayed – and then Doug gave each of us a small bible. My first ever bible.
He had underlined a verse in the bible and marked it with a bookmark so we could find it. He told me to go home that night and read Hebrews 13:5b, 100 times. It’s a short verse that says, “For He Himself (meaning Jesus ) has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
He was being metaphorical. Like go home and read it a lot. I thought he was serious. I went home, got out a pencil and paper, and started making “tally marks” each time I read the verse. “For He Himself has said…” One mark. “I will never leave you…” A second mark. “… or forsake you.” A third mark. What was happening in my life, was something an amazing study points out on who is there for us.
Researchers in “visual perception” set up a study.1 Picture, your seven-year-old is standing in front of a very high hill. Visual perception studies tell us that if we stand in front of such a hill, we will look at it being of a certain height. But if we’re alone, most people will visually measure that hill as being higher and steeper than it is in actuality.
But now let’s say a mom or dad shows up. A mom or dad that this seven-year-old is closely attached to and knows deeply loves them. That person they’re “attached” to stands right next to them. Perhaps even holds their hand or puts their hand on their shoulder. Amazingly, having a loved one or strongly connected friend stand close beside us and we’ll estimate the hill to be lower than it actually is, and far less of a challenge to climb than when we viewed it alone! Let’s let two scientists explain, in more technical terms:
“Proximity to social resources decreases the cost of climbing both the literal and figurate hills we face, by the brain construing social resources as bioenergetic resources, much like oxygen or glucose.” James A. Coan and David A. Sbarra
In less technical terms, you actually add “life” and energy and courage and emotional strength to someone when you stand close to them! In my case, it added spiritual “life” as well.
So he’s the “rest of the story.” I kept reading about Jesus who I’d just met. Time after time, read, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” About the 60th time, I realized I was weeping. Uncontrollably. I make it to 100 times and I have never been the same a single day of my life. My father by choice and my mother by tragedy, weren’t there to stand close to me as I looked up at those huge challenges in adolescence. But now I had a Heavenly Father and His Son’s word on it, that I would never be alone. That I had someone standing right beside me.
My prayer for each of us is that we’re modeling that kind of “attachment” as parents and couples. That we’re committed to bless and stand all our life alongside those most precious to us. And that we’ve got that deepest of connections ourselves. It took 100 times for that kind of commitment to breakthrough and break down all that loneliness and brokenness I felt. May we experience and help others we’re working with do the same.
1 Gross, J.J., & Profitt, D. (2013). The economy of social resources and its influence on spatial perceptions, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7, 772.
Dr. John Trent is a best-selling, award-winning author and speaker, of books like The Two Sides of Love, the Language of Love, and The Blessing (which has sold over 2 million copies). He is the President and Founder of StrongFamilies, a 501c3 he runs with his oldest daughter. StrongFamilies is dedicated to helping others end loneliness and create genuine attachment through The Blessing.