Anxiety and Attachment

No thing or person outside of us has the power to make us happy or unhappy.

Hyveth Williams

It recently became clear to me that expectation is the root of all anxiety and attachment. We expect anything and everything from the contradictory to the impossible—the opinion of Daniel J. Boorstin, former librarian of Congress and director of the National Museum of American History. “We expect to eat and stay thin; to be constantly on the move and ever more neighborly; to go to the ‘church of our choice’ and yet feel its guiding power over us; to revere God and to be God. Never have people been more the masters of their environment. Yet never has a people felt more deceived and disappointed.”1

And never, perhaps, has service to God and others been more suppressed than by the two evil companions of expectation called anxiety and attachment.

Anxiety is a distress, an apprehension caused by fear of danger or worry that something expected will not come to fruition. Attachment is something we crave or dread, someone to whom we cling while believing that without such a person or thing we cannot be happy. Like anxiety, attachment causes one to be tossed about by emotions, to suffer pangs of anger or depression because the heart is set on getting and/or holding something or someone while fearing their loss.

The Bible reminds us that we were born in sin and raised in iniquity (Rom. 7:18-20). Our anxiety and attachment spring from the way we’ve been programed by our society, distorted religious teachings, and even ourselves, namely, that without this person or that thing, we can’t or won’t be happy.

There’s only one cure: accepting that no thing or person outside of us has the power to make us happy or unhappy. We were created happy by God. This happiness is not a momentary, spontaneous feeling of delight about a particular person, thing, or event; it is a gift from God.

Ellen White affirmed this. “God made man perfectly holy and happy. . . . It is transgression of God’s law—the law of love—that has brought woe and death. Yet even amid the suffering that results from sin, God’s love is revealed.”
2 Although sin has deformed or made a shadow of the image of God and His corresponding happiness in all of us, we still hold the option to decide whether we’ll be happy or unhappy.

Happiness is like holiness. The moment we are aware of it, it’s ours. Therefore, despite the terrors of daily breaking news and fears of failure, avoid the addiction of attachment and “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear” (Matt. 6:25). Instead, “rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4).

Take a careful look at the things and people around you. Look, as if for the very first time, at the face of a friend, a tree, a bird in flight, the behavior and mannerisms of your family. See them without expectation through the lens of God’s grace. See them afresh, and escape the dulling, stupefying effect of anxieties and attachments. God’s grace wins all the time!

  2. Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956), p. 9.

Hyveth Williams is a professor at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University.