Having spent some time in the education field, I’ve seen it quite a bit. Little kindergarteners on their first days of school sometimes have a hard time separating from mom or dad. When dropped off for school, they may go kicking and screaming into the classroom, not wanting to have the parent leave them. It has nothing to do with any bad experiences they’ve had with school…after all, their experience at this point is likely nil. It usually doesn’t have anything to do with the environment or the teacher. Most kindergarten classrooms are colorful, fun and inviting for little ones…and, let’s face it, most kindergarten teachers are just as sweet as they can be. They have to be to want to do their job, right? The bottom line…the problem is all about separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is a normal experience in childhood development and occurs as the child develops object permanence. This is the realization that people or things are still in existence even when out of sight. A child will then wonder if the parent or person of attachment will return, since there is not yet a full understanding of place or time. I don’t mean to bore you with this, but the point is, separation anxiety is normal as a part of childhood development. Separation Anxiety Disorder develops, however, when there is an inordinate level of anxiety that occurs beyond this normal development and indicates other factors at play in the person’s life. This can even be experienced in older children or adolescents. When this happens, there are other factors involved that must be addressed so that the individual does not become incapacitated in living.
Treating Spiritual Separation Anxiety
Early on in one’s experience of following Christ, there may be a phase in which the individual wonders about the love and grace of God for them. Although there is a gratitude for the redemption that has been received from Jesus, there may be seeds of doubt that creep in and a resulting anxiety about whether God really does love them and will be faithful to keep them in His hands. This often occurs when he/she has sinned. Usually, with careful discipleship care and application of the Word of God, this is not an ongoing problem for the Christ Follower. However, when the individual experiences ongoing anxiety about God’s love and acceptance of them, and doubts reign in the heart, there is a problem that must be addressed.
Sensitive and loving care from a fellow believer will often be sufficient in helping the Christian who is experiencing spiritual separation anxiety. When there is a demonstration of confidence in the promises of God by a fellow Christ Follower, coupled with encouragement and prayer, the struggling believer will likely see growth and faith increase. This is where community is important to the growth and development of every follower of Christ. To ensure this takes place, here are some suggestions for treating SSAD (Spiritual Separation Anxiety Disorder).
1. Take the new believer through a study of the basics of the faith so that questions and misconceptions are addressed and a sound, biblical foundation is established. This is best done one-on-one, rather than in a classroom setting.
2. Help the believer develop a consistent prayer life. Demonstrate, model, discuss, and pray with the individual so that he/she understands the dynamics of effective prayer. Check out the series on prayer here.
3. Share passages of Scripture with the Christ Follower that promises God’s commitment to His children. One such passage is the one below from Romans.
31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What a promise! If you face doubt and wonder if God will leave you, encourage yourself with these words. If you have a friend who struggles in this way, encourage them with these words. They are truth…they are a promise. Don’t just trust the promise…as my pastor says, “Trust the Promiser!”
5 Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”6 So we may boldly say:
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?”