The Power of Stories to Heal Spiritual Attachment Disorder

Originally published April 2006.

An attachment disorder loosely defined is a psychological condition that starts in early development. A baby is completely dependent on a caregiver to fulfill the basic needs of food, comfort and safety. Nurturing fulfillment promotes optimal development and facilitates a secure attachment relationship between the caregiver and the child.  However, maltreatment such as abuse or neglect may compromise development and cause social, cognitive, emotional and behavioral problems as the child grows. This creates the condition called attachment disorder. Basically the child has never experienced the kind of love that perseveres through joy and sorrow.

We all have suffered from some sort of attachment disorder in our relationship with our Father God.  We don't understand His love. We don't trust His grace. We don't accept His touch. We forget about His compassion. We act out and then slowly realize that it's still safe to come home.  It takes us a while to realize the kind of love that perseveres through joy and sorrow.

Doctors are finding that one of the most effective treatments for attachment disorder is incorporating the power of stories. It is through the telling of stories, particularly family stories, that those children with attachment disorder learn about a love that perseveres through joy and sorrow.  A parent (usually adoptive or foster at this point) can display love all he/she can but that child cannot understand it.  It is usually only after story after story that the child does begin to understand.  This makes sense because those words “Once upon a time...” move the mind to wonder. A child is told over and over again, “Once upon a time, Mommy and Daddy brought home Randy.  That first day...”  Or, “Once upon a time it was very rainy outside and Daddy and Randy were playing with the trains.  And then the train...”  When the child is part of the story, the chid wonders.  Wondering opens one to acceptance.

Which would you rather hear?  “Once upon a time...” or “Open your Bible to...”  There is power in stories, especially in youth ministry.

Off The Map, a Christian ministry, stumbled into an interesting project.  They were the winning bidder on eBay from an atheist who put up for auction his “atheist attention.”  They won and that winning bid has opened up an even conversation while taking “the eBay atheist” to various churches to learn from him how to be better Christians.  You can follow the experience at  After attending one church, Hemant had this to say about the sermon:  “I was listening to the sermon when he spoke from his heart about his story. However, as soon as he finished the story, he seemed to go back into ‘script’ mode to deliver the communion. And that’s when it became boring again.”


There is power in stories.

How do you bury an 8-year old boy who died after an 11-month battle with cancer as my church had to do this past August?  You tell stories of his life at the viewing and the funeral. The stories brought laughter and happy tears in what should have been a devastating funeral.

There is power in stories.

Mark 4:33-34 tells us: “Jesus used many other stories when he spoke to the people, and he taught them as much as they could understand. He did not tell them anything without using stories. But when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything to them.”

Jesus knew there is power in stories.

So how do you incorporate stories in youth ministry?  Here are some ideas you can borrow:

∙    Tell your stories.  Many of us already do this. We like to share the lessons we have learned from our mistakes.  Plus we like to reminisce and share from our spiritual timeline.  Just remember when telling your stories to make sure there is a spiritual transfer point and to make sure that the story doesn’t take away from the scripture or your message as a whole.  Personal stories are powerful (ask the eBay atheist) but they can also be too powerful for the purpose.

∙    Have adults in your church share their stories.  You have a lot of interesting people in your church who have their own testimonies and spiritual timelines which will bless your youth.  Bring in these “guests” as often as you can.  Give them five good minutes.  Besides the story, your teens will see these adults in an entirely new light from this little exercise.

∙    Read children storybooks, particularly parables.  There are some great Biblical life lessons which can be reaped from children storybooks.  We all have fond memories of having stories read to us when we were younger.  Your teens have those fond memories too.  When you find a good one, practice reading it with expression as good storytellers do.  

∙    Have small groups create their own small group stories.  This creative idea can be done a thousand different ways.  You can give them props and a scripture base to create a story for the group.  You can give them the opening few sentences.  You can give them the ending only.  You can come up with your own creative way.  The only important thing to remember is to give them some sort of specific guidelines so the purpose is met.