SummaryDetachment begins with viewing material goods as gifts from God, but does it end there? Emily Molitor considers what it means to be truly detached.
St. Gregory the Great writes that “Christians should possess goods as though they had none.”
What exactly does this mean for us? We must live with roofs over our heads, and beds to sleep in, must we not?
In the book We and Our Children, Mary Reed Newland writes that “perfect detachment is final death to self.
It is being so caught up in God that, like a star which has no light but the light it reflects from the sun, life has no other meaning but as a reflection of the honor and glory of God.”
Hence true detachment requires that one relinquish his claim on outward success, and that he become detached from seeing “results” according to his own eyes.
True detachment indicates that we accept what God gives us with gratitude, and that we surrender our claim of control over our lives.
The idea that we should be detached from everything is quite scary to the majority of us.
Perhaps we find ourselves capable of offering our bodily goods, our homes, or our cars, back to God, but we cannot discover sufficient generosity within our souls to offer our health, or the fate of those we love, back to God.
God loved us to the point of dying for us, and it may be that He understands us in our struggles. He knows of our desire to protect and give our lives for those we love, because he gave us these instincts in the first place.
As a mother, I find that my day to day struggles in the area of detachment lie chiefly in the strong attachment I feel towards my children and my family.
Perhaps I don’t really want to accept the fact that God gave them to me, that I in no way have earned their love, and that ultimately, I have no control over God’s will for their lives.
Here I must ask for courage and trust to accept the beautiful truth that a heart of love is a heart which can be broken, just as the heart of Christ’s mother was pierced out of love for her Son.
When I allow myself to accept the gift of life from the hand of God, then I also open myself to a deeper love and possibly deeper suffering.
I must pray for the grace to accept His terms for this gift, and herein lies the struggle. Yet God created us for love, and did not intend that we protect ourselves from suffering or pain through a cold and indifferent heart.
One way I have found which helps me learn the meaning of detachment is by working to become less attached to material goods.
Here I look to the model of detachment practiced in religious life, and find ways to incorporate this mentality within my own home. In a monastery or convent, material possessions are not “owned” or possessed by one individual, but seen as a shared good for the entire community.
We can encourage our children, and ourselves, to be more open in sharing what is ours, and giving freely to those in need.
Growing up in a large family, I learned many lessons in this regard, though oftentimes hesitantly, and through the coaxing of my wise parents.
I discovered that there is joy to be found in seeing someone else benefit from my prized possession, or that there is more satisfaction to be found in sharing an exciting experience or reward with a friend or sibling.
Something as simple as allowing my younger sister to borrow my clothes or use my personal items oftentimes became a real sacrifice and inner battle with myself.
I can remember (now with a healthy dose of shame) my hesitancy to lend one of my favorite books to my younger sister.
The selfish side of my soul convinced me that it would be somehow better if only I benefited from reading this book, and the evil serpent of jealousy whispered in my ear that my sister need not experience the good thing that I owned, lest perhaps it benefit her more than it had me.
Luckily, I overcame the temptation to selfishness, due to the uncomfortable guilt which continued to plague me.
Only in retrospect could I see just how ridiculous I had been, and how the positive experience of reading the book had never been any more my right than hers.
The interesting lesson I learned from the experience was to see how blinded I had been, due to my envy, and how only through becoming detached from the item could my eyes then be opened to the truth of the situation.
Now as an adult, I try not to view my possessions as something invaluable, but work to grow in detachment by imagining life without such and such, or practicing living without it for a day or a week to see what the impact will be.
Will it change the quality of my life? Will I be any less happy?
Often I discover that letting go of an item which I coveted actually frees me in a new way.
For example, detaching myself from social media during Lent, or from purchasing more clothes or another household item just because someone else has it, opens my eyes to my level of attachment in that specific area.
If I find myself disoriented and struggling to stay focused on my daily duties because of the sacrifice involved, then I realize that I need to re-evaluate my priorities.
I may find deeper joy in accepting that my goods can benefit someone else in a way which I had never imagined. A shirt that I own may look better on a sister or friend, or sharing a favorite book with a friend may bring deeper insight into my own understanding of it.
When I have worked at viewing my possessions as gifts from God, I have come to a deeper appreciation of His Providence, and a fuller understanding of my inability to control anything I have.
Another thing I have realized is that I need to become more and more detached from my ideas of success.
It is a difficult habit to develop, as it requires humility and a deliberate attack on the vice of pride. We all desire to be on top, to be the healthiest, the happiest, and the most successful.
In themselves, these desires are not evil; on the contrary, God gives us these deep desires in order to spur us out of sloth and on to great conquests.
However, we must embrace the truth that spiritual conquests should be our priority, rather than physical ones.
A fundamental difference between spiritual and material goods is the fact that spiritual goods are not tangible and visible, as are material goods.
As bodily creatures, we rely on sense experience to find fulfillment, for when we see with our own eyes the fruits of our labors, then we enjoy a deep satisfaction. When I see my children behaving with good manners and performing kind deeds, I experience a sense of accomplishment in my work as a mother.
A clean house and healthy meal means that I have accomplished my goals for the day. Pride in that accomplishment is natural and good.
But when I develop an attitude of control and superiority, that accomplishment becomes dangerous to my spiritual health.
Oftentimes, when I have witnessed my children behaving correctly, or have enjoyed my marriage flourishing, I have been tempted to imagine that I am doing everything right. I forget about the grace of God and succumb to the appeal of viewing myself as the motivating force behind all good things in my life.
Yet spiritual goods, such as strengthening my prayer life or growing in a new virtue, may not yield evident results. These goods require deliberate hard work and the strengthening of my will, and I am usually not rewarded with immediate results.
On the contrary, I am often only humbled by my efforts in these areas. I need to remember at these times, that spiritual goods are more important than physical ones, even though I may not reap the benefits or see the rewards of my labors.
Even if my children eat all their vegetables for dinner, or my husband compliments me on the clean kitchen, it does not necessarily mean that the order of my soul is clean and healthy.
The things which we do in secret that only God sees, and the hidden sacrifices offered constantly throughout the day, these are the most important ways through which we will draw closer to the heart of Christ.
I continue to discover God’s faithfulness amidst daily life, and His ability to bring me back to reality in one way or another.
Slowly, I am learning to accept the truth that every good and worthy thing comes from God.
That means my intelligence, my will, my creativity, my health, and even my good desires all find their basis in God.
What will bring the deepest satisfaction and lasting happiness is knowing that I am using God’s gifts for His glory.
Header photo CC: Adobe Stock – cosma |