Desperately Seeking Detachment

Yesterday was the 24th anniversary of my mother’s death. Although many years have passed since that awful Tuesday morning, some anniversaries hit me harder than others. This year was one of those years, and it wasn’t even a “milestone.” Maybe it’s because of the stress I’m under professionally. Maybe it’s because of some personal stuff that’s got me down. More likely it’s a combination of both atop the usual grief.

I usually post a remembrance of my mother on April 12, but this time I felt the need to go more inward with my “celebration” of the day. I needed to chew on some things that still have to do with my mother all these many years after her death.

And what I kept coming back to was the word “detachment.” My mother’s death from colon cancer left a gaping hole in my life and in my family, but what you quickly — or sometimes not so quickly — learn after the loss of a close loved one is that rest of the world goes on without so much as a backward glance. You either move with it, carrying your grief deep in your heart, or you get stuck.

It was there, in this school of life, that I first learned detachment, although I didn’t recognize it as that. I learned that I could go on, I would go on, without my mother, despite the fact that I couldn’t imagine that was possible. I learned that losing my mother didn’t lessen my love for her; it only shifted the physical landscape of our relationship. I learned that the ties that bind us to the people in our lives can snap in a flash and without warning, with or without sickness to speed things along.

Now I wonder if the kind of detachment forced upon me long ago might be a good template for detachment of my own choosing right now. It’s not easy, to be sure. Trying to untangle unhealthy connections to possessions, habits, family members, friends, and more goes against everything the ego wants. We want to feel loved. We want to feel valued. We want to feel good and look good and live good. But what does that get any of us?

We end up clinging to — or grieving for — things we can’t have, people who won’t love us, places we can’t go, success we don’t achieve, and on and on. Before you know it, life revolves around the lack, not the blessings. But if we can learn detachment, to own things without letting them own us, to love people without expecting love in return, we inch closer to the place Jesus talked about, a place where none of this earthly stuff matters all that much because we have our sights set on something much better.

With each passing year, detachment seems to find its way deeper and deeper into my life without my really trying all that hard, mostly with regard to professional things or material things. It’s the personal stuff that is so difficult to detach from because it’s so, well, personal. But it’s not impossible, and for the first time I think I’m feeling detachment finally settle in there as well. We’ll see. I can’t force it because then I’d just be getting attached to my detachment.

“The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” — John 12:25

Seven Last Words

Father forgive them, they know not what they do…

We see Jesus on the cross today and hear him forgiving his persecutors, forgiving us. It is a powerful scene, but it is more than just a scene out of our faith history. Jesus’ way is supposed to be our way. Forgive, forgive, forgive, even in the face of the most unreasonable suffering and injustice. Are we willing to forgive as Jesus did?

Today you will be with me in Paradise.

The “good thief” has always been a favorite of mine. Imagine in your last dying moment that you utter a few kind words and are assured by Jesus himself that you will be in heaven with him that day. It would be nice to assume that in that situation I would have taken the path of belief, like the good thief, but there is a much bigger part of me that probably would have been like the unrepentant thief, expecting mercy and miracles despite faithlessness.

Woman, behold your son…

At last a comfort in the midst of all this misery. God gives us a mother for all time. He reminds us that his mother is our mother, who, with a mother’s unconditional love, will open her arms to us when we are desperate, when we are hurting, when we are searching for peace and a way back to the Father.

My God, my God, why have you foresaken me?

Despair, despair. If Jesus can feel despair, what hope is there for me? Then again, Jesus’ moment of despair reminds me of his humanness and that gives me hope even in this dark moment. God became man, walked on earth, suffered torture and death beyond our comprehension. My God is fully human and fully divine. My God knows what it means to live this earthly life, and so my God knows my small sufferings and heartaches and will not turn His back on me.

I thirst.

The wretched physical anguish of the Crucifixion is coming to bear. It is almost too much for us to take. Jesus, water poured out for the world, thirsts. And yet in the midst of this suffering, we remember Jesus’ words to the woman at the well, the woman to whom he first revealed his identity: “…whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst.” (John 4:14)

It is finished.

Jesus has completed his mission of redemption. Darkness descends, the earth shakes, the temple curtain tears in two. We see Jesus’ anguish near its end. We should be reduced to trembling at the enormity of his suffering, his gift to us. Unlike his followers who were plunged into fear and despair at this moment, we have the benefit of hindsight. We know what is coming. We know that his Crucifixion was cause for our salvation. His death a victory. His earthly end our eternal beginning.

Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.

Jesus is going back to the Father, back to where he started before time began, but he will not leave us orphans. We patiently wait to celebrate his Resurrection, to rejoice in our unearned windfall. We wait, pray, watch, listen — hopeful, trusting, faithful. We begin our vigil now, waiting for the darkness to turn to light.

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