A couple of recent events have forced me to focus on the idea of “detachment,” letting go of those things that threaten to control us, consume us, or, at the very least, use up a lot of our energy and time unnecessarily. In our world today, detachment is most often talked about in reference to material things. In fact, it’s almost a bit of a fad. People want to live more simply, downsize their houses, buy local, go green.
For me, the material stuff isn’t so much the issue. I don’t need the big TV or expensive shoes. It’s the less tangible things that I seem to have to disentangle myself from. It makes me think of the passage from Luke 14:26, when Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” For a long time that reading just didn’t resonate with me. How could we “hate” our mother and father, our brothers and sisters? But, as usual, Jesus wasn’t talking literally but in story form, trying to teach us a bigger concept.
Putting messianic prophecies aside (because so much of what Jesus said meant more to the Jews of his time than any of us can understand without a Bible scholar on hand), this passage is a reminder to us of where God needs to be in our lives. Of course we’re not supposed to hate the people close to us. After all, Jesus told us we were to love everyone, even our enemies, so I think it’s fair to say we’re supposed to love our family. But those relationships cannot become so all-consuming that they get in the way of our relationship with God.
So that’s what I’ve been thinking about these days. We go through life trying to fulfill certain roles in our immediate families, our extended families, our circle of friends, our community. Sometimes we don’t even stop to think whether that role is good for us or for anyone else; it’s just what we do because, well, aren’t we supposed to do it? No, as it turns out.
Our job is to love God first and let everything else fall into place. Detachment, I think, is a natural byproduct of the God-centered life. So, when we can’t make a family member love us, we find a way to love them anyway and let go. When our children start to spread their wings and we have the urge to mold them in our own image, we find a way to pull back and let them choose their own path. When we can’t be all things to all people, we find a way to step aside and quickly realize that things move forward without us.
Still, it’s not an easy thing to do, this detaching. Human nature makes us want to hold on for dear life, whether it’s to our possessions, our children, our larger family, or something even less tangible than that — our fears, our expectations, our self image.
I think I learned the greatest lesson in detachment when my mother died more than 22 years ago. Despite our physical separation, I realized — perhaps slowly as the initial grief began to fade — that the bond we shared transcended time and space. It remains for all time, and that’s a beautiful gift and a powerful lesson.
It’s only when we let go of our need to hold onto people and things that we finally experience the depth of love we were hungering for. It’s only when we remove the mask we put on for the world and face our true selves squarely in the mirror that we finally have the opportunity become the people we were created to be. It’s only when we love God first that we finally learn to love those around us more perfectly.
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