Why is spiritual detachment necessary?

posted in: Prayer and Virtue | 9
Have you made an idol out of chocolate? (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In my post last week we defined spiritual detachment as getting rid of our selfish clinging to things or persons other than God in response to His love for us. Today I would like to address why detachment is necessary.

St. John of the Cross, co-founder of the Order of Discalced Carmelites and a doctor of the Church, wrote, “The soul that desires God to surrender Himself to it entirely must surrender itself to Him without keeping anything for itself.” Wouldn’t you like to have God completely give Himself to you, holding nothing back? Then you must give yourself completely to Him. When you keep God at arm’s length, you cannot grow very close to Him!

Likewise, if your soul is full of earthly things, you leave no room for God. Consuming spiritual junk food leaves no room for what really nourishes us. Only God can satisfy our longing for happiness. The more we try to make ourselves happy through material things and other people, the less happy we will be. We were made for union with God. Nothing less will suffice.

Disordered attachments equal idols

Attachments are a kind of idolatry. When we are unwilling to let go of our grasp on things, even for the sake of God, we have made a little god out of them.  We are implicitly saying that they are at least as important to us as God is.

Are you often distracted during prayer? When a friend or family member speaks to you, do you find your mind wandering to your own concerns? Sometimes this is a result of wrong attachments.

We have not learned how to trust God with our lives, so we are not at peace. We have constant worries and preoccupations. They sap our energy and weaken our relationships with God and other people.

You can’t see God (or anything) clearly with a log in your eye

File:The Enthroned Trinity as Three Identical Figures.jpg
The Enthroned Trinity as Three Identical Figures (Photo: Wikimedia Commons).

Attachments also cloud our vision.  Jesus said we need to remove the plank from our eye in order to see clearly. That plank might be sin, or it might be attachments. Our ability to give good advice and real help to other people is jeopardized by them. (See Matthew 7:3-5.)

Finally, no one can see God face-to-face in Heaven, if he is attached to something else. We must be absolutely pure and God-focused first. Being purged from our inordinate attachments is not optional. That is where Purgatory comes in. The more tightly we cling to things while on earth, the longer and harder our Purgatory will be. Since we have to be purged sooner or later, why not—as St. Teresa of Ávila was fond of saying—make a virtue of necessity, and start the process now? Wouldn’t being at peace immediately after death be worth the price of letting go of things that can never make us happy anyway?

Are there things that are holding you back from God? What would be difficult for you to give up? It might be as small as a cup of coffee or as big as a close friendship. Take some time today to meditate on this.  Now is the moment to start letting go, so you can grasp more firmly onto God.

Connie Rossini

Share with us: What are you struggling to let go of? What practical steps are you taking to be less attached?


9 Responses

  1. SaintlySages

    For the more fervent, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between inordinate attachments and legitimate duties toward people and things that God has placed in our care. God bless!

    • Connie Rossini

      Hmm, that’s an interesting observation. Some people are naturally more moved by things, people, and events than the rest of us. Some have a greater need for friendships. Some display more emotion. To an outsider, it might look like attachment. But it seems to me that in their own hearts they could tell the difference as easily as anyone else. (Perhaps I’m mistaken.) As I wrote, I think what distracts you in prayer and in conversation with others gives a good indication of what’s most important to you. Loving and caring for people is not inordinate attachment. Skipping prayer to meet a friend for coffee might be. Loving beauty and wanting to beautify your house is not wrong. Having a lot of possessions you don’t need and resisting the idea of giving them up might be attachment too. A spiritual director is invaluable to help us discern these things!

  2. Gabbi

    It is a constant, changing spiritual chore to find the proper use of material goods. I recall a story involving St. Francis in which he was distracted during prayer by a little vase someone had given him. He ended up throwing it to the floor. The beauty of the vase was not enough to keep it since it kept his mind off of his prayer.

    If we see ourselves as children before the Lord, I think He is pleased with our efforts and constant turning toward Him.

    • Connie Rossini

      Great story! Most of us would think it was disrespectful of the feelings of the giver to smash his gift. You’re right that this challenge never goes away. Our culture is so materialistic (after all, a lot of people have no spiritual life, no healthy relationships, so goods are all they have). We’re all influenced by that. I like what you say about our efforts. God’s not standing over trying to find something wrong He can correct. He’s always looking for the good He can reward.

  3. George

    The late Fr. Anthony DeMello had a fabulous series called Awareness in which he describes attachments as the source of our unhappiness. It is not as though we have to do anything to be happy. Happiness, he would say, is not something to be sought after or something we can “find”. Why? Because we already have it. The problem is that we are all the time covering it up with our attachments – attachments to people and things like money reputation, the opinion of others, etc. Drop your attachments and you are left with pure, undiluted happiness. Meditative prayer or contemplation (awareness) is the key!

  4. Ernest

    I have become pretty disabled through illness in later life and with it most of my attachments have disappeared. However I am scared of getting worse and that is why I find it hard to trust in God.

    • Connie Rossini

      Ernest, that is so understandable.We all have fears of suffering, disability, and death. Keep working at it. Keep praying. A key for me is to recognize that God is in control of everything. If He allows some evil into my life, He will also give me the grace to come closer to Him through it–if I choose. But even Jesus felt a human revulsion to suffering. We can’t completely get away from that. The world is broken by sin. We weren’t designed for suffering and death. Only the resurrection will ultimately heal us. Peace.

  5. Laura Nelson

    In trying to come closer to the Lord and be strengthened in my faith, I began watching orthodox YouTube videos or listening to Podcasts. One of the hosts made an important point one day. He said something to the effect that if we were watching him and not taking the time to pray the Rosary or mental prayer, we were doing it wrong. I realized then that sometimes that was happening to me and that I needed to be much more discerning in what I watched and how much I watched (even if it’s all “good”). I can still see that I have the temptation to want to watch/listen too much and sometimes have a problem finding how to strike the right balance. However, I have given up a lot and it has made much more time for prayer and doing things I should be doing here at the house when I’m physically able.

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