One of the key ideas of the spiritual journey is the importance of detachment. All the great saints and mystics speak of the importance of this virtue. Sometimes it is called ‘Holy Indifference’. Unfortunately, these terms have negative connotations for us in 21st century America. This important virtue does not mean we do not care about others; nor does it imply a depressive unconcern for our welfare in this life. It is a virtue that frees us to do what is most important for our welfare and for the welfare of others and not get hung up on secondary concerns which can dominate us and cause the cravings of addiction.
While detachment as a spiritual discipline is found in many of the world’s religions, it has a very important place theologically in Christianity. For we believe that the Word of God ‘emptied Himself’ to become a human being, thereby choosing by the path of humility the role of service as defining the Christian who seeks to walk in the example of Christ. To do this (of course I am speaking of the great doctrine of the Incarnation) He had to detach Himself from the prerogatives of the Divine Nature and become a creature like us. This detachment unto humility and love is the very center of our faith. Therefore, it is essential in the life of a Christian as well: We must all detach ourselves from the things we want and crave so as to take the lower place of service in imitation of Christ.
That being said, though, truth is that we all tend to develop dependencies very quickly. One of these dependencies could be for a material thing (like our car) or for a person (like a friend). We get used to something and when we are called upon to do without it, we have difficulty. This difficulty can be short term or be with us for the rest of our lives.
Some people develop friendships that are co-dependent. They only feel safe and happy when they are with one another. All friendships, and indeed all relations, have a certain healthy dependency. This is a good thing. We do need one another and we need some people more than others. Co-dependency is a more dangerous dependency where we cannot be happy without being with the other. Other friendships cannot be initiated or grow because of the concentration of time and attention that is lavished on our favored friend. Neither person can grow until a more proper and interdependent relationship is established.
One can also develop a dependency on a mood-altering substance: alcohol, drugs etc. This dependency easily becomes an addiction which can literally destroy the person.
God made us free and wants us to stay free. He doesn’t impose His will on us and He is happy when we develop a rich variety of concerns. But the problem remains: given our propensity to hold on to things that we want and feel we cannot live without them (which tends to be many more things than we imagine), how do we detach? How do we let go?
If we look at the experience of those who have wrestled with this in an extreme way (I think of those who have been seriously addicted to substances like alcohol), it is impossible to free oneself except through a Divine rescue. As enshrined in the “12 Step” spirituality, which grew from Christian soil, the individual who is in bondage to these factors must deeply admit that one’s live has become a chaos and that they are incapable of putting it back together. Further, they have come to believe in a power who cares for them who can break the bond. They then make the decision to ask that power to accomplish in their lives what they have failed to do over the course of many years.
What is outlined in this very basic program is the process of faith. Once one believes in God and in His power, then the miracle of grace can occur. Remember the Gospel passages that extol the power of this faith. I am thinking of that beautiful passage where the woman with the flow of blood, unbeknownst to Jesus, touches the hem of His clothing and is cured (Mark 5:25-34). Then, in contrast to this, there is the hostile reception of Christ in His home town of Nazareth. He could not do miracles there because of their lack of faith (Mark 6:1-6).
Thus, what we call ‘letting go’ must be accompanied with the added advice of ‘letting God’, that is allowing God to accomplish His will in us. This is always for our benefit though it often begins in a difficult way.
The secret to spiritual joy is, therefore, to let go and let God!
“Blessed be the Lord, for he has heard the sound of my pleadings. The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.” – Psalm 25:6-7