Life comes with many opportunities to form attachments. Some of them are harmless, but others can be quite harmful to us and to those around us, particularly when they devolve into addictions.
The commercial below humorously points out the downright danger that some attachments can bring and bids us to let go of them; God does the same.
The first step is to realize the burdens that some of our attachments bring. An inordinate attachment to food can lead us to be overweight and/or have other health issues. An overwhelming attachment to accumulating material possessions can cause financial difficulties. An unhealthy attachment to our job can eat away at our free time and take a toll on our personal relationships.
Recognizing the burden that accompanies some of our attachments can be the push we need to work on getting rid of them.
Ask God what attachments you need to let go of or at least reduce. Ask Him to show you the burdens and then to give you the grace to want to be free of them.
It is common to think of detachment as something the poor easily have and the rich seldom have. Whatever the statistics on detachment as related to wealth, it is certainly true that there are some poor folks who are greedy attached to this world’s riches, while there are some rich people who are quite generous and unattached to the possessions their wealth affords.
Two stories come to mind. I do not recall the sources, and I have likely adapted them over the years. They speak to the difficulty of maintaining a healthy detachment from material wealth regardless of one’s financial health.
A wandering monk moved about preaching. He owned only the clothing on his back and, strangely, a golden begging bowl, gifted to him by a benefactor who was also his disciple. One night as he was about to lie down among the ruins of an ancient monastery he spied a thief, lurking among the columns. “Here, take this,” he said, handing the golden begging bowl to the thief. “That way you won’t disturb me once I have fallen asleep.” The thief eagerly took the bowl and ran off. But the next morning he returned, saying, “You have made me feel poor, giving me the bowl so freely. Teach me to acquire the riches that make this sort of lighthearted detachment possible.”
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Among the wandering shepherds was a leader who lived in riches, with luxurious tents, surrounded by servants. So lavish was his wealth that his tent pegs, driven in the ground, were made of solid gold. A poorer shepherd came by one day with his wooden begging bowl, cracked and warped. Seeing such wealth, he begged from the wealthy man but also upbraided him for such conspicuous wealth. Nevertheless, the wealthy man welcomed him, served him a fine meal, and permitted him to rest in his expansive tents. Early the next day the wealthy man said to the poorer one, “Come, let us go up to Jerusalem.” Staff in hand, the wealthy man left his wealth and luxury behind without a thought or care. A short way into the journey the poor man realized that he had left his wooden begging bowl behind and wanted to go back and get it. But the rich man said, “I left all my wealth behind without care or worry. Yet you are so attached to a cup of little or no worth that you cannot go up to Jerusalem without it. You upbraided me for my wealth, but I want to assure you, the golden tent pegs to which you objected were driven into the earth, not into my heart.”
Yes, detachment is ultimately a matter of the heart. It is not wrong to enjoy the good things of life, but too often they possess us, and we come rely on them so heavily that we cannot imagine living without them. We who live in these times of widespread comfort sometimes discover that we lack the freedom to live without them. Further, though surrounded by abundance, we see to be more fearful, not less. Though this age is filled with luxuries and creature comforts, we seem more anxious than ever; we just have too much to lose. The tent pegs that belong in the earth are so often driven into our heart.
St. Paul describes the grace we should seek:
I have learned to be content regardless of my circumstances. I know how to live humbly, and I know how to abound. I am accustomed to any and every situation—to being filled and being hungry, to having plenty and having need. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength (Phil 4:11-13).
Without this grace, it is clear how quickly our hearts enter bondage and we go astray. Help us, Lord, to enjoy what you have given but not so much that it becomes a substitute for you. May trust and gratitude be our guide to detachment.
There is an old story that speaks to the true source of freedom:
The philosopher Diogenes was eating bread and lentils for his supper. He was seen by the philosopher Aristippus, who said, “If you would learn to be more subservient to the king, you would not have to live on lentils.” Diogenes replied, “Learn to live on lentils and you will not have to cultivate the king.”
We often think that money, power, and access give us freedom; this may be partially true. If I have money and access I can usually procure more things and have greater variety, but what deeper freedoms have I surrendered for the surface-level freedoms of variety and quantity? In return for these lesser freedoms, the world usually demands a loyalty that require us to surrender important core principles. In exchange for access to this world’s income, approval, and trinkets, it is usually demanded (explicitly or implicitly) that we adopt the ways, thinking, and morals of the world. Satan articulates this transaction very clearly to Jesus:
And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours” (Luke 4:5-7).
In making this one concession, Jesus would have gained the “freedom” to maneuver and to do as He pleased—but what a concession!
Worshiping the devil or his world (for he is the prince of this world) is too high a price to pay for its passing and limited freedoms. Yet in subtler but real ways, it is something most of us do. We will compromise moral truths and even commit sin in order to ingratiate ourselves to others. To be popular, we will parrot the views of the world—even if they are contrary to God’s revealed truth; we will remain silent when we should speak. We do not always do this in malice, but rather out of our weakness. We feel pressured to conform, knowing that it is required for access and approval.
Is giving in to this pressure really freedom? As Diogenes teaches, we need to learn to “eat lentils” if we want to be free. We must become free of our desire for this world’s passing trinkets (and they are only trinkets compared to what God offers). Until we do this, the shallow freedoms of the world will appeal to us too much. Of true freedom St. Paul writes,
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:11-13).