In a culture that presents detachment as a distant type of apathy or indifference, the word detachment itself procures distaste and disdain for those who are genuinely seeking to deepen their interior lives. Yet detachment can be holy. We hear the word in terms of surrender or abandonment, as in “surrender to God’s will” or “abandonment to Divine Providence,” respectively. How can one discern the difference between worldly and holy detachment?
Secular detachment is derived from a sense of selfishness. The person who withdraws from the world does so out of a motive of fear, anxiety, ambivalence, and anger, among many other egocentric reasons. With the onslaught of social media and the bombardment of selfies or self-aggrandizement in varying forms on the internet, it’s quite common for many of us to become swept away with a sense of emotional and spiritual distance that result in lack of charity toward neighbor and enemy alike. This sort of detachment leads us inward in a self-protective sense, so that we begin (or continue) to build invisible barriers around our hearts that prevent us from risking vulnerability.
Vulnerability, however, is required in order for love to flourish. When we remain in the womb of our comfort zones, we neglect to encounter the beauty of birth. This birth, of course, is a metaphor for every new beginning that occurs when we risk losing ourselves in order to be filled with God’s very presence. Loss, as we know, is not something we desire. In fact, it would seem preferable to remain hidden rather than extend ourselves to those in need – a hurting neighbor, a lonely family member, a struggling friend.
Holy detachment, by its very nature, involves a necessary and often painful emptying of self. Usually, when a soul is on the cusp of being deepened in virtue, God beckons it to detachment. Rather than the selfish detachment that bears fruit of vice, this type of detachment is an opportunity for renewal, for growth, for becoming more by having less in our lives – fewer distractions, less emotional or mental clutter, fewer suffocating or toxic relationships that drain and damage our integrity.
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