I was intrigued by the story of a famous paediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson, who in 1987 performed the first ever surgery on Siamese twins, and separated them after a 22 hour long surgery.
Imagine being attached to another human being. The numerous restrictions on each other, multiple health problems and various other difficulties. Basically, one will not be able to live his/ her life properly.
While we may not have seen any such Siamese twins or had any in our family, the fact remains, whether we choose to admit it or live in denial, we have numerous things in life that we are attached to.
St. John of the Cross talks about a bird tethered to the earth either with a small string or with a large rope. In either situation, the bird is unable to fly. Applied to our life, this simply means that, it does not matter how insignificant the attachment is in our life; any attachment will hinder our flight to God.
So what exactly is an attachment?
Father John A. Hardon, SJ defines an attachment as follows:
Emotional dependence either of one person on another, or of a person on some real or illusory object.
Scripture affirms that Creation is good; after each creation account we read,
“… and God saw that it was good.”
When God had made man He saw that it was very good and He gave him dominion over the other creatures.
We need to recognise that we are creatures and that God is our Creator. To prefer a creature to the Creator has made us prefer a lesser good. When we cling to a creature we become like that creature. No matter how good that creature may be, it is nevertheless finite. If we are attached to what is finite we will be unable to enter into the transforming union of the infinite (Divine Beauty).
So what all we are attached to?
Primarily, we are attached to people. Be it our parents, relatives, boyfriends or girlfriends.
Secondly, we are attached to material things such as gadgets, cell phones or to money, property, our jobs, clothes, shoes, food and much more.
The list of course is endless.
We need to understand that while all of the above are important in our life, they cannot take more importance or priority than God himself. It becomes a violation of the first commandment since these attachments become our ‘God‘, simply because we have given them priority over our Lord.
The problem therefore, lies not in material reality but in the human heart when it becomes attached and inordinately desires created things for selfish motives.
Jesus was not mincing words when he said,
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” ~Matthew 10:37.
This does not mean that we should not love our parents or certain things. It only means that – Our God is a jealous God. (Exodus 20:5) who wants us to be attached to Himself only. To depend on nobody or nothing but Him. To give no one else more time or thought than Him.
Just like the bird that cannot be free because it is tied to the earth, so also we cannot be completely free to live the life that Christ calls us to live when we have various attachments.
Attachments are often difficult for us to recognize or admit in ourselves. We can become quite adept at rationalizing and transferring the responsibility for our situation on someone else or something else.
So how do we go about detaching ourselves from our various attachments?
First of all, detachment is not aloofness. We should have proper affection for our family and friends. It’s nonsensical to be cold towards your spouse, parent or friend due to a supposed love for God.
Detachment doesn’t mean denying the good that is in the material world. Rather, it means viewing temporal goods as gifts from God meant to lead us to Him. We give up our desires for things in order to make room in our hearts for God. Detachment is a means, not an end.
Detachment is an attitude of the heart. Detachment means getting rid of our “selfish clinging” to things or persons.
~ Fr. Thomas Dubay
It’s a response to God’s love for us. When you fall in love, everyone else in your life pales beside the beloved. You change your schedule and your priorities. You spend money and time on that person without feeling like it is a sacrifice. If a young man would always watch football with the guys, for example, rather than have dinner with his girlfriend, she would rightly question his feelings for her.
What about you? Would you watch football, go shopping, spend time with friends, read, etc. than pray? If God let you lose all your loved ones and possessions as happened to Job in the Old Testament, would you still love and follow Him? Would you have inner peace?
God calls us to put love for Him above everything else. When you can truly do so, then you are detached.
As St. John of the Cross writes,
“If you purify your soul of attachment to and desire for things, you will understand them spiritually. If you deny your appetite for them, you will enjoy their truth, understanding what is certain in them.”