Sometimes a word or a phrase drops into my head showing up like an unexpected guest- Sometimes it’s a pleasant surprise. Sometimes not. Sometimes I don’t know what sort of guest they will be until we have spent some time together.
Recently the phrase “holy detachment” showed up. I was sitting in church and it dropped in without invitation and asked to stay for a while.
Detachment is an idea I have spent quite a bit of time trying to understand. * For a long time I confused detachment with abandonment or rejection. That I could disentangle my wants and needs and hopes from the actions and behaviors of another was difficult to imagine. Letting go, letting people be in charge of their own behaviors and the consequences of those behaviors seemed like abandonment to me. How can I stand by and watch what looks like unwise behavior? What if something bad happened? Wouldn’t it be my fault if I didn’t intervene?
In some ways that thinking is quite self centered, actually and denies the personhood of the other person. How could they manage without my wise, loving involvement? I’m reasonably smart and I care so my input is important. Because I care, I must know what’s best.
Well maybe I do know what’s best, but then again, maybe I don’t. In either case it’s not my job to make others do the right thing. This doesn’t mean I don’t care about the people. This doesn’t mean I don’t care about the outcome. This doesn’t mean I never offer advise or give suggestions. But I try to recognize where my responsibility ends and the other person’s begins. Figuring that out is often not very easy for me. One of the things Christians believe is that we are responsible for others. We are, in fact, our brother’s keeper. But what does good “keeping” look like? Unfortunately for me, there doesn’t seem to be a firm, clear rule about that. Each situation, each relationship requires me to think this through anew.
I thought about what Holy detachment might be (as opposed to “regular” detachment). It would involve God. Prayer certainly. But I realized that stepping back and giving the other person space also and perhaps most importantly gives the Holy Spirit space to enter and move. Holy detachment lets the Holy One come in and do the mysterious work that only the Holy One can do. But I do need to get out of the way. No one of us can control the Spirit, but I think we can get in the Spirit’s way. Holy detachment invites the Spirit into my life and into the other person’s life. It invites the Spirit into our relationship and allows both of us to change and grow as we need to. When I loosen my pushing, pulling, tugging, grasping, and clinging; the Spirit has room to move in. I can then, sometimes, see where the Spirit is at work and if not assist, at least get out of the way.
Of course just because I’m willing to let the Spirit in, doesn’t mean the other person is. I don’t control that either. Maybe they are willing, maybe they aren’t. My responsibility is to let the Spirit have space to work with me. That is what I need to do. In the end, it is all I can do. Honestly, things work out better when I remember this.
As holy detachment was staying with me this week, I felt pretty good about what I discovered. As I was telling someone about this, they asked a harder question, “Does God ever practice holy detachment?”. And that, of course, is another post.
*An important disclaimer: I am neither a psychiatrist, psychologist nor therapist. My discussion of detachment reflects only my understanding on the concept. My use of the term may not be what trained professionals mean when they use the term. In other words, don’t pay too much attention to what I say, I may be completely wrong!