The Joy of Detachment
Lately, I find myself in a season of detachment. While I continue in the same rhythm of daily work, I watch as friends wrap up their semesters at school and prepare to begin whatever summer adventure awaits them. For some, it is priestly formation on the other side of the country. For others, it is flying abroad to study and travel. It has not been uncommon to watch a series of goodbyes and transitions unfold before me as the people I care about most delve into their vocations, accept jobs, move across the country to seek higher education, marry and have kids, or serve as missionaries in foreign lands.
These are all beautiful opportunities, intricate paths that the Lord calls each of us to journey on, but it doesn’t make the separation any easier. And then there are the more difficult transitions to wrap our heads around—unexpectedly losing a parent or friend, the diagnosis of a chronic illness, being fired from a job, receiving a piece of unexpected bad news that leaves you shocked and confused, or that tough reality that is hard to come to terms with.
After I graduated college, one of my closest friends and roommates of two years moved from Florida to California to begin discerning with the Carmelites of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles. While I was outwardly supportive, I was fighting an internal battle. I didn’t understand why He had to take away a friend who knew me better than almost anyone else. I couldn’t help but think that God picked favorites and I wasn’t one of them! But, Saint Paul’s teaching that “There is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:11) later became my life’s anthem.
Fast forward a year and my friend has returned home for a brief visit with family and friends before returning to the convent and entering into her novitiate. When we said goodbye there would be three years of separation between us. I would be able to write her letters, but she would not be able to write back. She would be able to contact her parents and eight siblings once a month. She would not be able to attend events such as weddings (even for an immediate family member). Two of her sisters and one of our best friends have since gotten engaged. One of the last conversations we had before she returned to her community in California really instilled hope into my heart. She was so convicted that this is what Jesus was asking her to do and I could tell by the joy exuding from her heart that this calling was bringing her life and every detachment was worth it for the sake of His Kingdom. Her bold witness always gives me strength to carry on.
Another friend sent me a text about a month ago. She had just dropped off her sister at the metro station after a weekend visit and was feeling the ache of a heavy heart. It was mingled with the realization that a very good friend who lived locally would soon be reassigned by his religious order to a different state. Painful moments such as these are like an intense purification. There is something bittersweet about being reminded that there is an end and that we don’t get to hold on tight to everything. There is an emptiness that comes from sending our visitors off to the airport or going from the busy, social noise to the jarring silence. All of a sudden, it is you alone with your thoughts and your aching heart, with seemingly nowhere to escape it.
And that’s when it hits home that the cross is still very real despite the joy of the Resurrection. And I think about how Jesus kind of warned us about this when He said that it wasn’t going to be easy to follow Him because “you must deny yourself and take up your cross” (Matthew 16:24).
How appropriate that the Transfiguration happens right after Jesus challenges His disciples with a radical call to faith! I commiserate with you, Peter, because I am so much like you. Jesus just told you how hard this whole faith thing was going to be and that you would have to pick up your cross and follow Him and still you’re soaking up that comfortable, delightful moment on the mountain top with a few close friends. The world looks quiet down below and the view from up here is incredible! Jesus is at your side and it’s the kind of moment you’d like to remain in forever. And it occurs to you to ask: “Hey, Jesus, would it be cool with you if we just stay right here and pitch a tent?! These are exactly the people I want to be with at the place I want to be in.” Poor Peter! He’s always getting it wrong. I’m always getting it wrong. It’s not about the people and the view and the comfort and the place! In that moment, Jesus reveals His true identity and He says to Peter, James, and John “’Rise and do not be afraid’” and when the disciples raised their eyes they saw no one else but Jesus alone” (Matthew 17:7-8).
I too often forget that Jesus is enough, that He knows what He is doing in my life, and that He wants only what is best for me. The separation from people, places, situations, and even my own capabilities are a reminder that all I have is His and every good thing that He gives and takes away is for the betterment of my salvation. In the Gospel of John Chapter 15:2, Jesus says, “He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does He prunes so that it bears more fruit.” The last time I heard this Gospel message at Mass, it hit me like a ton of bricks.
Jesus desires to bear fruit in my life. He desires to draw me closer to Him. Sometimes everything needs to be stripped away so that it’s just me and Him and I can bloom where I am planted. There are many good, wholesome relationships and experiences that enrich our lives and sometimes God challenges us to let them go, at least for now. There is true freedom in realizing that other people have also been chosen by the Lord to celebrate and encounter the people and experiences and places we say goodbye to. I have to trust that Jesus still has an abundant life to lavish upon me even when it feels like everything is being stripped away. For who am I to hold on tight to people and to hoard them for myself? I don’t think that’s the kind of abundance or fruit-bearing life Jesus was referring to. The Lord has granted them many gifts to be shared in abundance with others! Just as I have been commissioned to “go make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), so have they! So, rise and do not be afraid! Even at the bottom of the mountain, Jesus wants to take you on a journey to His glory.