DETACHMENT: The Path To Compassion

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DETACHMENT: The Path To Compassion Julia Marks

From John of the Cross:

The soul must always be inclined not to the easiest thing, but to the hardest; not to the tastiest, but to the most insipid; not to the things that give the greatest pleasure, but to those that give the least; not to the restful things, but to the painful ones; not to consolation, but to desolation; not to more, but to less; not to the highest and dearest, but to the lowest and most despised; not to the desire for something, but to having no desires.

No desires for ourselves, that is.  Just a desire to be open to God in all things.

It is an impossibility, to be sure, to desire nothing for ourselves.  And certainly there are times in our lives when we think such an intention to be nothing short of insane.  How can we want nothing for ourselves when we have children to raise, relationships to maintain, responsibilities to keep?

But even if we cannot eradicate our natural urges, we can aim ourselves toward the goal of learning to set aside and pay less and less attention to our knee-jerk reactions to the happenings around us.  We can come to accept that our judgments, though surging through us at the time of any crisis or challenge, mean nothing.

From Francois de Lamothe-Fenelon:

Holy indifference is a ceasing of either to desire or to will, except in cooperation with the divine leading.  Its desires for itself, as it has greater light, are more completely and permanently merged in the one higher and more absorbing desire of God’s glory and the fulfillment of his will.  In this state of experience, ceasing to do what we shall be likely to do, and what we may very properly do in a lower state, we no longer desire our own salvation merely as an eternal deliverance, or merely as involving the greatest amount of personal happiness; but we desire it chiefly as the fulfillment of God’s pleasure and as resulting in his glory, and because he himself desires and wills that we should thus desire and will.

It matters little to an outcome whether when faced with someone else’s trauma we immediately separate ourselves from it, in order perhaps to keep the illusion that our relationship is and will always remain wholly intact, or whether we immediately swoop in to smother that person with our intentions and attentions.

Distance is the key to compassion.  Just not abandonment.  To be fully there for another person, we need to acknowledge God’s role in our our lives, and those for whom we care.

We need to trust completely that God is at work with this person.  This doesn’t condone what the person may have done to land in crisis – to be sure many of our ills are brought on by our own choices.  But there is a world of difference between saying to our friend, I don’t care what you’ve done, I will do everything I can to make you feel better about it all, and, God is with you.  Sometimes our instinct is to treat any problem a friend may be going through as though it were nothing more than a bleeding knee requiring a bandage.  A bandage that we are most happy to apply.

If only our relationship stays the same.  Stays on the even keel we believed it to always be on.  Stays inside our emotional circus tent, where joy and excitement eternally exist.

More from Archbishop Fenelon:

The holy soul, when it is really in the state called the state of non-desire may, nevertheless, desire everything in relation to the correction of its imperfections and weaknesses, its perseverance in its religious state and its ultimate salvation, which it has reason to know from Scriptures, or in any other way that God desires.  It may also desire all temporal good, houses and lands, food and clothing, friends and books, and exemption from physical suffering and anything else, so far and only so far as it has reason to think that such desire is coincident with the divine desire.

The holy soul not only desires particular things, sanctioned by the known will of God; but also the fulfillment of his will in all respects, unknown as well as known.  Being in faith, it commits itself to God in darkness as well as in light.  Its non-desire is simply its not desiring anything out of God.

And that is the challenge when we step up to care for someone experiencing trouble in his life: to desire something for our friend is not necessarily wrong-headed.  It’s just that we need to learn how to reign in our feelings of what we know to be best in the situation, and to keep watch for what we can accept is God’s will.

It takes a lot of prayer to do this.  Prayer that we will always serve God in all occasions, even if it means sitting still and doing nothing when we ache to do something, anything.

And it takes faith.  Sometimes I think it is more difficult to be loyal to God when someone else is in pain and is struggling with life.

And it takes willingness on our part.  A willingness to minimize our own will and to maximize our awareness of God’s work in the world.

As hard as it is to accept, this could be a time when our understanding of God blossoms.


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