Sunday, June 23, 2024

Top Ten Ways to Open to the Holy Spirit: Detachment and Abandonment

The following story was originally shared in my column in December 2020. I revisit it now as I continue my series on fostering the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Many, many years ago, I was a child-care worker at a psychological center for children. At the time, I was in my 20s and studying Special Education. One of my colleagues at the center was a woman named Eileen Glynn. She was in her late 60s and was the most joyful person I had ever met. She could laugh at life, no matter what it served. If the children at the center were having a bad day, she was the one that could make the children and the staff laugh. Her obvious joy was contagious! The residents absolutely loved Eileen as well!

Over lunch, I naively asked her, “What’s makes you so happy? I am curious!” Out of character, her demeanor became very serious. She told me that her joyful demeanor was not the case when she was younger. You see, she had been a stay-at-home mother of six children. The oldest was 10 and the youngest was only six months old. One night, while all of them slept, her second oldest son woke up and began playing with matches. He started a fire. He ran to her when it was obvious that he could not put it out, but by that time, most of the house was engulfed. Her husband ran to save the baby but was overcome with smoke. Eileen ran out of the house with the son who started the fire. As she stood and watched, she could hear her children screaming, followed then by only the sound of wood popping.

Eileen lost absolutely everything. As she buried her family, she also had to hospitalize her son in a facility like the one in which we worked. She reached out to her family for support, but found none. Completely alone, not knowing where to turn, she began living in her car and her neighbor allowed her to shower in their bathroom. Totally dejected, she entered a Catholic church, knelt in front of the Blessed Sacrament and began to cry. It was the first time she had cried over the loss of her family since the fire nine months earlier. She explained, “When I buried my family, something within me also died.” Her tears turned into sobs. The sobs turned into wails. Her wailing was so loud and fierce, someone ran to get the priest.

Upon arriving at her pew, the priest silently sat down and let her wail. When she stopped, he whispered, “Whatever happened, God loves you!” Her wails were quickly turned into fury, directed at God and the priest. He accepted her rage and her very colorful words. After her anger had subsided, he asked, “What happened?” He got the blow-by-blow story. When Eileen was finished, the priest gave her the keys to a single room in the parish house and hired her on the spot for “extra help” at the parish. She became his cook, and a great one at that!  Slowly, very slowly, she began her life again. On top of everything else, she entered the Catholic Church the following year!

With the support of her new parish and her pastor, Eileen found a confidence that she had never known before. She finally landed a job as a therapist, a degree that she had received before her marriage but never used. Her son grew up to become an owner of a construction company and was happily married, with three children of his own.

This story, for me, totally epitomizes the next two items on the Top Ten List of Fostering the Inspiration of the Holy Spirit: practicing detachment and abandonment.

Let’s discuss abandonment first. Father Jacque Philippe, in his book In the School of the Holy Spirit, describes abandonment as “obedience to events.” He explains, “… Despite our efforts, there is always a whole set of circumstances which we can do nothing about, which are not necessarily willed by God but nevertheless permitted by him, and which God invites us to consent to trustingly and peacefully, even if they make us suffer and causes us problems. … Our consent is not a compromise with evil but the expression of our trust that God is stronger than evil.”1

My friend Eileen had no choice but to surrender to the circumstances in which she found herself. As she grieved her loss and came out on the other side of it, she became the most joyful person I have ever met! She was satisfied with life, no matter what happened.

What about detachment? To continue to quote Father Philippe, “We cannot receive the motions of the Holy Spirit if we are rigidly attached to our possessions, our ideas, or our point of view. … Our ‘wisdom’ and God’s practically never coincide perfectly; and this lack of congruence means that at any stage of our spiritual journey, we shall never be dispensed from practicing detachment from our personal ideas, however well-intentioned these may be.”2

Bottom line, we are not God! When we dig in our heels to create our personal order rather than being open to God’s plan, we are truly attached to our image of what the world should be. In other words, we play God!

My friend Eileen taught me all about detachment. Her story, like the story of Job from the Old Testament, declares, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak;     I will question you, and you declare to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:2-6)

I can honestly say that knowing Eileen has made me see how God can make straight with crooked lines. I can see with her the glory of the Cross and the glory of the Resurrection.

What about you?

1Philippe, J. In the School of the Holy Spirit. (2002). Scepter Pubs, p. 34.

2Phillippe, pg. 37.

By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, The Catholic Witness

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