Attaining spiritual perfection and union with God requires doing things we at first don’t want to do. One of these things is letting go of attachments that keep us from doing what God calls us to. We often don’t recognize what we are attached to, but the spiritual life requires identifying these attachments as we strive for spiritual perfection and union with God.
This is sort of a silly example, but maybe you discern that God is calling you to learn how to paint, but you really like watching TV in your free time even when nothing particularly edifying is on. There is nothing wrong with watching TV, but if you discern that you should learn how to paint instead of watching TV, you need to detach from your TV time to start painting on a regular basis.
Maybe you succeed in taking painting lessons instead of watching TV for a few nights, but then you go back to your old habit of watching TV, even though you feel guilty about not doing what you think you should be doing.
In this example, you are struggling to detach yourself from watching TV. But you know that if you could detach yourself, you would be free to learn how to paint well, not just take a few lessons. As it is, you currently lack the freedom you need to learn how to paint well; you feel tied down, unable to break away from your habit of watching TV.
Your struggle in this example is a struggle with a disordered attachment. St. John of the Cross describes the situation of a disordered attachment using the metaphor of a bird tied by a thin thread or cord:
It makes little difference whether a bird is tied by a thin thread or by a cord. Even if it is tied by a thread, the bird will be held bound just as surely as if it were tied by a cord; that is, it will be impeded from flying as long as it does not break the thread. Admittedly, the thread is easier to break, but no matter how easily this may be done, the bird will not fly away without first doing so. This is the lot of those who are attached to something: No matter how much virtue they have they will not reach the freedom of divine union.1
This passage from St. John of the Cross affirms that even the smallest attachment, such as watching too much TV, impedes our freedom to love God fully.
If God is calling you to something, even if it’s learning how to paint, you need to be free to follow his call. Sometimes it’s when we are called to something new that we realize we have disordered attachments that have gone unnoticed for quite some time. When this happens, we must let go of those attachments so we will have the freedom we need to do what God calls us to.
With this freedom, we can start building the virtues that God wants us to have based on our personal vocation. This personal change helps us go through the dark night towards spiritual perfection and union with God.
St. John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, 3rd ed. (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 2017), 143. ↩︎