Q: After sin, what is the most common obstacle to advancement in the spiritual life?
What in the world is an attachment? I’m attached to my wife, my kids, and my dog. Does this mean I need to leave them and go to a monastery if I want to grow closer to God?
Counter-Dynamic Group #2: Attachments and Distractions
No! An attachment is anything that we place before serving God and doing his will. If you’re married, you have a God-given vocation to your spouse and your children. Loving and serving your family is an expression of obedience. Loving God and your family go hand in hand. It’s an “AND” relationship. The problem comes when we make it an “OR” operation: “I’ll love and serve God, OR I’ll love and serve my family.” For example, you stop attending Mass because you think your kids will be more successful if they participate in a Sunday sports program. You take birth control pills so you can have sex without concern for creating new life and disregard God’s plan for marriage.
In Mark 10:17-22, we read about a wealthy man who runs up to Jesus, falls at his feet, and asks, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus reviews the commandments related to loving one’s neighbor. The man earnestly states he has observed all of these. Jesus then challenges him to sell all he has and follow him. The scene closes with the man going away sad because he had many possessions.
The man’s problem wasn’t sin — it was attachments, and attachment to possessions, in particular! He had a choice. One option led to following Jesus; the other led to holding on to his possessions. That’s how you know something is an attachment.
Throughout the centuries, saints have recognized how attachments weaken us spiritually. Attachments keep us fixated on things of the flesh instead of the Spirit. Anything can become an attachment — even religious objects — but they commonly come in one of four varieties: possessions, pleasure, position, or power.
It is not wrong to have possessions. God intends for us to use the material goods of the earth for our benefit. But when a possession becomes our focus, and we become unwilling to relinquish it for God’s purposes, it is we who become possessed. The proper attitude toward created goods is not disdain, but indifference.
God created us so we could experience pleasure, and nothing is inherently wrong with the experience of pleasant feelings. But when pleasure becomes a primary pursuit, especially when we choose it in place of righteousness, it becomes an attachment that can lead to sin.
Position, or the desire for the acclaim and attention of others, is an intoxicating attachment that we find difficult to let go. We naturally wish others to notice us and recognize our value. But how insidiously does that desire turn into a need to receive the attention of others? In the past, saints have fought this tendency by inviting humiliation. Sometimes mortification is necessary to let go of our attachment as we desire to imitate Christ. As with possessions, we should seek to remain indifferent to the acclaim of others. Those in positions of authority would neither seek nor avoid recognition but would choose only the option that gives glory to Christ.
Power is a desire for control over others. To function as a society, we need to have structure, and we need authority active within that structure. Authority and the power it wields is exercised for the good of all and for furthering the kingdom of God. Power becomes an attachment when we desire it for our gain, giving us position or influence over others.
Anything that draws our attention can act as a distraction from doing God’s will. One can’t live in American society without a bombardment of attention-getting input. Distractions become significant when we allow them to continually dominate our attention, to the point where we ignore God and his kingdom. Distractions are only a short step away from becoming attachments.
Ultimately, attachments and distractions become obstacles to the work of the Holy Spirit, who calls us to change and conversion.
Counter-Dynamics: Attachments & Distractions is the second in a six-part series on obstacles to conversion.