Have you ever tried to grasp a handful of sand? It slowly escapes from the crevices of your hands. You are attempting to hold onto it, but in the act of grasping, you lose it. This is what happens when our heart is pulled down by an attachment. Being able to identify any attachments in our hearts is important for any kind of discernment so that we receive fully His abundant graces and have the freedom of heart necessary to say “yes” to God’s will, as Mary did.
Though the thought of attachment might inspire aversion, it’s not as foreign to our human nature as we might think. In the story of original sin, for example, we see Adam and Eve trying to grasp at the good things in the Garden. However, attachment is more than simply experiencing pleasure in something, even experiencing it intensely. God made all things good and wanted us to take pleasure and rejoice in what He created whether that is a relationship, object, place, or occupation.
So what is an attachment then? What happened in the Garden and what happens in our heart when attachments form? Chapter three of Genesis reveals that the devil tried to enter and sow a seed of doubt. “Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?” This question provokes us to doubt who God is and who we are in relationship to God: his sons and daughters. The temptation is to distrust that He, who gave us the Garden, will also give us everything we need. We wonder if perhaps God is holding back something that we need. The devil uses the language of forbidding and — let’s be honest — we’ve all experienced the attraction of forbidden things once that seed of doubt is planted in our hearts. In all this we can start thinking that it is something else that will make us happy instead of a relationship with God Himself. We’ve created an idol and, like the grasping of the sand in our hands, our hearts desire to possess rather than to receive.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s character Gollum, in the Lord of the Rings, exemplifies the slavery of a heart that desires solely to possess. When he receives the powerful ring, he becomes defensive of the ring, grasping it tightly. Yet, he still loses the ring. It is in his obsession to recover his “precious” that he goes crazy. His desperate hunger to possess the ring ruins his life and destroys all his relationships. While Gollum, hideous and manipulative as he is, seems at first glance like a character we could never relate to, we can see in him the consequences of compromising our true freedom in Christ by grasping at attachments. Such attachments are formed when a thing or activity is diverted from the purpose God intended for it, when there is excessive use of it, or if a person or thing is used as a means to get what we want. Like Gollum, we too are hurting those around us and living less than that fullness of joy which Jesus promised us.
Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Living out of this abundance is hard when the grip on our “sand” is too tight. Our hearts, minds, and attention are clogged where grace might otherwise flow. We need this grace in order to carry out God’s will in our lives, which allows us to live in this fullness of life. Though we may not be able to release our grip completely and empty our hands of attachments, we can choose to relax or tighten our grip on the good that comes through people, places, things or activities. Loosening our grip may seem too passive or too risky, because we dread the loss of control and we fear that the good we have will be taken away. However, it is in relaxing our grip that we are truly free. This simple choice to soften our grip, to empty our hands, may be the greatest kind of struggle any human being will face. It calls forth the greatest courage and dedication and leads to the greatest reward: freedom of heart. It is, after all, freedom that is the pure aspiration of the human heart and, through freedom, love (see Gerald May, Addiction and Grace, 17-19).
Mary enjoyed such freedom of heart as she discerned God’s will for her life. She is a beautiful model for us of one whose hands were empty to receive and never sought to grasp. A friend of ours, Elena Martinz, highlighted this through a beautiful meditation on Mary’s encounter with the serpent who wanted to tempt her to doubt by using the same tactics as he used on Eve. Mary, walking through the garden, is encountering the serpent’s voice for the first time:
“Come on, let’s go, try it and see! I know you’re hungry, taste it … don’t worry, you will not die, on the contrary you will become a goddess and everything you see will be yours.” The stranger’s voice had become firm, imperative. Was he trying to command her? She saw a thin, fast and slimy thing moving among the rocks right next to her. That strange beast was fast, but she could be faster: she lifted her foot and stomped on him. “It’s all mine already. I’m His daughter,” the girl said as she crushed that ugly thing that was so impertinent. (To read the full meditation click here)
Mary, attuned as she was to the voice of God, was able to detect the deceit woven into the serpent’s words. She was confident in her identity as God’s daughter and was thus confident in what belonged to her because of the One to whom she herself belonged. So the question becomes: are we confident that we are God’s sons and daughters? If we are, we have nothing to fear, no need to grasp. It is all ours already (1 Cor. 3:22-23).
Jesus tenderly reminds us of this truth when He says, “Set your hearts on His kingdom, and these other things will be given you as well. Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:31-32). We have a Father in heaven who desires to give us so much more than good things. He desires to give us Himself as He did to Mary after she said “yes” to God’s plan for her to be His mother. May we peacefully let go of whatever attachments are holding us back from the freedom of heart necessary to discern and joyfully carry out His will.
It can be hard to notice or admit an attachment because our nature fears loss of what is good or because we do not know ourselves well enough. I may have an attachment to security or comfort, to my plans, to achievement in school or work, sports, to social media platforms, Netflix, coffee, a particular person, an ideal way of doing something…the list goes on. Ask the Lord if he wants to reveal to you an attachment of your heart in order that He may free you to truly discern, to make grace-filled choices, and to follow Him more completely.