On October 4 we celebrate the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, who is well-known for his love of poverty. Many of us associate poverty with those of meager possession, such as the homeless. Yet, a homeless man may still cling to his few “riches.” In contrast, a rich man—though very affluent—may not place his trust in his possessions and, if he lost that great wealth, he, like Job, would not become despondent.
So, to live the spirit of poverty, it’s not just about how little someone owns. It’s more about living a spirit of detachment. I have found that being a mother has afforded me many opportunities to grow in this important Christian virtue.
When I was pregnant with our first baby, I realized for the first time that my body is not really my own. As a pregnant mother, that literally meant physically sharing my body with another body: nourishing, growing, and supporting a whole new life, even if it meant feeling nauseous, achy, and exhausted. Then, after birth, physical detachment meant something else: breastfeeding that hungry newborn, morning and night, on demand.
Sometimes physical detachment has meant making more space in my crowded bed for the toddler who needs some extra cuddles or offering a peacemaking hug to a child who is having a disagreement with me. It entails cleaning up messy diapers, mud-caked jeans, or the aftermath of a stomach bug.
Physical detachment can look like letting go of always having a perfectly clean home or pristine furniture. I still try to keep an orderly home, but I’ve made peace with the fact that I will likely find crumbs under the couch or a pile of dishes next to the sink. Similarly, sometimes (often) in the morning I run out of time to do my hair and makeup in the mad rush to get kids to school on time. And that’s okay.
God gave me my body so I could use it for others.
Before motherhood, I considered myself entitled to certain things—personal space, yes, but also personal time and dreams. I don’t suggest that, now as a mother, I should have no free time or aspirations. Instead, these other things that bring me happiness are subservient to the happiness of my family. It’s not primarily about me and my enjoyment. “Me time” is not some inalienable right or good for its own sake, but a gift. It’s an opportunity for me to rest and recharge, in order that I can better serve my family.
Emotional detachment means that it’s not about what I feel like doing or what makes me happy. Some days, I have to sacrifice my free time to help a child study for a spelling test or read a book to a sick toddler. It’s a sacrifice, but one that frequently brings joy. I find a different kind of happiness in knowing that I’ve put clean sheets on their beds, laundered their clothing, and prepared them wholesome food to eat.
My children bring me deep joy, but they cannot be my ultimate source of joy; I cannot become emotionally dependent on them. In that sense, while loving them with a fierce and ardent love, I have to lovingly detach.
My children are not my all. I find my joy first and foremost in God. With my love centered on Him, I can love my children better: I can be fully present, anchored in my faith, when my children experience turbulent emotions. That’s the goal at least … It's not always easy.
Every mom has hopes and dreams for her children—maybe to find their special someone or take over the family business. Ultimately though, my children are not really my children; they belong to God. God has a plan for my children … wondrous plans, better than any I could ever design or fashion. So spiritual detachment means stepping back and allowing God to show them His Will. I don’t want to block the path God wishes them to take, the path, therefore, that will lead them toward salvation.
Maybe this means my children will end up moving away or choosing a celibate vocation or marrying someone I didn’t envision for him or her. Am I willing to support my child, even if it’s not the personal plan I wished or desired?
Let Go, Let God
This desire to foster a spirit of detachment has grown within me as our family has grown. With each successive child I sense more and more that so much is outside of my control. I can’t determine if the stomach bug will spread to every child. I can’t control if my kids wake up in a good mood or bad. I can’t arrange a marriage for them with a spouse I pre-selected.
But there is still much I can do. I can center my soul on God, the anchor that holds me still through the whirlwind that sometimes is life. I can trust that God will take care of and shepherd my children: He loves them even more than I. I can remember that I am also a child of the Father, bumbling around sometimes and making mistakes … I can offer forgiveness and mercy because I need those in return too.
Most of all, I can detach because detachment is about faith. It’s detaching in a sense from everything so I can be attached ultimately to only one thing: God. With detachment, the storm can rage around me, but I can sleep beside Jesus on that boat in the middle of the sea. Jesus will be the one to rebuke the wind and waves; all I need to do is close my eyes and feel Him right here beside me. He will bring our boat, our little domestic church, to shore.