“…you should run a thousand miles from such expressions as: ‘I was right.’ ‘They had no reason for doing this to me.’ ‘The one who did this to me was wrong.'” Teresa of Avila, “The Way of Perfection” 13:1
Melissa was kind enough to get me a volume of this 16th century spiritual guide’s writings as a birthday present. I’ve not wanted to put the book down.
Teresa encourages people to seek love, detachment and humility as virtues. I’ve been most taken with (and challenged by) the idea of detachment, which is reflected in part in the quote above. It’s about letting go of our desire for life’s comforts, honors and other things we’re wired to crave.
So today I made a trip to visit someone in the hospital. There was a nurse in with the patient when I reached the room, so I smiled and nodded and backed out into the hallway.
Then another nurse came in. Then a Physician’s Assistant. And a dietitian. And the nurses kept doing this do-si-do thing in and out. Each new person smiled at me and said, “I’ll be just a minute.”
This went on for at least twenty minutes. I was anything but detached from the discomforts of the situation. I was bored. The hallway had no chairs, and I alternated shifting weight from foot to foot, leaning on the wall and pacing. There was no coffee pot, and I get grumpy when I’m asked to stand by and I’m not offered coffee.
Worst of all was the feeling of being irrelevant. The bottom line was that my visit wasn’t seen as that big a deal. The real care givers were the ones going in and out; my contribution, if I even had one, could wait.
Somewhere in the midst of being dissatisfied and feeling insulted, more of Teresa’s words about detachment popped into my head,
Does it seem to have been right that our good Jesus suffered so many insults and was made to undergo so much injustice?
I found myself chuckling inwardly – at me. How quickly and easily I become the center of the universe. My mind is like sharks in a feeding frenzy, gorging on every floating bit of anything that seems unfair or insulting or an affront to my dignity.
Maybe years of care giving have made me more prone to hear the things that Teresa warns against. “It’s unfair. I’m doing my best and nobody seems to care. My effort matters and should be noticed. There should be some attention and some reward for all this.”
I remembered the report of the dinner party where the host slighted Jesus, and the only person to honor him was a woman who was held in contempt by all the guests,
Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. (Luke 7:44-46 ESV)
I realized that I was standing in a pretty holy place there in the hallway, sharing space with Jesus-the-Irrelevant. In fact, he was honoring me in the way the despised woman had honored him at the dinner party, bowing down to cleanse and anoint my thoughts in a setting where I didn’t seem to matter all that much.
Detachment isn’t about ceasing to care. It is about caring more for what’s true and right – about God and neighbor – instead of obsessing about myself. That’s a worthy spiritual path for any care giver.