The irony of what I saw and heard unfolding before me last Sunday morning was not lost on me. Even as our region begins to make progress in the battle against this virus, it was more clear than ever that six weeks of living in the stress of this quarantine is taking a heavy toll on my dear friends from the Faith Hope and Charity Sunday School class.
As we gathered together on our computer screens, emotions quickly came to the surface. Tears welled up in the eyes of those who are face to face with the virus every day in healthcare settings as they described the mounting tension they feel. Some of our members are grieving the loss of a parent or loved one, while others shared the burdens of being unable to visit personally with the ones they love. Some continue to experience stress about finances, while feelings of isolation and loneliness are becoming more acute for all of us. “There’s a sense of losing hope,” were the words one class member used to describe a parent’s state of mind.
While our Zoom gathering was the most emotional we have had so far, there were also quite a few praises shared. I was grateful, too, when Barb Brown shared a devotion she had read recently from John Eldridge entitled “Learning Benevolent Detachment.” Eldridge says he has always been intrigued by Jesus’ ability to just up and walk away from his world.
Toward the end of the first chapter of Mark, excitement is beginning to build about Jesus’ ministry. He has healed, he has cast out demons, he has taught with authority. Crowds of people are coming from far and wide to see and hear him. But suddenly, early one morning, Jesus gets up and goes off to a solitary place to pray. Jesus, Eldridge says, “models a freedom of heart I think every one of us would love to have. His ability to disengage himself from his world is alluring.” Jesus models for us what Eldridge calls “benevolent detachment.”
As adults, he says, we learn how to create a healthy distance between us and whatever it is we have become entangled with. That’s the “detachment” piece. It means “peeling apart the Velcro by which this person, relationship, crisis, or global issue has attached itself to you. Or you to it.”
Eldridge uses the word “benevolent” to qualify this detachment, because we’re not talking about cynicism or resignation. Benevolent means kindness; something done in love. Jesus invites us to a way of living where we are genuinely comfortable turning things over to him.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30). Those same verses from The Message:
Are you tired? Worn out? Stressed out? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest…keep company with me and you will learn how to live freely and lightly.” Peter echoes this invitation in 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”
Worry is only one of 100 things that burden our souls, Eldridge says. Genuine concern is just as dangerous, because it is rooted in something noble—concerns for aging parents, a sick friend, a hurting family, a cause crying out for justice. It’s not wrong to love and to care, so how is it right to just let things go? Because we are not God. We can’t save the world. We can’t even carry it. Our soul was never meant to inhabit a world like this. We cannot carry the sorrows of the world. Only God can do that. Only he is infinite.
God invites us to live an unburdened life. He invites us to truly cast our cares on him, to live carefree before him. We have a truly liberating opportunity to experience more of God by giving him the cares of our everyday experience.
Benevolent detachment is going to take some practice. “I give everything to you, God!” is a good place to start, Eldridge says, but it’s good to follow that up with some specifics. “I give my children to you,” for I worry about them. “I give my parents to you,” because I don’t know how else to care for them right now. “I give this patient to you.” “I give this loan application to you.” “I give this meeting to you.”
As you pray these prayers and turn these burdens over to God, Eldridge says, pay attention—your soul will tell you whether or not you are truly releasing. If the moment after you pray you find yourself mulling over the very thing you just released, then you haven’t released it. Go back and repeat the process until you have.
Prayer: Lord, this situation is quickly becoming more than we can bear. Remind us today that we aren’t meant to bear it. We cannot carry the burdens and sorrows of this world. Only you can do that. Help us to give them to you today. Help us to live an unburdened life. Amen.