HOW I DEVELOPED THE SENSE OF SPIRITUAL DETACHMENT AND CONTENTMENT: Breaking free from People and Things!
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3)
With the increasing trend and overbearing impact of materialism in our modern age, there is a need for today’s Christians to learn how to live in the freedom that Jesus died for. We are inundated with adverts and promos for new products and ‘improved versions or models’ of items we already have. Hi-tech equipment and car manufacturers are churning out newer models that we just can’t ignore or be indifferent to, hence we feel a bit under pressure riding the older model of a car brand that we have always liked. We want to upgrade our laptops and PCs to the latest version; from Windows XP to Vista, from Mp3 Players to I-pods; from the sleek Nokia phone to a Blackberry; and the list goes on to infinity.
For sure, we are under the influence of continuing and unending change that we often feel the sense of inadequacy in our bid to remain contemporary and following the trend. There are much more professional exams to write; more IT certifications to undertake- etc. At some point being a Microsoft-certified IT professional was the key to a juicy job , but CISCO came, and many more have been certifying people such that the graduate with a BSc degree in Computer Science is seen as a “beginner in life” by those in the industry. Much as we need to be contemporarily relevant as professionals in our chosen field, there has to be a balance in our quest to be up to date with all the latest trends. For life is not measured in the abundance of things we possess but in the measure of the righteousness, peace and joy we experience and express through our lives by the help of the Holy Ghost.
I have learnt the lesson on spiritual detachment in rather painful ways in the past. As an undergraduate in med school, I caught the ‘neuroscience bug’ during my anatomy classes. My Indian anatomy professor and mentor had hinted that neuroscientists believe the ‘Central Nervous System has no power of regeneration” hence any injury or lesion causes irreversible damage to the brain and spinal cord. Hence such patients live all their lifetime with paralyzed limbs and the attendant disabilities and handicaps. But something in me revolted and said, “There must be a way out…!”
So after I left the university, I continued with my quest to know how this can be ‘reversed’. I consulted and read as many journals that I could lay my hands on, and eventually registered as a member of Nigerian Society for Neuroscience and later, I joined the Society for Neuroscientists of Africa (SONA); an affiliate of the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO) which organizes workshops and provides research training opportunities for aspiring neuroscientists worldwide. Neuroscience became the singlular passion that gripped my consciousness and filled my waking moments. Though I worked as a physiotherapist in a hospital, my worldview and interest shifted towards the molecular biology of the nervous system. I paid my way to attend as many workshops and conferences on neuroscience as possible and was being mentored by the president of SONA who saw me as a promising light in the field of neuroscience in Nigeria.
Along the line, I read about the breakthrough research conducted by one Prof. Albert Aguayo in Toronto Canada who succeeded in growing a damaged CNS nerve. I was thrilled and shouted ‘eureka” and in no time, I decided to contact him. In 2000, I paid my way as a masters’ degree student in Health Planning and Management at UNIBEN to attend a 10-day IBRO neuroscience workshop in Benin on “The Regeneration of the Nervous System” where another Prof . John Nicholls presented his research work on regeneration of the damaged nerves in some mammals in Australia. I was all the more encouraged and my primary dream was to become a renowned neuroscientist, and established networks with some professors in Europe and America.
In 2004, I was billed to attend another IBRO-sponsored neuroscience workshop in South Africa where I hoped to seal a research studentship deal with a neuroscience mentor. But for no reason I could fathom, I was dropped by the organizers who placed me on the awaiting list. I was disconsolate and depressed for days and began to ask God the “WHY ME?” rhetorical questions. While I prayed about this, it was as though a voice asked me a stunning question; “What would you lose if you don’t become a neuroscience researcher? Will that be the end of your life? Will you become less of a man if you don’t do a PhD in neuroscience or is your life’s fulfillment tied to a field as narrow as neuroscience? How will the pursuit of your dreams impact the lives of the ordinary man on the street?”
The questions nudged me back to my senses, and for the first time I realized that my whole life had revolved around neuroscience to the detriment of other areas of my life which were given less attention. My perspective changed as I realized that my life would go on with or without my involvement in neuroscience research. Gradually my perspective began to change, and my interest in people heightened that I began to look at my career from the human interest perspective. With time, I veered into Public Health and informed my neuroscience mentor that I would no longer pursue my neuroscience dreams. He felt so disappointed but I would not allow his opinions to dissuade me from making this volte-face. With this changed perspective, I began to see life beyond the confines of a laboratory, and the drive to become a professor of neuroscience for its sake waned, and eventually died. And I became FREE and have enjoyed that liberty till date!
Though it was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made, I came to appreciate what Dr. Mike Murdock said;” What you are willing to walk away from, determines what God is willing to bring your way” . It involves the shutting down and muffling out the voices of senses and the cravings of our eyes that make our whims and desires want to rule over us. It involves the ability to say NO and stick with our decisions even when our flesh cries out hysterically like a baby for more pleasure and fun. It will involve the de-construction of our needs and wants and placing them side by side with what God desires for us.
Developing a sense of detachment involves the elevation of our perspective from the mundane to the eternal. It changes our value system such that we treat earthly things as things that would pass away someday, and this helps us to value spiritual treasures and reinforces the right attitude about things and possessions. Hence, whether our bank account is bursting at the seams or not, we would not lose our sense of worth. And even if we are driving the latest automobile machine, our ego will not be inflated and we would remain as human as we were before the riches came. Hence Apostle Paul would declare with confidence that he has learned to abase and to abound such that the presence or lack of riches would not affect the way he felt at every point. It was for the same reason that he counseled those who are married to act as though they were not married.
The spiritual Christian therefore is one who has learned how to detach from things and people. Though he treasures his family, friends and people in his community, he has learned to remain ‘poor in his spirit’ without holding tenaciously to things or people. Because he is poor in his spirit, he would liberally give out of his abundance, or out of his poverty. Because he is poor in his spirit, he has learned that his true riches are deposited in God and not in things that he could see, feel or perceive. Jesus Christ showed this example of spiritual detachment and contentment through out his lifetime and we can draw lessons from his lifestyle which Paul also adopted: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9)
We don’t have to detach from earthly things to the point that we become too heavenly minded and at the risk of losing our relevance on earth. The purpose of developing a sense of detachment is to help us regain our personal freedom to make well-informed choices and pursue our calling in God. True detachment helps us to live a balanced and well-organized life that is not skewed. While learning to develop the sense of detachment, I would like to introduce the 5-S Principle of Management developed by the Japanese which can help one organize his/her life:
Sort: Remove all unnecessary clutter in your life. What are the useful things that will enhance your spiritual growth? How much is your life’s joy and fulfillment dependent on the things you possess or don’t possess?
Set: Put your life in order, and organize your life such that only things of eternal value become your main motivation. Align your world view to be in sync with your faith as a Christian.
Shine: Clean up your life constantly by filling your thoughts with God’s word to help you maintain a heavenly perspective. Meditate on the things that build you up spiritually and create around you, an environment that promotes spiritual growth and development.
Standardize: Do not be haphazard in your attempt to grow spiritually. Constantly review your progress in the knowledge and relationship with God. Ask yourself constantly how you’ve been faring in practicing the spiritual disciplines that help you develop intimacy with God.
Sustain: Spiritual growth is a continual process, so do not rest on your oars. Once you have started out on the race, there’s no going back. Depend on God’s grace to help you stay focused and trust that God will help you become detached from things that have power over you. His grace will surely sustain you, so long as you’re determined to follow after Him till the end!