In this episode we’re talking about benevolent detachment, a practice I read about in John Eldredge’s book Get Your Life Back. It’s the idea of turning over to God what weighs heavy on us and leaving it in His hands. We’ll talk about how Jesus practiced this during His life and how we can follow His example. I’ll share how I realized it was the solution to something that has been causing me a lot of stress lately. I hope this concept is as helpful to you as it has been to me!
Sept. 28th Episode 42: Let It Go: The Practice of Benevolent Detachment
Hi friends, this is Self-Care and Soul Care for the Caregiver, and I’m your host Sandra Peoples. To us, self-care isn’t a luxury—it’s a necessity. We need to take better care of ourselves so we can care for those God has entrusted to us.
Today we’re talking about benevolent detachment, a practice I read about in John Eldredge’s book Get Your Life Back. It’s the idea of turning over to God what weighs heavy on us and leaving it in His hands. We’ll talk about how Jesus practiced this during His life and how we can follow His example. I’ll share how I realized it was the solution to something that has been causing me a lot of stress lately. I hope this concept is as helpful to you as it has been to me!
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Since the new school year started a few weeks ago, I haven’t handled the transition super well. My body communicated that to me before my mind totally registered how bad it had gotten. I would sit down at my desk, open gmail, and then get so overwhelmed I felt like I needed to lie down and take a nap. And I am not a napper. But my body was holding onto the stress of too many things: adjusting to James’s school and therapy schedule, homeschooling David, recording this podcast each week, leading a small group through our Bible study Held, releasing my new book Everyday Prayers for the Special-Needs Mom and getting ready to lead a group through that book, connecting with people through my social media and Facebook groups, serving the families in our special-needs ministry at church, working on a new book proposal with my agent, applying for a doctorate program that will start next year, and serving on my state convention’s women’s ministry team as we prepare for an online conference in a couple weeks. Plus, normal daily stuff like cooking and cleaning. And we’ve dealt with two storms that have changed our weekly routines with school and therapy closings.
One of the things on my list was causing me way more stress than it should have been. Like my husband Lee knew when I was working on it, he needed to prepare to hear about how frustrated I was. But last week when I talked to my mom about all the things, including the biggest stressor, she said “No one care as much about that as you do. When they call you about that or email, they check it off their list and you’re the one doing the work. If they don’t care, why do you?” And it was like a light bulb went off. Here was my chance to practice benevolent detachment, a concept I read about in John Eldredge’s book, Get Your Life Back. Let me quote from him on the topic:
“Over time I’ve found no better practice to help clear out my cluttered soul than the practice of benevolent detachment. The ability to let it go—not so much physically but emotionally, soulfully … We are aiming for release, turning over into the hand of God whatever is burdening us and leaving it there. It’s so easy to get caught up in the drama in unhealthy ways, and then we are unable to see clearly, set boundaries, respond freely.”
He says detachment means getting some healthy distance, but he adds the word “benevolent” because it’s done in love, from a place of kindness not cynicism or resignation. It’s what we see Jesus do when the crowds press against Him and He gets away to a solitary place, like in the first chapter of Mark. And it’s the invitation Jesus gives to us when he says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” My calling rarely feels easy or light, but maybe that’s because I’ve been taking too much of it on as my responsibility.
There have been times when I’m pretty good at detachment. Over the summer, my son James was adjusting to new meds and they were causing some pretty big meltdowns. But I knew there wasn’t anything I could do to make them stop. Instead of being overwhelmed by the stress of the situation, I made sure he was in safe place, and then I rested in the freedom of knowing it would pass, but that nothing I did would make a difference. I would pray for peace for his mind and body, but I couldn’t produce or force that peace. I just had to wait it out.
So last week as I looked at the to do list and felt the stress creeping in, I applied a little benevolent detachment. I identified the area that was causing the most stress. I realized it was pretty disproportionate compared to the stress the other people involved were carrying. So I decided to do what I needed to do to fulfill my commitment, but then let the rest go—the worrying, the following up, the correcting mistakes, and the responsibility I felt that shouldn’t have been mine to carry. It was incredibly freeing. And even now when I’m tempted to pick it up again, I remember to simply let it go.
I’m not a girl mom, so I’ve only seen Frozen a couple of times. I apologize in advance to those of you who will get the song stuck in your head for the rest of the day, but Elsa’s advice to “let it go” can be helpful. John Eldredge writes, “There has to be sometime in your day where you just let it all go … Your soul is finite. You cannot carry the sorrows of the world. Only God can do that. He is infinite.” Isn’t that freeing? To know you not only can’t carry all these burdens, but you don’t have to. God certainly isn’t expecting you to. 1 Peter 5:7 says to cast our anxieties on God because He cares for us. This benevolent detachment is the practice of doing just that.
John Eldredge has a mantra he shares that helps him with this process. It is “I give everyone and everything to you.” Then he lists people and things he is turning over to God. You might like that practice, especially at night as you turn off the day and want to sleep in peace. But I need the reminder during my day, when I’m tempted to take on too much responsibility or stress. I simply tell myself, This is not mine to carry. I remember Jesus’s words that His burden is light. I picture myself being led by Him to green pastures and still waters, as described in Psalm 23. “… you will find rest for your souls,” Jesus says, and I want to live in that place of rest.
Is there something in your life that is taking up too much space? Something that may even be pushing out God and the peace He brings? Do you need to join me in practicing benevolent detachment? It doesn’t erase the to do list, but it does put it in perspective. It puts my striving into perspective.
Friend, you don’t have to do everything or fix everything. It isn’t yours to carry. Your soul wasn’t created to fulfill that responsibility. Like me, your mind and body may be reminding you how finite you are. What a gift! Let’s take steps today to avoid picking up that burden again tomorrow. Pray with me now,
“Father God, Jesus calls Himself gentle and lowly in heart. When I try to take on too much, I’m anything but gentle. That’s why I’m so thankful for this reminder of Your power when I feel my limitations. Please gently point out areas in our lives where we may be taking on burdens aren’t ours to carry. Then lead us to green pastures and still waters where we find rest for our souls and strength for our callings. This surrendering practice points others not to our own abilities, but to You. In Jesus’s name, amen.”
Friends, I pray for you each week, and this week I’m praying as you look at your own life and identify things you may need to let go of out of kindness to yourself and others. It isn’t always easy, but it has really helped my physical and emotional health. Remember to leave a review or rating if our time together was encouraging to you, and I’ll meet you back here next week!