A friend of mine keeps a small bowl of sand on her desk. Whenever she struggles to let go of a hurt or a worry or a problem that is not hers to solve, she holds some of the sand in her hand and lets it sift through her fingers. It reminds her to hold things loosely and to let them rest with God.
This lovely soul-training exercise is based on the spiritual discipline of detachment. Detachment is about letting go of attitudes, habits, need, or practices that get in the way of surrendering control of our lives to God. I have a daily need to relinquish the need to be right. Also for most of my life I believed that my role in life was to rescue people whom I believed God had brought into my life. That dangerous viewpoint (dangerous for me and for the people I was trying to save) was very difficult to detach from because the roots grew deeply in my frantic need to be loved. That attachment kept me from knowing that God was the only fulfilment of that powerful need.
Becoming aware of our attachments is a life-long process. Detaching from them can be a painful struggle. It involves the willingness to surrender the emotional benefits (false though they be) that the attachment brings. It requires recognizing the ugly determination we have to create our own kingdom, rather than living in the kingdom of God. Though the emotional struggle is deep, the solution is practical. It involves the power of choice. Once we see that some thought or attitude is a damaging attachment, we can make consistent choices to let it go. Once we make the choice, the Holy Spirit does the rest.
Richard Foster once shared this prayer during a class I was in: “Lord, give me a growing spirit of detachment from anything that comes between me and thee.” I have found that when I pray that prayer, the Holy Spirit does not hesitate to bring my unhealthy attachments to my awareness.
Another expert on detachment is Ignatius of Loyola who wrote often about the attachments that keep us from truly allowing God to be Lord. You can find a modern interpretation of his thinking in a wonderful little book by Margaret Silf, Inner Compass.
And you can always create your own little bowl of sand as a reminder to hold all things loosely.