Saturday, August 27, 2011

My Shadow Self

It comes in the dark of the night. Sometimes my husband is just a few feet away. Tonight he is almost 900 miles away. The soundtrack for this goes through my head. Sometimes it plays on my computer. This is not the kind of music that will ever win a Dove Award.

I don’t know when this part of me started. So, so long ago. Was it always there? Is this part of the sinful nature of man – it is just waiting to wake up at some cue that is not even consciously recognized? Is this why God warned us away from so many things? He isn’t trying to come up with more rules – He’s just trying to protect us from ourselves?

We certainly didn’t talk much about “original sin” as a concept when I was growing up in church. Of course, we all knew the story of Adam and Eve. But I feel like I got shortchanged on that little anecdote. What I got was this: the serpent (go back and read it – it never mentions Satan at all) was a crafty little fellow and convinced Eve to eat the only forbidden fruit in that massive garden. Adam, the dolt, was standing right there and didn’t stop her (as if he had already been beaten into some sort of “yes dear” submission that men show on shopping trips so they can hurry up and get out of there). He eats some of the fruit too and then everything changes.  Poof! They’re naked. Who knew? They get busy sewing fig leaves and God stops by for a chat. This is the first recorded instance of “we’re not dressed for visitors” as an excuse.

Well that does it! The jig is up. God calls them out on messing up and a finger-pointing scene begins. Everybody – the serpent, Eve, and Adam – gets a curse. We then get to see a parent’s tough love as God kicks Adam and Eve out of this amazing home they’ve had. He makes them some clothes and tells them to start farming. He hasn’t left them, but He has seriously reduced their allowance. 

This is our introduction to sin entering the human story. It gets messier and messier after that – murder and all other kinds of depravity. But the Genesis story is written in a very matter-of-fact listing of events. Not a lot of time spent on what was driving these actions – maybe a sentence or two. The general feeling I got from my Bible class teachers was that since Jesus had saved us – made us new creations – we wouldn’t have to deal with the messiness. Indeed, I learned that we were going to earn our way into Heaven by acting right. And supposedly Jesus had made it possible for us to act right without any internal struggles whatsoever. Helpful, huh?

All of that to say this: nobody told me what it was going to be like when my shadow self woke up. Nobody prepared me for strange desires and unseemly motivations. Nobody told me that want could burn. Nobody told me that a holy desire for more God could be turned around into a ferocious desire for more self. Have you felt it? That yearning desire for you-don’t-know-what that feels like it will eat you alive? Certain sounds wake it up. There might be specific sights or smells that set it off. No? It’s just me?

Yep. That is what I thought. It’s just me. Nobody said a word about it, so I must be the little freak in this circus. Once or twice I thought somebody else might have felt it. But the way I found out about it was when one of the Elders of our church congregation stood up at the podium and announced that Joe or Jane was being disfellowshipped because of their refusal to stop sinning and come back into the fold. Interesting. Maybe Joe or Jane knew something about the shadow self. But I was a little kid and I didn’t know how to get in touch with John or Jane to ask them. And I would have fainted from fright if the opportunity had been presented anyway.

So I was stuck. I was stuck in the midst of a bunch of people who were acting (take that for what it is worth) like sin was something  totally outside of themselves that could be avoided by not touching it. If that slimy sin got too close to us, we would just beat it back with our Bible belt! Yea us! We’ve figured it out. We’re going to Heaven and the rest of you slimy snots can just suck it. Oops. “Suck it” is not the polite way to say it. I think “burn in hell” was the appropriate term.

Yes, I have learned the hard – VERY HARD – way that they were all dealing with shadow selves as well. One particularly hard lesson came when my childhood church hero (he was 5 years older than me) told me as an adult, “It doesn’t matter if we have sex (we were NOT married) because we might die tomorrow anyway.” (It seems that bad experiences in the Green Berets can radically alter your outlook on life.) So that’s it? We just go from “we can act our way into heaven” to “this isn’t working like we planned so screw it”?


Well, I was taught that there was only one church denomination that I should really attend (Mom and Dad meant well and I love them for it). This meant there wasn’t a huge variety of experience that the people in my life would talk to me about. I tried talking to the Deacon of the singles ministry and his wife one time. That backfired in ways that still haunt me at random moments.  No need to rehash the details – it doesn’t deserve that much of my energy.

So… I eventually got to meet some people (inside and outside of my “denomination”) that knew a little bit more about shadow selves and were willing to talk about it. But I don’t think I’ve ever found a really safe place to spill it and spell it out in detail. How I wish I could go back in time. Of course, I would like to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear His teachings. But oh how I wish I could meet Mary Magdalene and the tax collectors and prostitutes that Jesus reached out to. There is a sure treasure trove of people that had Jesus drive out their demons – literal or figurative – and were willing to talk about it!

Yes, if we played that silly “mixer” game at a party where I would be asked, “which five (or ten) people – alive or dead – would you like to invite to dinner?”, I would list the woman at the well, Mary Magdalene, Zacchaeus (the wee little man), and a few random prostitutes from Jesus’ following. (Oh, and Anne Boleyn, but that is another issue altogether!)

Unfortunately, those people are not here. There is no one here right now, but me, my shadow self, and an old, faithful dog. The sun will come up in a little while and the shadows will be chased away (mostly). I will hear that soundtrack echoing in the back of my head for days.

The dog just started barking, so I guess it is time to start acting like everything is okay again. And the day begins…


  1. My dear, what do I say? First off I'd like to share with you what a wonderful writer I think you are. Compliments are always good, eh? Amd my shadow self scares the crap outta me sometimes! She rears her ugly head evry once in awhile and I don't know what to do about it. She has many friends she likes to bring with her too. I'll tell you something she told me this week......."It's better to be isolated, no one will understand you anyway!"

    Yeah.....she's kind of a *bleeeeeep*

    I found a devotional at a thrift store and I bought it. I read it for about 5 days, each morning as I read the words I was like, "hmmmm, doesn't seem to hit me the same way Ozzie or Sarah Young do." And then I came across one where they talked about sin and the fact that we don't anymore. I haven't opened it since. I don't know why I haven't thrown it away, it just sits on the dresser in my reading room like I'm going to agree with the last thing I read in there and begin digesting more.

    The voices from our past, the longings in our present, the good and evil that are at hand in it all is so outside of my grasp of understanding, it's not even funny. Just this morning as I lay in bed contemplating that stupid e-mail that I don't really want to write for reasons I'm about to share with ya'll privately, I heard these words that shocked me out of bed, "What if this isn't about you?"


    Oh man.....

    Carolyn, the first link Julie shared yesterday, I watched it twice. He speaks of protection, that what we need is protection, not accountability. If we could find a few people whom we could share the worst about us and they would not walk away, not judge, or condemn, but love us with protection and grace, that is where healing is found, in protection. He said the reason we didn't like our parents religion was it's inauthenticity, people walking around saying they're fine, when we are all hurting inside.

    I'm here to tell you, that even though I don't "really" know you.....I'll protect you. God didn't bring us together for grins, well maybe He did, cuz He knows how much I like to laugh and smile, but I do think you know what I mean.

    My head gets the worst of me when my husband is gone and I sleep alone.

    I love you! Always. No matter what.

  2. You are, indeed, a wonderful writer!
    "Shadow shelf" is such a great word-picture.
    I struggle constantly. I once heard R.C. Sproul say that we aren't sinners because we sin; rather, we sin because we ARE sinners. That realization knocked my perfectionism right on it's ***! I am trying to learn to trust and to surrender, because I do believe that only God can make any real changes in me. It is definitely a slow process, and I can't seem to keep mySELF out of the way the majority of the time. I guess that's why Jesus said I need to take up my cross DAILY to follow Him.
    No, it's not just you, and I am so grateful it's not just me.

  3. This is precisely the education I received. Praise God that we didn't get left there!
    I love you much and I am so thankful to learn from you and nod along as you do your thing!

  4. @Bek, I do thank you for the protection. I do need it.

    @mamatigerj, it is good to not be alone, yes?

    @amy, I love you so much too, my "deer, deer" friend

    Thank you all for the lovely compliments.

  5. Carolyn,

    I love how you have communicated this truth here. I have felt the same way many times, so much so that I am involved in a church plant the recognizes it as a core issue for all of us. I think I will start using the "Shadow-Self" phrase with my daughter who is 10 if you don't mind. She has shared with me that she has urges that are not always good and I have struggled to help her identify a way to deal with it.(Especially in the context of her young faith.) This may help a bit. Thanks for your candor and honesty. It is valuable. We need to be real with each other. Keep it up.

  6. Jon, you are always more than welcome to use anything offered here. Any good I do comes from the Father, anyway. I have struggled since before the age of 10 with some of these things, so I feel for your daughter. If you need anything, my email address is on the "contact me" page.


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