The numbers on the clock glow in the darkened bedroom. Christopher turns on his side to block out the clock documenting his restless state. Closing his eyes, he tries again. “Father God, please forgive me of my sins, strengthen and empower me to sin no more.
Lord I pray” …and just as he begins to ask God for something his minds jumps back to a couple of months ago. He did something he shouldn’t have done, something he knew went against who he is as a Christian. He continued to pray, but his heart wasn’t in it. He continued to say the words, but his words carried emptiness. Even though he confessed his sin, he couldn’t let go of the feeling of embarrassment and shame for what he did.
Have you ever had those moments, where you allow what you have done in the past to psyche you out of communicating meaningfully with God. Often it’s done unconsciencely, a scene, a person pops into our head, an event that happened years ago, that my not even be related to anything going on in the moment. We know in our heads that Jesus died for us because we are sinners and cannot achieve righteousness on our own. It’s a blessing to be able to ask for forgiveness and know that we are forgiven. But knowing those facts doesn’t always stop the negativity. Negative thoughts and images can sabotage our prayer life and hinder our relationship with God.
Carl Jung, the psychiatrist is the originator of the idea and philosophy of “The Shadow”. I won’t go into all the Shadow represents, but everyone has one and basically it’s the unknown darker side of our personality. A side that holds our embarrassment, shame, and feelings of inferiority, everything we don’t want to be.
Stutz & Michels (2013), go even further with the concept of the Shadow. In the book, The Tools: 5 Tools to Help You Find Courage, Creativity, and Willpower–and Inspire You to Live Life in Forward Motion, the authors encourage the use of visualization to overcome barriers your shadow creates. Think of anytime you feel intense anxiety or fear that causes problems with performance. When you know a job inside out, but struggle to answer questions in the interview. Have a beautiful singing voice, but are terrified of singing in front of people. What’s stopping you? It’s how you see yourself.
Maybe you’ve just gotten a promotion, it means more money, more prestige, more power, but when you look in the mirror you still see a short chubby kid who was bullied and didn’t have many friends. How you see yourself affects your ability to enjoy those moments of great accomplishments and consistent joy. It affects how you interact with God.
“Becoming conscious of the shadow requires tolerating the inherent tension of opposites within: sometimes “having it out” with the shadow and standing up to its destructive influence; other times permitting it some measured outward expression in the personality. But always treating it with utmost respect.”
Get to Know Your Shadow
Think about the times when those negative feelings crept in, separate those feelings from yourself and give those feelings a face and a body (Stutz & Michels, 2013). Once those feelings have a face and body, you can look at it and determine where those feelings are coming from.
Let’s go back to the beginning, Christopher is trying to pray to God, but is having trouble focusing and believing his prayer. What might his shadow look like? When his feelings take shape they may look like him before he was saved, before he started seeking Christ.
Let’s think about our Shadow in terms of being a follower of Christ. When we go to church and live day by day, how does our outer man line up with the inner man? When we pray, do we really believe that God will answer our prayers or is our Shadow right there reminding us of what we did or didn’t do years ago or even just yesterday. Is our Shadow distorting our self-image?
“The Shadow is the source of one of the most basic human conflicts. Everyone wants to feel that as an individual we have value. But when we look inside ourselves we see the Shadow and we’re ashamed. Our immediate reaction is to turn away—to look outside ourselves for some evidence of our worth” (Stutz & Michels, pg. 107-108)
I won’t even get into all the problems that arise when Christians seek validation outside rather than from Christ within us. Instead lets focus on learning how to see ourselves as God sees us.
Similar to the exercise above make a list of the characteristics of your Shadow. The best way to create this list, the next time your praying and outside thoughts creep in, stop and write them down. When a situation comes up when you know what you should do and should say, but don’t, write it down.
Writer, Joe Bunting, recommends going on a date with your Shadow. The idea is to get to know the why’s so you can get a better understanding of yourself.
Once your list is made and you have a good idea of what’s messing with your faith, envision your Shadow and speak the truth of God to it. For example, Christopher can speak Psalm 32 to his Shadow where David confessed his rebellious acts and the Lord forgave him. Replace the negativity with how God views and loves us.
Did you try it? How’d it go?
Stutz, Phil and Barry Michels. The Tools. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2013. Print.