It is said that almost everyone has a “shadow side” in their personality make-up—that part of us that is well hidden most of the time. I have a friend who admits that he has a terrible temper that he had to learn to how to control before it controlled him. The “shadow” could hide any number of things.
In one of my first churches was a man who was known as a gentleman farmer. Joe was very successful with his cotton and corn crops. One evening, I received word that Joe had taken his life. Shocking news. People who knew him said they thought he’d be the last one to do that. The whole community was upset, and wondered what could have gone wrong with a man who had a lovely home, family, good reputation, etc. Weeks after the funeral, I visited with his widow, who said that she was not at all surprised at what happened. She had seen him struggle with crop after crop, afraid he would lose it because of a drought or too much rain at the wrong time. She had witnessed his sleepless nights as he struggled with hypertension. Deep inside Joe was a demon called “fear”. He somehow couldn’t deal with this part of his shadow side.
Writer Rollo May says that a demon can be any natural drive that can take over the whole person, such as lust, sex, thirst, fear or hunger. By failing to listen to our shadow self, we can allow the “demon” to take over and wreak havoc. God gave us the ability to see ourselves objectively in order to grow the higher side of the self. Denial of the problem is very common in a society where we must maintain a good image. This is very common with people who have a “substance abuse demon”. A few days ago came the account of a young man who was intoxicated and got behind the wheel of his truck, running into a woman with two small children, killing all three.
You never know what’s inside a person. They may mask it with smiles and laughter, when underneath exists a “scared” child trying to make it through the night or through life itself. By the way, I’ve heard it said that “suicide is a selfish act”. How do people know that? That’s putting a judgment on a person who may be so weary of depression that they will do anything to get out of it. Regardless of the demon, you can’t help a person if they don’t seek it or, at least, allow it. There are plenty of therapists and an assortment of people in every community who would help you overcome a destructive habit and would pray with you.
Notice how life is full of self-fulfilling prophesies. The tragedy of the shadow self is that if feeds on itself. It’s the fear of losing the battle that helps to set the stage for actually losing it. Some call this “functional atheism”. We can shut God out of our lives so completely that it seems like it won’t happen unless we make it happen. We can declare ourselves helpless.
The thing that occurred to me about the inner journey is that “chaos can be the precondition to creativity”. Great things can happen when people turn tragedies into triumphs. Look at the late Nelson Mandela, for example. His unflinching courage and compassion touched millions. As Desmond Tutu said at his memorial, “Mandela was a magician who turned South Africa, a poisonous caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly.” It seems to me that the greatest thing about this man was the fact that he lived from the inside out. He would not allow any circumstance to destroy the faith within. He was so strong inwardly that no demon could touch him. Yet he said he didn’t want to be remembered as a saintly person, but as an average person with both virtues and vices. Whatever vices he had in mind certainly took a back seat in his life and didn’t control him. He kept his inner space free of hatred and bitterness, and was able to accomplish great things for a needy part of the world.
So, the question that I suppose I should ask now is, “What are you going to do about your shadow self?” Aare you aware of your demon? Are you hurting anyone else with it? Are you feeding it with denial? Have you asked God to help you with it? The Scripture says, “Seek and ye shall find.” Are you doing what you can, with God’s help, to overcome it? I believe that if a person lives from the inside out rather than the outside in, he or she can overcome any shadow, whatever it may be.
I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. They can be broken so easily. Life, from beginning to end, should include many ongoing resolutions to change and do better. Maybe this is what the “new birth” is all about. Maybe having a New Year is God’s way of saying you can start over. Happy New Year!