The Shadow

“. . . I do what I hate.”


“I do not understand what I do; for I don’t do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate.” (Romans 7:15)

This past Saturday we had a bright sunny day as parts of the northeast were being clobbered by the blizzard.  I took a few moments to head into the woods with my camera on a new trail.  The trail turned sharply upward and led me to the top of a mountain.  (Well, I guess technically it was a hill but it felt like a mountain.)  I was rewarded at the top with a nice view of our community on the other side of the mountain/hill.  As I descended, the sun was starting to sink below the top of the mountain when, suddenly, I was surprised by a movement and then an apparition.  The angle of the sun and the steepness of the hill combined in such a way as to project my shadow onto the side of a tree instead of downward on the path.  At first I didn’t notice it because the shadow was broken up as I walked past smaller trees.  When I passed by the first tree with a larger diameter, suddenly it was as though I was no longer alone in the woods.  There it was – my shadow self – looking right back at me!

Various schools of psychology have different ideas about the shadow self that is part of us (as differentiated from the shadow we cast with light).  Suffice it here to say that the shadow self we live with contains what we might consider both positive and negative components.  Our shadow self can be thought of as that part of our self that holds both our dreams and desires, as well as our hurts, disappointments, misunderstandings, and fears.  We might call it our shadow self because for the most part we’re not conscious of it in the daily moments of our lives.  I think it’s this shadow self that the Apostle Paul was referring to when he said, “I do not understand what I do; for I don’t do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate.”  This shadow side of our self is where sin has it’s heyday.

The less we know about our shadow self, the more likely we are to be controlled by it.  Our hurts, cravings, misunderstandings and more sneak up and cause us to do the things that we never meant to do, and even things we hate.  Sometimes the things we even think we mean to do are actually being controlled by the shadow.  On the other side of the event we feel hurt and ashamed by the way we’ve hurt others and our own selves.  The shadow strikes again causing us to sometimes hate ourselves for what we’ve done.  The good news is that our shadow self does not have the last word.  That last word belongs to God!

Paul was warning about the dangers of the shadow so he could offer the hope of God’s healing through grace in Jesus Christ.  Our journey to wholeness and health requires more than just asking for forgiveness after the shadow has pushed us where we would rather not have gone.  The journey to health also requires that we practice allowing the Light of Christ to dwell where the shadow has reigned.  Put another way, it means we need to spend time consciously confronting the things we push to the shadow so we might understand, be forgiven and healed by God where necessary, and be in more conscious control of our selves.

Today is the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday.  It’s the beginning of the season of preparation for Easter.  Often we think of the season as a time to ask for forgiveness for the sins we have committed.  Lent is that, but needs to be more.  It is also the time to confront our shadows.  I would invite all of us to use Lent as a time to get to know our shadows so we might not only be forgiven and healed, but renewed to walk more faithfully in the Light.  I pray that God will give me courage and grace to confront my shadow.  How about you?

Blessings and Peace,
Pastor, Cross Lanes United Methodist Church
Cross Lanes, West Virginia

Help save lives! For more information on my book, “A Relentless Hope: Surviving the Storm of Teen Depression,” visit

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~ by revgenelson on February 13, 2013.

One Response to “The Shadow”

  1. Thanks for this. We freelance religion writers appreciate it.

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