False Holiness and our Shadow Self


Creative Commons: “Shadow” by Lolwaro974

A Shadow lurks within us. 

A shadow which follows us everywhere we walk. It’s present in our ever day comings and goings. In our meetings. Lurking in our prayers. Whispering in our ears during our lunch time conversations. Condemning us during a sermon. Celebrating our failures.

We all have a shadow.

Our wounds.

Our struggles.

Our pasts.

Our fears.

Our insufficiencies.

Guilt. Regret. Personal limitations.

There is no limit to the breadth and depth of our shadow. We know it. It knows us. We hate it, and the ultimate outcome is we come to hate ourselves.

Because we feel like an imposter.

The shadow is the imposter within us.

This imposter tells us that at any moment, someone is going to knock on our door and reveal to the world the ways in which we’re not as “perfect” as others think we are. The ways we’re not the leader we’re supposed to be. The ways in which we aren’t the Christian other’s expect us to be. The ways in which we doubt God.

There’s something we hate most, about our shadow, though. We hate what it forces us to recognize.

To know our shadow is to know our real selves.

And as a “holiness people” we want nothing more than to keep our “real selves” hidden, because our real selves scare the hell out of us. (well, we want it scared out of us…but rarely does that actually happen)

Shadow vs Separate

The Church, specifically churches in the holiness tradition (a tradition to which mine belongs), spends a great deal of time talking about holiness, but very little time talking about the existence of our shadow and how that relates to holiness.

Very rarely do we talk about the shadow self, because the shadow self makes us uncomfortable.

I’m not sure when it happened, but we’ve come to believe that somehow, to acknowledge the shadow within us, to acknowledge the imposter is to deny the holy work of God within us.

However, nothing could be further from the truth.

The shadow self is not the enemy of the journey of faith.

Our separate self is.

Let me explain.

The separate self is an elevator.

The separate self is the part of ourselves which desires to be more than, or better than, or superior to, or distinct from.

The separate self, when described this way, feels very American, doesn’t it?  But even then, most will recoginze the ways in which this falls short of the full dependence and surrender to Christ we’re called to as Christ-followers.

However, whether we want to admit it or not, we church people are far more comfortable with living out the separate self than we are living out the shadow self. Because its easier to manipulate and conceale the separate self, and in this distortion, we can begin to look a whole lot more holy.

Separateness, at least outwardly, seems more holy than brokeness.

Richard Rohr describes our tendency to elevate the separate self this way:

“The separate self is the problem whereas most religion and most people make the shadow self the problem. This leads to denying, pretending and projecting instead of real transformation into the divine.”

The Gospel is the realization that our shadow is our glory.

Our shadow is the means by which Christ reveals himself most deeply to his creation. Our shadow is the way in which our Father in heaven most viscerally comes into contact with the most wounded and broken places within us- the parts which exposes our humanity.

We see shadow engagement through the Gospels.

We see Jesus engaging the shadow self when he talks with the woman at the well. We see it  when he engages a post-denial Peter around a campfire. We see it when Jesus invites a doubtful Thomas to touch the wounds on his palms.

The gospel is the story of Jesus coming into contact, not with those who were separate and outwardly holy, but rather those who cast the longest of shadows. Those who have the deepest wounds.

As Richard Rohr said,

“God uses [our] shadow self to bring [us] to himself…Our wounds are our glory. They are the hole in our souls which lets God in.”

In a religious world which speaks of holiness as “correct behavior,” it becomes a great liberating force when we realize the most holy requirement made of Christ followers is humility and honesty.

The call to recognize, humbly, the ways in which we’re broken, and to be rigorously honest about our wounds. This humility and honesty leaves us nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. And in our standing exposed, we experence the deepest healing of our Father.

Thanks be to God.


2 thoughts on “False Holiness and our Shadow Self

  1. Painfully insightful. We never outgrow our need for the Paraclete. It is truly a marriage made in Heaven! Though we are unfaithful, He is faithful to remind us who we are in Him. An ongoing baptism of the mind.

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