The psychologist Carl Jung understood the human struggle for health and wholeness as a deeply spiritual matter. He observed that there are two sides to every person: the person we want to be and the person we don’t want to be. The person we don’t want to be Jung called our shadow. Because we don’t want to be this person, we pretend that it doesn’t exist. We may do that by living in denial or we push it deep down inside so that we can’t see it anymore. We work hard to keep the shadow side of ourselves hidden from everyone, including ourselves. You might say, we’re afraid of our own shadow.
Our shadow isn’t always negative. Sometimes it can be positive. For instance, think of the super macho man who spends his whole life denying his feminine shadow. By doing this he cuts himself off from an important part of who he is as a person. If he can acknowledge the positive aspects of this shadow side and incorporate those into his life, he’s taking an important step toward becoming a whole person.
Of course, there are also parts of our shadow side that are negative and a failure to confront them can be a great obstacle toward becoming our true selves, the people God created us to be. When we refuse to see our shadow side, we’re living in darkness. And nothing good can ever come of living in darkness. Think about Roman Catholic priests who, after taking a vow of celibacy, may deny their own sexual needs, repressing their shadow. In recent years we have seen how living in that kind of darkness has caused irreparable damage to individuals and the larger Church.
If you might be wondering what your own shadowy make-up is, here’s one indicator. Think about the people who really get under your skin. What disturbs you most in their behavior? There’s a good chance that what you’re reacting to is your own shadow side that you can see in that other person. In fact, the more irritated you are with another person, the less likely it has to do with something about that person and the more likely it has to do with something about you. It may point to the part of you that you’ve been repressing because it’s not the person you want to be.
Jesus seemed to understand this when he counseled people to remove the log in their own eye before going after the speck in someone else’s eye. Our shadow side sends us railing against the actions of others rather than looking within ourselves. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to look at our interpersonal conflicts in the light. We’d much rather cast judgment and blame and act out in all kinds of other ways that keep us living in the darkness. After all, in the darkness no shadows exist.
Jung makes the important point that evil is not the shadow, but it is our refusal to meet the shadow. It’s not the shadow part of ourselves that causes pain and suffering in our lives, but it’s disregarding and repressing the shadow that does us in.
We can only see our shadow in the light. For Christians, our light source in Christ. He is the light who always encourages us to acknowledge our shadow. He does it with a gentle, nonjudgmental approach that brings us to true repentance. By accepting us completely, including our shadow side, he frees us to see ourselves in the light of his love. When Jesus is a part of our lives, we’re living in the light. We’re no longer afraid of our own shadow. That's when we grow into our authentic selves, the people God created us to be.
This is what salvation means to me. It's not a ticket to heaven. It's an unfolding relationship with God that is leading me toward wholeness. That's why I can say that Christ is my light and my salvation. I believe my mission as a pastor is to encourage and support people who are also on a journey toward authenticity and wholeness. The best way I know of helping them do that is leading them into a deeper relationship with Jesus. Everything else is just fluff.