As your time in the desert increases and the unforgiving environment saps your strength, you realize you are running out of time. Food and water are scarce and it won’t be long until you die. Death creeps upon your doorstep and the vultures circling above you are a constant reminder that time is against you. As your mind kicks into survival mode, you are no longer as concerned about having luxuries such as cheeseburgers, shakes, or cokes. Your priority is to get something, anything that will keep you alive. Your biology is compelling you to focus solely on what you need to live.
In the last post, we covered the lies we believe about our identity and that those lies spring from an inner darkness that is in all of us. In the solitude of the desert seasons of life, we learn what our food is when we are starved of it. For those of us who believe the lie that we are what other people say about us, our food is the compliments and praises of others. For those of us who believe we are what we do, our food is our work. For those of us who believe that we are our achievements, our food is the need to have a paper or trophy that “proves” we are someone. For those of us who believe we are what we say we are, our food is self-validation. The desert reveals that these foods are junk food, not necessary for survival, but pleasurable to the senses. Instead of giving us life-sustaining force and strength, they make us weak and overweight, crippling our ability to enjoy to the fullest all that life has to offer. The desert will starve you to death. . . but, it will make you live.
When we look around the world today, there is no shortage of injustice, evil, or suffering. Many of us experience some kind of rage when we scroll through social media or see posts on news sites. We quickly point our finger and claim, “If only I was in this position or if so and so was in this position, none of this would happen!” Yet, even after every election and after every promise of change, everything stays the same. We live in a miraculous time where we have a voice in who our leaders are; thus, our leaders are merely a reflection of us. The only way to defeat the darkness in this world is to first defeat the darkness in ourselves. As I pointed out in the last post, the desert reveals our truest intentions.
Isn’t this supposed to be a post about who we are and not on how to defeat darkness? Defeating darkness has everything to do with who you are. To truly step into your identity, you have to face yourself. This simple fact is why most people will never discover who they are, because they do not want to face what is inside them. My guess is that this series drew you in because you are tired of running in circles, wondering who you are and what your purpose is in this world. You want to make an impact, a change for good in our society, which are honorable ambitions! Before we can step into everything God has planned for us, we have to deal with our shadows.
All of us have a shadow. Peter Scazzero states in his book, The Emotionally Healthy Leader, that our shadows are “the culmination of untamed emotions, less-than pure motives and thoughts that, while largely unconscious, strongly influence and shape your behaviors. It is the damaged but mostly hidden version of yourself.” It is the damaged and mostly hidden version of ourselves that keeps us trapped in cycles of addiction, negative self talk, and toxic behaviors towards others. Our shadows often come from others or self-inflicted trauma in our past. It is your shadow that subconsciously tells you that it’s not ok to fail and you have to relentlessly perfect every project lest other people think ill of you; when instead, your motive to work hard should come from the fact that working hard to make yourself and others better is simply the right thing to do. Your shadow tells you that you need to work hard towards that degree so that you can prove you’re not a loser. Instead, your motivation to achieve a degree should come from a place of wanting to be prepared for your field for your sake and the sake of others. It is the shadows of people that cause us to betray one another, use one another, lie to one another, and steal from one another. As we continue to live in our false identities, the cycle of violence will continue. It is our true identities that bring life to the world around us. Knowing who you are will ultimately lead to the answer to the question we all long to be answered, “Why am I here?”
Jordan Peterson states:
“I don’t think that you have any insight whatsoever into your capacity for good until you have some well-developed insight into your capacity for evil.
You can only find out what you actually believe (rather than what you think you believe) by watching how you act. You simply don’t know what you believe, before that. You are too complex to understand yourself.
Don’t blame capitalism, the radical left, or the iniquity of your enemies. Don’t reorganize the state until you have ordered your own experience. Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try and rule a city.
If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try and rule and control other people.
And I’m talking to myself here because I’ve tried this in the past and how dare I. How dare I. How dare we. How dare you.”
Do you want to know who you are? Do you want to know your purpose on this planet? If you do, then you will have to face your shadow. Here is how you can start facing your shadow. . .
1. Go into the wilderness.
By this, I don’t necessarily mean a literal wilderness. Do whatever you have to do to get alone time. Remember, as Nouwen said, solitude is the furnace of transformation, the place of the great struggle and the great encounter. In the “desert” of solitude, we are starved of all false sources of identity.
2. Identify motives.
You need to start identifying why it is you do everything you do. Start asking these questions:
- Who am I?
- What gives me a sense of purpose?
- From who/what do I get value?
- How do I respond to life’s interruptions?
- How do I respond when criticized?
- Do I love God?
- Do I trust God?
When you are asking these questions, be completely honest. When you ask what gives you a sense of purpose, do you even have a sense of purpose? Is your motivation just to survive to the weekend and get the bills paid? When you ask how you respond to life’s interruptions, you will see whether or not you have a need to be in control of situations and people around you. When asking if you love or trust God, do not give the “right” answer. If you were to lose everything, is He still worthy of being followed? Do you have a hard time trusting Him because everyone around you has betrayed or rejected you?
3. Ask “Why?”
Now you need to go back through all those questions and ask why you gave the answers you did. For example, if you had to honestly say you do not trust or love God, why is that? Is it because you had a terrible father growing up, so you don’t know how you can trust God as your heavenly Father? Have you been through so many disappointments despite your faithfulness to God, yet feel like you got nothing for it? Was there a time in your life you really needed to hear God, but heard nothing? Do you freak out when life throws interruptions at you because you were abused as a kid and felt like you had no control over anything? It is so critical to ask the “why” behind everything we do. Asking why will reveal whether or not we have the right motives and may also reveal past traumas that are heavily influencing our current behavior. Many of us opt to go for years without understanding past traumas that drive our behavior. As long as our shadow stays hidden, we will remain in cycles of shame, depression, destructive thought patterns, anger, addiction, etc. . .
The wounds you refuse to face now will fester and destroy you from the inside out, bringing others with you. In my own experience, I have dealt with other people and leaders who became incredibly controlling, manipulating, and narcissistic because they never faced their shadows. For example, I know people who experienced deep betrayal in leadership, but were never able to find healing and offer forgiveness. As a result, they relentlessly pursue the praise of others and carefully curate their public persona, smashing anyone who even criticizes them lest they be betrayed again. The sad thing is, these people don’t even realize they are doing all of this because they are unaware of their shadow and refuse to be.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.Hebrews 12:12-15
After you identify your motives, you will begin to discover the lies you are believing about your identity. If you found that you are devastated by criticism, you might have discovered that you have believed too much in what others say about you. Identifying our shadows can be painful and uncomfortable, but there is beauty and grace to be found in the midst of great darkness. God wants to make you well. For years, too many of us have run around in circles, crippled by the same thought patterns and never accessing all God has planned for us. Many of us are simply told by well meaning, but ill equipped pastors to “pray more,” “read Scripture more,” or “try harder.” We focus too much on the symptoms, rather than getting at the root of our behaviors.
In the next post, we will dive into replacing our false identities with our true identities. Before we get there, we have to do the dirty work of facing our inner darkness before we can be who we are meant to be.
For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.1 Corinthians 2:11
Attack the evil that is within yourself, rather than attacking the evil that is in others.
He who flatters a man is his enemy. He who tells him of his faults is his maker.Confucius