Hidden Intentions

Photo by Dev on Unsplash

The Governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, has recently been embattled in a blackface scandal. That’s bad news for anyone, but especially a Democratic Governor from a purple state. While Gov. Northam has asked for more time to sort things out, people on both sides of the aisle are calling for his resignation. All of this raises the question, who is Gov. Northam really?

For that matter, who are any of us? It is easy to criticize politicians for their secrets or past mistakes, but don’t we all have parts of ourselves that we hide from the public? Moreover, aren’t there portions of our being that we’ve even hidden from ourselves?

The answer to these questions is emphatically “yes”! And these hidden portions of our being are sometimes called our shadow self. We all have one. Our shadow self holds our truest intentions. We learn to tuck it away because it doesn’t align with who we want to be or who our culture says we need to be.

I definitely have a shadow self, and the tricky thing about hiding my truest intentions or desires is that once they’re buried, I forget they’re there. It usually takes an uncomfortable situation and the perspective of someone I trust to reveal what I’ve hidden or ignored.

A couple years ago, I had a disagreement with a chaplain about how to complete my end-of-shift reports. He wanted me to add more detail, and I felt like I was doing things exactly as I’d been trained to. This was actually round two of a discussion we’d had the previous day, and it was not going particularly well. Minute by minute, our discussion became more tense until the other chaplain finally looked at me and said:


The words reverberated through my mind like an echo in an empty cave. No one had ever dared to say something so demeaning to me before. Despite my shock and disbelief, I kept my composure until he called me arrogant. Then I lost my cool, but just a little. ūüôā Our interaction ended with me telling him that he was going to keep getting my arrogance and him storming away. (Fun fact: Chaplains are people too).

I was incredulous that this middle-aged white man would dare to look me in my face and say I wasn’t his equal. For the next several days questions swirled. Did he understand the racial undertones? What did I say that triggered him? What made me unequal in his mind? Was it because I was a seminary student?

Photo by Rohan Makhecha on Unsplash

No answer calmed the swell of anger that coursed through me. No justification diffused the intense energy I was holding. No amount of rehashing the situation with friends or coworkers made me feel better. I still felt disrespected and indignant. Relief didn’t come until I asked my friend for her opinion on the situation. She first acknowledged that my fellow chaplain was out of line then she spoke a simple, yet important truth that showed me what I’d been hiding.

“You come off as calm, cool and collected, so people don’t notice that you really want control. You’re bothered when things don’t go the way you think they should.”

A soon as her words hit me, I instinctively knew they were true. I felt a sense of raw vulnerability wash over me as I let my shadow self be seen. With this vulnerability came a sense of freedom. It took energy to hide my intentions, so once they were acknowledged, that burden was lifted.

I recognized how my attempts at control had influenced my relationship with this chaplain. I felt like he was micromanaging me, and I reacted because my autonomy felt threatened. It seemed like he was trying to take control. Does that justify his actions? NO! Not at all. He was still dead wrong, but as I looked past what he’d done, and began to focus on my role in the conflict, I saw I had something to learn.

Once I realized all of this, I was able to let go. I let go of my desire to change him. I let go of my need for a response from my supervisor. I let go of my righteous indignation because it did me no good. Instead I focused on the one thing I could influence, myself.

It isn’t easy to name that I like being in control. The word control has such a negative connotation in my mind that I feel a sense of shame that it would even be part of my personality. I want control because it gives me a false sense of safety. If no one else can control me, then no one else can hurt me right? I’ve felt powerless before, and I seek control to ensure it never happens again. It is an embedded response to life. I’m usually not even conscious of it.

Honestly though, the desire for control isn’t inherently bad. It just is. The trouble comes when I actively try to exercise control over external people or situations. Then I end up limiting myself or hurting someone else. Control is at best an illusion and at worst an unhealthy obsession.

My desire for control doesn’t just kick in when I’m being micromanaged by the way. I know you’re all shocked :). Once I saw it in this conflict, I started seeing it in my marriage, my friendships and with my family. Turns out, it is activated in both large an small ways daily.

While Gov. Northam continues to answer questions about who he used to be and who he is today, give yourself space for some self-reflection. Our shadow selves may or may not reveal deep-seeded racism, but the others intentions or desires we’ve buried are still important.

Ask people you trust to help you reflect if you need to. Our friends and family often see what we’ve hidden much better than we think they do. As you do the hard work of naming your hidden intentions, desires and motivations this week, I’ll leave you with this question.

What part of your personality do you need permission to love 
and accept today?

P.S. You have permission!


A Hand in the Darkness

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

This week, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders made headlines when she articulated her belief that God wanted Donald Trump to be President. She was instantly mocked or heralded depending upon where your political and religious beliefs fall, but her remarks point to a larger question of how involved God is in our lives. Is God the watch-maker who sets things in motion then steps away? Is God the architect of every mundane happening and random occurrence? Is there even a God at all?

On my best days I believe God is intimately present and inviting us into our most holistic ways of being. Other days I see the pain in people’s lives, or feel the wounds in my own and wonder if sometimes even God is outmatched. Some hurts feel just too deep for God to touch.

As I’ve wrestled with and continued to work through my own pain, I’ve encountered God in new ways through meditation. Meditation has opened me to two new ways of visualizing God’s work in this season of my life, and I’m reminded to follow and release.

The first visualization:
I’m in a place that is pitch-black. So dark that my hand is practically invisible. I see nothing. I feel nothing. There is literally this thick, velvety darkness from which not even light can escape. I am engulfed by it, and I sense that I’m supposed to walk through it. I can’t tell right from left, or up from down, so I have no idea how to navigate this darkness.

As I start to feel overwhelmed, I become aware that there is someone else with me. I can’t see them, but I can feel their hand as it reaches out and grasps mine, gently pulling me forward. This is my silent guide through the midnight fog that paralyzes my senses. I don’t know who the hand belongs to, but I intuitively trust it, and surrender to its guidance. Believing that wherever it is leading me, is where I need to be next.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

This journey through darkness requires surrender, but it also requires release. This is where the second visualization comes into play.

I am standing on a shoreline looking out at the water. The waves lap calmly against the shore, advancing then receding much like LeBron’s hairline. As I pay attention to the ebb and flow of the water, I notice that my hands are full. I look down to see that I’m clenching small pebbles, none bigger than a marble. The moment I become aware that I’m holding these pebbles, my attention is drawn back to the water and I sense the waves calling to me. Beckoning me to dip my hands into the water beneath me and slowly open them.

I respond to the call and submerge my hands in the water just enough so that all but the knuckles of my clenched fists are below the surface. Then I open my palms and feel the cool water begin to move through my fingers and into my palms. The pebbles become buoyant and begin to float as I continue to open my palms completely and watch the rocks float away. With empty hands, I continue to allow the water to flow over me as it cleanses, relaxes and restores. This is release.

Each set of imagery reminds me of who I experience God as in my life. God is the hand in the darkness, gently grasping and leading me through; God is the water lapping the shore, slowly beckoning me inward and inviting me to release control. God is often quiet, subtle and direct. Easily ignored, but also plainly recognizable.

Unfortunately, I’d usually rather hold onto my illusions of control than follow and release. The pebbles I’m holding represent my need for love, security, comfort and many other things. I wake up daily trying to manufacture each of them rather than trusting that all I need is already available to me. I search for affirmation, strive to uncover purpose and work to remain comfortable because I think my life is in my hands. If I can stay in control and do everything just right, I’ll have what I need.

As a result, I often ignore the hand in the darkness and the waves on shore in favor of my own way. Despite my resistance, moment by moment the invitations are still present. God never stops inviting me to follow and release.

Photo by Ameen Fahmy on Unsplash

I don’t know if God interacts with everyone the same way, but I know that at multiple times, she has been present with me before I knew I needed her. Giving me reassurance, reminding me of love, and offering insight. I’ve felt God through the words of a close friend. I’ve felt God through the hug of a mother. I’ve felt God as energy in my body, softly reminding me that I am not alone. Through these and other experiences, I’ve come to trust that even in the darkness of this winter, I have all I need.

I don’t trust people that make claims about whether or not a major event was God’s plan. Such discussions distract us from the work of paying attention to God in this moment. Whether you are a life-long believer or a new atheist, know that you are not alone in your pain. Love won’t allow that.

Wherever you are, whatever you’re experiencing be it major or minor. I invite you to close you eyes and feel the hand in the darkness reaching out even now. Will you take it, and walk?