Last weekend my husband and I went on a retreat and I spent the morning exploring. When I asked the front desk of the hotel how to get to the river I could see out my window, their hesitancy to give me directions informed me that it wasn’t a tourist attraction.
The further I walked away from the hotel, I could feel myself physically stepping beyond my comfort zone. It was a much further walk than it seemed. There were many areas that were gated off and had warning signs. I found a sidewalk on the bridge and, although it was tiny and the cars that passed seemed surprised to see me there, there was a path intended for humans.
On my adventure to the bridge across the river, I was pulled by the gentle sunrise, the rushing water, this mist, the clouds, the beauty of it all. It was a little daring, just a little, but I hardly noticed the tiny fear because I wanted to experience that river and not just look at it from the balcony of my room.
As I walked back to the hotel through the big grassy fields the sun was beating down on me and my shadow was so defined it was almost as if it was my guide. I was reminded of the phrase, “facing my shadow.”
On our drive to the retreat center, we had just enough car time to get into some of the deeper things that have been going on inside each of us. I told my husband that my insecurities have felt monumental. This season of rest has humbled me to my core. I am aware of everything I am not and uncertain of what I have left to offer. I told a friend of mine that I am re-naming my Sabbatical “The Undoing of Me.” It has been a season of deconstruction.
Several years ago, we bought a broken-down fishing shack. We actually paid for the little house and then, because it was dangerous and unlivable, we paid an additional $10,000 to tear it down. It was the strangest feeling to spend so much for deconstruction, to pay money to destroy the very thing we had just purchased.
We could still have that piece of property with a useless house on it, but now we have a new lake house that was built by our dearest friends who are also fine craftsmen. It has housed retreats, holidays, birthdays and many lazy days with friends and families. It is a beautiful place filled with soul and all the good smells of the memories made inside of it.
But first, we had to pay the price of removing the shack. We had to assess what was working, what couldn’t be repaired, what wasn’t worth restoring. We had to face the reality of what was there and what never would be as long as the lake shack was standing (or leaning, as it was).
This Sabbatical has been a time of facing my shadow. I know it well. We have become quite intimate. The priceless gifts of joy, love, and purpose have been especially sweet because I have received them separate from earning them. To be aware of my ugliness, my selfishness, my inadequacy and THEN experience the world’s generosity to me in spite of my inability to work for it or repay it, this is amazing grace.
My shadow has guided me through moments of this season. I am thankful for it. I am humbled to know I have hurt just as I have been hurt. Every single judgement I have held out against someone else, someone could hold out that same judgement against me. Only when facing my own shadow can I experience my own imperfection, my own sin, my own misguided attempts at everything. Only when facing my shadow can I access compassion and ultimately forgiveness.
Facing my shadow is facing my own humanity. And, in turn, facing all of humanity.
As I was walking back to the hotel, thinking all of this, I turned back around to see what was behind me. It took my breath away, the sun shining the way it was, the water sparkling, the clouds misting. And then I thought of the phrase, “casting my shadow.”
When I was walking toward the river, facing the sun, I was casting a shadow. My shadow was following me. My shadow was still there but I was unaware of it. I didn’t really care what was behind me, I was moving toward something too wonderful to give it my attention.
I left the retreat center ready to move toward the next adventure in my life. It is time to turn toward the sun again, this time aware of my shadow but not guided by it, aware of it’s limitations, compassionate and forgiving because of it.