We know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them (1 John 4:16; NIV).
May I sense your presence:
I in you, and you in me,
All day long, and evermore,
In full communion, constantly.
May I know your presence:
You in me, and I in you,
Then I’ll grow more like your Son,
In all I feel, think, say and do.
This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ (Ephesians 4:13; NLT).
Today’s blog is part two in a series of three short articles discussing the importance of facing and sharing the contents of the shadow-self in honest prayer.
Yesterday’s blog (https://wp.me/p45bCr-dXu), was personal, but today’s will focus on how Jesus faced and expressed his shadow, both with God, and with people. We can have no better example than his.
Temptation (Matthew 4:1-11; NLT)
During the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness, his shadow-self is represented as a being who tempts him to go against his conscience by disobeying God.
These accounts show plainly that even Christ suffered from temptation. Like us, he had to wrestle with, resist, and overcome, his seductive fantasies and impulses. He needed to do this in order to face the huge personal sacrifices his ministry would require of him:
We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin (Hebrews 4:15; NIV).
Irritation (Luke 9:37-43; NLT)
At times, Jesus became exasperated, both with his followers, and with the Scribes and Pharisees. For example, when his disciples were unable to heal a boy suffering from epilepsy, Jesus became frustrated and irritated. Instead of concealing how he felt, he spoke to them very directly and honestly:
You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you and put up with you? (Luke 9:41; NLT).
Then, having expressed how he felt, he healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.
Anger (John 2:13-17; NLT)
When Jesus saw the established corruption and exploitation taking place in the Temple at Jerusalem he was filled with anger. He purposefully made a whip, using it to drive the merchants and money-changers out of the temple. Chaos resulted as he overturned their stalls, scattered their takings, and chased away their sacrificial animals, whilst crying out:
Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace! (John 2:13-16; NLT).
Anger, whether righteous or otherwise, is part of everyone’s shadow, however much we might prefer to deny and suppress it.
Grief (John 11:1-45; NLT)
When Jesus heard that his friend was very sick, he delayed visiting him and his sisters. Two days later, knowing that Lazarus had died, he set off to their house. There he experienced the anger and tears which so often characterise human grief. It’s inspiring to see Jesus’ human emotions shared so openly to those around him:
When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled (John 11:33; NLT).
Then Jesus wept (John 11:36; NLT).
Fear (Matthew 26:36-46; NLT)
After the Last Supper, Jesus went with his disciples to an olive grove to pray. Overwhelmed by the profound fear rising from his shadow, he could not conceal his anguish. Realising what he was about to undergo, he begged God to take his suffering away.
I find it oddly reassuring to know that even Jesus experienced and expressed dread, longing for it to be taken away. At Gethsemane, as always, his prayers were absolutely direct, unembellished by flowery language, honest, short and to the point:
He became anguished and distressed (Matthew 26:37; NLT).
He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Matthew 26:39; NLT).
He was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood (Luke 22:44; NLT).
Examining Jesus shadow-side has been a significant challenge for me, but I want to learn from him:
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me (Matthew 11:29; NIV).
Tomorrow I hope to draw some conclusions from this short series on honest prayer.
There they are, overwhelmed with dread, where there was nothing to dread (Psalm 53:5; NIV).
For the last few weeks I have been exploring my chronic sense of *dread (see https://wp.me/p45bCr-dTm, for example). Today’s blog describes a way of handling it which came to me whilst I was praying a few days ago.
My dread springs from the trauma and emotional damage I experienced when I was young. A passage in Psalm 74 accurately captures the toxic atmosphere in my childhood home:
Turn your steps toward these everlasting ruins, all this destruction the enemy has brought on the sanctuary. Your foes roared in the place where you met with us; they set up their standards as signs. They behaved like men wielding axes to cut through a thicket of trees. They smashed all the carved paneling with their axes and hatchets. They burned your sanctuary to the ground; they defiled the dwelling place of your Name. They said in their hearts, “We will crush them completely!” They burned every place where God was worshiped in the land (Psalm 74:3-8; NIV).
Praying before my icon
Last Wednesday I stood praying before my icon of Mary. As I touched both her hand and that of the infant Christ, I was longing for my dread to disappear. Suddenly I saw a different attitude to living with my dread. Thanking her, I hurried to write it down.
My notes became a prayer which encapsulates this new way forward. Now, I am trying to say, “Yes” to my dread, and to thank God for it, in accordance with the charism of the Community of Our Lady of Walsingham (p10, The Book of Life, Community of Our Lady of Walsingham; 2022).
Saying “Yes” to dread
So instead of longing for my dread go away, I now pray like this:
Lord, thank you for my sense of dread. It kept me safe when I was young, never knowing when, or where, the axe of my mother’s fury would fall next.
Please help me to welcome and accept my dread, surrounding it with love and gratitude. I want to rejoice in it as my oldest friend: the primitive, instinctive part of me that has protected me since birth.
After saying a spontaneous version of these words, I lay my hand on my abdomen and whisper to my dread:
My dearest friend, you can relax now. You no longer need to be constantly vigilant, ready to make me freeze, run away, or hide, in order to protect myself. You and I are in God’s hands, and we are safe now, no matter what happens.
A final prayer
Then I end like this:
Lord, thank you for my dread. Please help me to surround it with love. I ask this in your dear Son’s name. Amen.
Give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18; NIV).
*The symptoms of Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), include “A pervasive feeling of apprehension or dread” (helpguide.org).
All your waves and breakers have swept over me (Psalm 42:7; NIV).
I am in the hands of the Lord, the Most High is my safe resting-place (Psalm 91:9; BBE).
Yesterday, when I woke in the middle of the night, the first verse of today’s blog came straight into my mind. I knew I had to write it down, before I forgot it. Then the second verse arrived, line by line, until the prayer was finished, and I fell asleep again.
In the morning I remembered what had happened, but retained no memory of what I’d written. Full of curiosity, I opened my iPad to find out. It needed very little editing to make it work:
LORD, you know my heart. You see me and test my thoughts (Jeremiah 12:3; NLT).
You hear each word I say,
And see the thoughts within my mind,
You know the feelings in my heart –
Our souls are intertwined.
You know the secrets in my past,
And all the wrongs I’ve ever done,
And yet, you love me as I am –
And want us to be one.
The person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him (1 Corinthians 6:17; NLT).
I know every thought that comes into your minds (Ezekiel 11:5; NLT).
Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely (Psalm 139:4; NIV).
He knows the secrets of every heart (Psalm 44:21; NLT).
The LORD’s light penetrates the human spirit, exposing every hidden motive (Proverbs 20:27; NLT).
I was stressed, anxious, exhausted and alone. It was getting dark, and I was running out of energy in a big city, where I couldn’t find my hotel. The friend I had been with earlier had left me.
Then I stumbled across an Orthodox service taking place in a large, crypt-like cave which was half underground. I glimpsed many priests inside, standing in rows, wearing beautiful robes.
There were a few casual onlookers outside the crypt. Close by was a long, high wall with a large, stone bas-relief of an icon.I walked past the icon, not immediately realising what it was, but as soon as it registered in my mind, I stepped back a pace or two, and stood in front of it. There, I made the sign of the cross in the Orthodox manner, just as I do when awake.
Then I woke very suddenly, experiencing a moment of pure joy, because I had been a Christian in my dream, just as I have so often asked in prayer (see https://wp.me/p45bCr-dov). Next, I quickly noted down everything that had happened, before it began to fade.
When this was done, I started to pray, giving all the experiences and emotions of my dream to God. However, in a flash, I realised that I wasn’t just giving them to God, who already knew all about them, and had sent them. Rather, I was sharing them with God.
Then I grasped that my dream had given me an opportunity to share through first-hand experience just a little of what Jesus experienced and felt at different times during his life on earth. This left me stunned, and, as so often, wondering what might come next.
Introduction The day before yesterday, as soon as I woke, I wrote down the emotions crowding that night’s dream. For the first time in years, this included some positive feelings alongside the usual negatives, although this blog will mainly focus on the negatives:
Positives: Briefly feeling wanted, joyful, loving, connected with a person, connected with an animal.
A learning opportunity Dreams are a learning opportunity. Writing down the emotions they generate enables me to connect with aspects of myself it would be much more comfortable to ignore, deny, or suppress.
As I began to pray, I saw that the emotions experienced during my dream were showing me how I feel about myself. Then I understood that throughout my life a lot of my waking behaviour and sense of self have been driven by the negative emotions listed above.
The origins of my fear and insecurity
The feelings I typically experience during dreams have their origins in my relationship with my mother. As a child, I had no way of understanding them or putting them into words. I instinctively concealed them, because expressing them in any way risked incurring my mother’s criticism, anger and punishment. It was made crystal clear that I was a burden, so, unsurprisingly, I grew up feeling deeply unacceptable to others.
However, I couldn’t hide the effect this had on me. My distress was revealed by behaviours I couldn’t control, including tears, anxiety, fears, lack of confidence, recurrent nightmares, headaches, stress, perfectionism, bed-wetting and sleepwalking.
As I got older, the origin of my fears was buried far beyond conscious awareness. However, my damaged sense of self continued to fester in my unconscious mind, surfacing as panic attacks which seemed to come out of the blue. Anxiety, agoraphobia, claustrophobia and depression went on to dominate my life for many years, until I eventually started to get effective help.
My emotional framework I see now that all my dreams essentially reveal how I have come to feel about myself as a result of how I was treated as a child. My negative experiences formed the foundation of my adult self-image.
However, alongside this realisation I’m beginning to glimpse that perhaps my feelings about myself don’t actually belong to me at all; they may simply be how I was made to feel when I was young. Hopefully, more will be revealed in the coming days.
Positive emotions Meanwhile, I haven’t forgotten those rare, positive emotions experienced during my dream. These have given me hope that if my unconscious mind, and therefore my dreams, can change, perhaps my conscious sense of who and what I am can change as well.
So, after that long introduction, here is today’s prayer:
Give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18; NIV).
Thank you, Lord God,
With all my heart,
For the secret riches
You give me
From the darkness
Of my unconscious mind.
Through Jesus’ name.
I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness – secret riches (Isaiah 45:3; NLT).
There is a God in heaven who reveals secrets (Daniel 2:28; NLT).
A few days ago, I dreamed I was lost in a city I had never visited before, and where I knew no-one at all. It was dark, and after trying, unsuccessfully, to use a river as an escape route I was wet and cold. I was also afraid, overwhelmed, alone and desperate, very close to panicking.
Despite my waking sense of calm acceptance, this dream revealed the emotions present in my unconscious mind after receiving a new diagnosis of Autonomic Dysfunction, accompanied by a very slow heart rate. I was given this diagnosis last Tuesday, and the dream came during the following night.
As soon as I began to pray next morning, I saw that although the overt scenario of my dream bore no resemblance to what is currently happening in my life, the emotions it generated were highly relevant.When awake, I wasn’t feeling these emotions at all. However, during my dream, I experienced them to the full. After jotting them down during the night, and reading them next morning, I could see how closely they related to current events in my life.
Dreams: symbols of past and present realities
Then I saw and understood more generally how the events in my dreams symbolise, reflect and explore what is happening in my life. Until having the dream described above, I had always thought that my dreams revealed buried emotions belonging to past events and traumas, and of course this may still be the case with some dreams. However, last Wednesday God showed me that my dreams also reveal current hidden or suppressed emotions – emotions I don’t experience when awake.
A direct connection to the unconscious mind
This came as a complete surprise. I now see that my dreams offer a much more direct connection to my unconscious mind than I had previously realised. This link is a pearl beyond price to me, so I’ll be reflecting on it in the days to come, and looking forward to learning more.
God speaks again and again, though people do not recognise it. He speaks in dreams, in visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on people as they lie in their beds (Job 33:14-15; NLT).
I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness – secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name (Isaiah 45:3; NLT).
Yesterday was a day without appointments of any kind – a blessed day of complete rest. No fresh inspiration arrived, so I was very happy to dip into my treasure-chest, bringing out a poem written a short while ago:
Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me” (John 20:29; NLT).
It’s easy to have feelings, Lord, But harder to have faith.
It’s easy to complain, Lord,
But far harder to say, “Yes”.
It’s easy to hate strangers, Lord,
But harder to love all.
It’s easy to condemn, Lord, But instead, help me to bless.
Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you (Mark 5:44; NKJV).
Job stood up, tore his robe, and shaved his head. He fell to the ground and worshiped, saying: Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away. Blessed be the name of the LORD. Throughout all this Job did not sin or blame God for anything (Job 1:20-22; CSB).
I want your will to be done, not mine (Matthew 26:39; NLT).
Love the stranger (Deuteronomy 10:19; NKJV).
Donotjudge others, and you will not be judged. Do notcondemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven (Luke 6:37; NLT).
The Rosary Hospital
I’ve now made an experimental prayer circlet with a holding-cross half-way round. It’s a delight to wear, as the cross rests so close to my heart.
Context: After writing yesterday’s prayer (https://wp.me/p45bCr-cJf), I was looking back through my diary and, to my great surprise, found some lines written long ago, on a blessed day when I experienced a profound sense of God’s enduring love:
He loves us with unfailing love (Psalm 117:2; NLT).
Even though I’m nothing, Lord,
You love me.
There’s nothing I can think,
Or feel, or say,
And nothing I can do
To make you stop, Lord:
You simply love me –
Now, and every day.
God is love (1 John 4:8; NLT).
We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19; TIB).
Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over, and those who gathered only a little had enough (2 Corinthians 8:15; NLT).