Dealing with Your Darkside Part 2
It begins by admitting you have a
by Patrick Means
Last summer, my wife and I returned
home from a month-long trip to find a foul odor in the house. It
didn't take us long to trace the odor to the refrigerator. Inside, we
discovered fuzzy gray mold covering several of the surfaces, and a
vegetable crisper full of unrecognizable lumps and putrid black
liquid. It took a lot of work, but we eventually got it all scrubbed
down, cleaned up and aired out.
We humans have a dark side that's every bit as malodorous as that mess
in our refrigerator. Our dark side is that part of us that pulls us
toward unhealthy, self-destructive behavior. Like our refrigerator, it
needs to be dealt with. But if I had treated that mess the way we
Christians often deal with our dark side, I probably would have
approached it in one of the following ways:
Unfortunately, as I found out all too
painfully in real life, repainting our exteriors and walling off our
dark sides in secret little rooms only postpones the cleanup (and
doesn't fool anyone for very long anyway).
- I'd realize the stench was coming
from the refrigerator, but instead of dealing directly with the
source of the smell, I would repaint the outside of the
refrigerator and spray heavy doses of air freshener around the
house. When people would ask, "What's that funny smell?"
I would look at them with wide-eyed innocence and reply,
"What smell?" and spray around a little more freshener.
- I could hire a contractor to wall
off the offensive refrigerator in its own dark little room, and
hope that the smell didn't penetrate the walls.
- If all else failed, I could
organize a community-wide campaign against smelly refrigerators. I
would express moral outrage over the threat that these
refrigerators pose to the public health. (This, of course, would
do nothing for the smell in my kitchen, but I would at least be
the last person anyone would suspect of owning a smelly
Taking the First Step
How can we deal effectively with our dark side? It begins, quite
simply, by admitting that we have a smelly refrigerator.
I didn't take that step easily, or even voluntarily. I had been in
Christian ministry for twenty years and was relatively confident that
a combination of spiritual zeal, personal Bible study and other
self-improvement projects could take care of any impulses that might
arise from my sin nature. But my denial was shattered, along with my
ministry and my first marriage, when, despite all my good Christian
training, I experienced significant personal failure.
On the other side of that firestorm, I found the News to be both much
worse, and much better, than I had naively presumed. We Christians do
possess a dark side, a propensity toward unhealth, that is stronger
than even the most dedicated self-improvement programs. But there is a
path toward wholeness that we can walk. It begins by humbly admitting
our powerlessness to control our negative urges and behaviors and by
throwing ourselves on God and his grace to deliver us. If that sounds
simplistic or melodramatic, then you may have to go through what I
went through to discover for yourself the Bad News and the Good News
that lies on the other side. As Keith Miller says, no one ever truly
gets into recovery unless he or she is about to lose something they're
not prepared to live without.
Taking this first step means discarding the obsession with reputation
and embracing a less heroic, and a more authentic view of ourselves as
people with both a light and a dark side.
One of the most satisfying ministries that my wife and I are involved
in is giving workshops for couples. We've experienced both joys and
struggles in our marriage, and we enjoy helping other couples honestly
address their problems and work toward healing. As we were sharing
about our couples workshop with a pastor recently, he said,
"Don't you have some way of describing the workshop that doesn't
talk about 'problems'? If my people have to admit to having problems,
I'm quite sure no one will come."
In place of the biblical view that we are all fundamentally broken
people, we have somehow developed a kind of sanitized, shrink-wrapped
view of the Christian life that makes it shameful to have problems! It
may be humbling, but it's not a step of shame to admit that we're
broken. It means stepping into the company of believers throughout
history on whom God bestowed the highest praise: the Patriarch Jacob,
whose dark side showed itself in lying and deception; Moses, whose
dark side erupted in uncontrolled anger and murder; and King David,
whose dark side expressed itself in adultery and murder.
John, in his first epistle, puts it plainly, "If we say that we
have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in
us."1 New Age philosophy tries to take the shame out of being
broken by saying, "I'm OK; you're OK." By contrast, the
Bible takes the shame out of being broken by saying: "I'm not OK,
you're not OK. . . and that's OK." It's okay to admit that you're
afflicted with a deadly Sin-disease, and that you're not immune just
because you've put your faith in Christ.
Admitting that I have a dark side - that the "mess in my
refrigerator" is far worse than anyone could imagine - is one of
the hardest things I've ever done. It may be for you, too. But don't
let the fear of losing your reputation hold you back. Those who know
you best probably already think that something smells funny.
1. I John 1:8
Patrick Means, former editor of STEPS, is a free-lance writer and
editor and a regular contributor to STEPS.
Go to more articles from Patrick
Means in STEPS Magazine
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