The Best Grow in the shadow

A lot of hay has been made in recent years about how openness and vulnerability are key to improving our interpersonal relationships (romantic or otherwise) and our mental health. While much of this talk is absolutely warranted, let’s not forget the virtues of secrecy, concealment, protection, and hiding. As one of my counseling professors once imparted, “In a session, you have to know how to open people up, but you also better know how to close them up before they go back into the world.” It’s a great surgical analogy applied to our emotional lives.

In life, we tend to reside at one end or the other. Some are prone to relaying the play-by-play of their lives in real time over social media, and others treat minor details like state secrets (“Your wedding?! Bro, I didn’t even know you were dating!”). Substantial time and energy are expended negotiating either extreme.  

We see in the life of Christ the perfect balance: warm openness and daring vulnerability, and the deep, rich private life that is jealously guarded. When reflecting on my favorite characteristic of Christ, it immediately struck me that it was exactly the shroud of mystery around His person that I loved the most! The unknown bits of His day-to-day. Christ’s penchant for privacy and discretion draws us all to Him with deep curiosity. What did He do for fun? What made Him laugh? What is it precisely that makes Lazarus so cool to hang out with?! A high schooler once asked me, “Why is Christ always telling people not to say anything about Him after He heals them?” It’s a good question. One obvious answer is that it was not yet time to go public with all that. It seems to be a recurring theme in His ministry, and it’s really kind of contrary to what feels like our overexposed, over-advertised world.

The part of Christ’s life lived so intentionally in the “shadow” I imagine fueled the universe-altering openness and vulnerability which were on full display at the most iconic moments of His ministry. He was not vulnerable for the sake of being vulnerable; He was vulnerable when it counted: sitting down to break bread with the tax collectors, challenging the stone-wielding Pharisees as they presided over the makeshift execution of a broken woman in the street, publicly weeping over Lazarus… and, of course, allowing His detractors to publicly humiliate and crucify Him. I imagine Christ drew much of the power on display there from time well spent in the shadows. 

It’s brilliant that Christ is able to draw us to Him through both the known and the unknown about His life. For many of us, this year may have felt like a big “shadow.” Hopefully it will not be for naught. I pray our time there, whether this year or at any time, will be joyously mysterious and full of healing, empowerment and prophecy… a time which fuels our own world-changing, and vulnerable reemergence into a crowded, busy world.  

This reflection was inspired in part by a line from a poem written by Margaret Atwood: “Some berries occur in sun, but they are smaller. It’s as I always told you. The best ones grow in shadow.” An interview by Atwood where she recites the poem can be found at this link.