Is That Your Shadow?



I have a favorite mentoring practice. I ask the mentee to choose a biblical leader they feel especially drawn to, and then to plunge deep: to walk with that leader, to know their inmost heart, to scour their story for every glint of wisdom, to sift it for every warning. I ask them to pay close attention to two things in particular: what makes this leader shine, and what shadows stalk them? 

Esther? Her courage shines. Her temptation to conform shadows her. Abraham? His unflinching obedience radiates. His instinctive cowardice darkens him. And so on – with Jacob, Moses, the Judges, Saul, Peter, John, Paul. Light and darkness mingle.

The exercise peels back the inner life of a real leader in real time. It helps the mentee unlock some of the dynamics of a biblical leader’s spiritual formation, and their deformation. What shapes a real leader? What warps them?

When I talk with the mentee about what they’re learning from their study, we focus on how to open our hearts to a similar formation, and guard our hearts from a similar deformation. If the mentee’s chosen Moses, for instance, we look at the ways Moses’ friendship with God strengthened him, but also how his own wavering confidence or flaring anger hobbled him. Then we talk about how to nurture deep friendship with God, and how to overcome our own insecurities and impulses.

The biblical leader I am most drawn to is David. He shines in a thousand ways – poet, warrior, lover, worshiper. And many shadows chase him – schemer, betrayer, murderer, adulterer.

For instance, this week I was “living” in David’s story once again, and noticed something I had never seen before. David’s wife Michal helps him escape the assassination plot of her own father, king Saul. Saul is enraged and asks why she tricked him. She lies: “David said to me, ‘Let me get away. Why should I kill you?’” (1 Sam. 19:17). David, of course, never threatened her. The whole escape plan was her idea.

But the story is strangely, darkly echoed later in David’s life. David commits adultery with Bathsheba and gets her pregnant, and then tries to get Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, to cover up his sin. Implicit in David’s exchange with Uriah is a threat: “Let me get away. Why should I kill you?” In the end, Uriah does not help David escape his own mess, and David does kill him.

It makes me wonder if Michal wasn’t entirely lying to her father – if, indeed, she glimpsed that day, in David’s panic and desperation, one of his shadows: a capacity to resort to manipulation and violence to save his own skin.

And the point? Do I have this same capacity? Do you? More to the point: are you in a mess of some kind that your shadow self has made, and now seeks to solve?

Better this: take a deep breath, step into the light, and face it full on.

This month’s To The Point is authored by Mark Buchanan (10th Class of the Arrow Leadership Program).  Mark has written seven books and serves as Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Ambrose University College. Mark’s first novel, David: A Novel is set for release later this year. You can learn more about Mark at