One year, when I was a little kid, my brother and I got into boxing. Not each other. Our dad didn’t think that was a good idea. We got into shadow boxing.
I turned the shade of a lamp in the direction of our wall, and then turned my back to the light, creating a perfect replica of myself right in front of me. An imaginary microphone would descend and I would introduce myself to the imaginary crowd as the returning heavyweight champion of the world. I would point my glove at the wall, do a little pre-fight dance, rattle off some trash talk just to let my shadow know that I was serious, and then we would go for rounds on end.
My brother Brian is four years older than me, and has Downs Syndrome. We shared a room when we were kids and loved to play together. One day Brian sat ringside on our bunk bed, and watched the fight. Afterwards he asked if he could try. I got his gloves on for him, announced him to the cheering arena, and told him I would be right back. I ran and grabbed a glass of water, and when I came back I found Brian sprawled out on the floor. He got up and looked at me with dazed eyes, and he had a bloody nose. I stared at him for a few dumbfound seconds and then said,
“Are you alright? What in the world happened?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I was shadow boxing.”
“I don’t understand. Your shadow gave you a bloody nose?”
He stared at me wide eyed and as shocked as I was, and said nothing. I ran and got him some tissues and then asked him again what happened. He shrugged, and through his Kleenex said, “I don’t know. It was my shadow.”
This blew my little kid mind into bits. I had no idea it was possible to lose a shadow boxing fight, but there it was, my brother had been KO’d by his shadow. To this day, I still don’t know what happened. Maybe he ran into the wall. Maybe his glove ricocheted off the wall and hit him in the face. I don’t know. I asked Brian about it again just a few weeks ago while he and I were playing some old school Nintendo. He laughed and told me he remembered, and then he rubbed his face with his hands, shrugged his shoulders and said,
“I don’t know. It was my shadow.”
Believe what you want, I guess, but that image of my brother flat on his back with his nose bloodied by his shadow has stayed with me. There have been so many times in my life when it sure feels like I have experienced the exact same thing. I have lived with my nose bloodied, feeling defeated and confused, not by some outside opponent, but by the opponent inside of me.
I have lived beaten down by lies, self-hatred, and self-doubt. I have fought hard against fear, insecurity, the cynic living in my head, and the sin lurking in my heart. I have been KO’d by my shadow more times than I can count.
I know I am not alone, because to some degree, I am sure we all have our shadows that we fight against. The shadows from past trauma. The shadows of secret sin that on most days feels equally matched, punch for punch, with our desire to live in truth and love. The shadows from the lies that the enemy whispers into our thoughts and jabs at our souls. The shadows from the lies we tell ourselves, as we repeatedly allow the critic within to nit-pick every aspect of our lives. Or maybe they are just the shadows of living through this past year with a global pandemic, political turmoil, sickness, fear, and division. Maybe this year has left us flat on our backs with noses bloodied by the shadows we tried so hard to fight.
Thankfully, a new year is here. A new beginning filled with new promise and hope.
New Years is the time to celebrate fresh starts and slates wiped clean. It feels like the whole world presses a reset button and we all collectively get a much-needed redo.
The problem is that we tend to bring our shadows with us wherever we go, even into a new year. As much as we want to believe that this is a new beginning, it’s really just the change of a date, not the change of us.
It isn’t the turning of a page on the calendar that changes us, it’s the turning of our lives in a different direction. The bible has a word for it, and it’s the word we need.
I know, it is a harsh sounding churchy word. We are used to hearing it shouted by hard-nosed preachers, or angry doomsdayers, but it’s actually a very practical word. It’s what you would tell anybody lost in the woods, or driving the wrong way on the highway. To repent simply means to turn around.
Turning around is where change begins.
I realize now that the times in my life when I have gone for rounds with my shadow were the times I was living with my back turned on the light, just like I had when I was shadow boxing in my room. It’s been those times of living with my back turned on the light and love of Jesus, instead of allowing his light and his love to fill every aspect of who I am, that I have fought and lost the most. What I needed then is what I still need.
Maybe it’s what you need as well.
May you experience a new beginning this year as you turn around. Turn from all of the shadows you’ve been fighting and face the light of Christ. May his light and his love fill you to completion, and as you walk in the light, may those shadows at your back stretch and thin until they all but disappear.
Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” John 8:12 NLT