Of Shadows and Light

Of Shadows and Light

“Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to.

You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see

And my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon…

I do not know you God, because I am in the way.”

~Flannery O’Connor, A Prayer Journal 

Flannery O’Connor’s personal writings show a heart that longs for intimacy with God. Her initial entries, however, reflect feelings of failure. As a Catholic, she knew traditional prayers but noted, “I have been saying them and not feeling them. My attention is always very fugitive.”

One particular phrase caught my attention. She asked God what He really wanted from her, hoping to avoid the pitfalls of “scrupulous nervousness” and “lax presumption.” I believe countless people of faith either live in one mindset or the other. Or worse, they ping-pong between the two.

Labyrinth photoThink about it for a moment. Does the Christian life feel like a perpetual labyrinth, requiring constant attention to avoid a wrong turn or falling into a hole? Do we have to keep some sort of perfect equilibrium to get through the minefield of carnal life and finally win the pleasure of God?

Or do we compartmentalize our faith into something we do on Sundays? Does our prayer life boil down to “Help!” in times of urgency? Still, we’ve been baptized and know the Scriptures, and occasionally give a dollar to that guy on the street corner. So we’re set.

Is God breathing down our necks and wagging a finger? Or is He off in the distance, giving us an occasional thumbs up? Of course, neither image characterizes God.

I closed O’Connor’s book and felt a wave of gratitude. For years now, I have been free from the shadows of condemnation. As I describe in my book—being under condemnation feels like God is constantly disappointed with you. You come up short every day and say with resolve, “I’ll try harder tomorrow.” You spend hours baking cherry pies only to find out that God really prefers apple.

Somewhere on my long journey of faith, I discovered that freedom from condemnation is not presumption.

father with his young sonPart of understanding God’s love is the notion that He accepts us as a work-in-progress.  And we are not just accepted—we are fully embraced.

Why is that so difficult to believe?  If you are a parent, you know what it’s like to love your kids in their immaturity. Our children need a canopy of unconditional love in order to thrive.

And that leads right to the point. Much of who we are today reflects whether or not we received unmitigated love from our parents. If we didn’t receive that love, it’s much harder to believe God is offering it to us.

We can end up thinking our shadow only blocks our view of God, instead of seeing it as evidence of light—the light of God’s love shining on us.

When I talk to God, I am one with Him. I am not faraway, or groveling on the floor. I am not coy or flippant either. I speak to God as someone who knows me completely—there is no hiding. I listen to Him because He loves me unreservedly. I have put away the old dance of insecurity. That’s only for people who don’t know or care about each other.

God has offered me a secure relationship—He’s all in, and so am I. And it’s forever changed our communion and conversations. Do you feel utterly secure with God?

Cheerful father playing with his young son at the beach


  1. “We can end up thinking our shadow only blocks our view of God, instead of seeing it as evidence of light—the light of God’s love shining on us.”
    Susan, that line was so profound! And I appreciated this whole post.
    This is an ongoing (and seemingly never-ending) struggle for me; thanks to major dysfunction in my family of origin, imposed shame stubbornly endures and shapes my interactions with God. I’ve had seasons where I’ve walked in more freedom, but even in those times, shame and condemnation are never very far away. I appreciate your testimony; I need the reminder that it is possible to be truly free from the weight of condemnation.

    • Deanna, yes! It is a widespread gray cloud. Everywhere I go, I meet God’s own people living under condemnation. He wants us to be free! The freer we are, the closer we get to Him, and the more we hear His voice. Thank you for your comment!

  2. “You spend hours baking cherry pies only to find out that God really prefers apple.”
    yep, you summed up the hopeless outcome of our own efforts to improve on what god has already accomplished in that one perfect truly inspired sentence.

    • Well, our friend Mick taught me that if you say deep philosophical ideas or truths, you have to balance it with concrete examples or metaphors. That seems to be what people remember! That includes me!!!