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What’s Your Shadow Mission?

Yet another favorite podcast during my walk today. And yet another nugget of thought-provoking, soul-heart-searching wisdom.

Shadow missions.

I had never heard the phrase before today…and now I will never forget it.

The speaker was mainly talking to leaders…church leaders, specifically…but leaders in all capacities. He shared a story about a retreat he had attended, where the main speaker was talking about our “mission”…how we are all created with a mission. But we ALL want to know what our mission is in life. Why are we here? What are we supposed to be doing?

He went on to say that the retreat speaker said the following, which stuck with him from that day on…and now sticks with me. The speaker said this: “We all have a true mission, but we all also have a shadow mission. And if we don’t embrace our true mission, we will be tempted to center our life around a shadow mission…something that is unworthy…something that is self-centered…something that is dark.” 

I could go into lots of detail about this from a leadership point of view, based on today’s podcast, but I won’t. Instead, what this got me thinking about was how we all, even in our own personal, everyday, walking-around lives, deal with this temptation.

I admit right here in front of you…I have a shadow mission. I didn’t know to call it that until today, but I’ve got one. As a side note, I’ve always struggled with my true mission. I know my purposes as a believer…to know God and to make Him known…to love others as myself…to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. But as far as my true God-given mission, I sometimes get a glimpse of it, but it often eludes me.

But my shadow mission is often very clear…uncomfortably clear. My shadow mission is the need to feel adequate. Simple as that. I’ve always struggled with it. Whether it’s in how I look (am I pretty enough?), my mind (am I smart enough?), my gifts (am I talented enough?), in my relationships (am I loved enough?)…etc, etc.

To that end, I can basically look at any decision I make during the day/week/month/year and see how it either supports my shadow mission or not. I often say and do things that I think will make me [seem] more adequate. I’m a stubborn character, and I will fight to the death to prove my point, which is a feeble attempt at making me [seem] more adequate.

A shadow mission is something that looks and feels like your real mission, but it’s actually an imposter. It’s the good that can easily become the enemy of the best. So, if we all have shadow missions, what’s yours?

I read about one woman who came face-to-face with her shadow mission after talking with a dear friend who had become her life coach. She said that she finally saw it. She knew her true mission was “encouraging women and helping turn God-sized dreams into reality.” But she more often found herself working to fulfill her shadow mission, which she said was, “doing things because people need me–and being needed proves my worth.”

You see the difference? Her shadow mission brought all the attention to “her.” All the applause and appreciation and affirmation made her feel important and worthy…and if she didn’t get those things, she found herself becoming resentful and bitter.

That’s what a shadow mission does: it takes the attention off of God and his will, and puts the attention onto us and OUR will.

In the podcast today, the speaker said he believes that even Jesus faced a shadow mission. Look at Matthew 26:36-39. In this passage, Jesus was facing the beginning of the end. Remember that Jesus was 100% human/100% God…the Bible says he became like us and was tempted like us in every way…but without sin. And the human side of him was wishing there was another way. His shadow mission was wishing that he could be the Leader/the Messiah…without the hellish suffering, without the cross that was coming his way. We have no way of knowing the depth of the anguish and the torture in His soul as he faced his certain and near future.

Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Matthew 26:36-39 NLT)

See it? See the shadow mission? Even to the cross, Jesus didn’t give in to the temptation to do it his own way. He drank the cup God had for him, to the very last drop. “Not my will, but thine be done.”

Shadow missions are sneaky and we will all cross the line into them – many times. What matters is learning how to recognize when we do and then to get back on track quickly.

Here are some ways to recognize when you’re slipping into your shadow mission:

• A shadow mission exhausts you while a true mission energizes you.

• A shadow mission comes from guilt or insecurity while a true mission comes from freedom and love.

• A shadow mission is about you, while a true mission involves you but also includes God and others.

• A shadow mission leads to resentment while a true mission lets you serve no matter the response.

• A shadow mission makes you feel more distant from God (even though you’re trying to earn his approval) while a true mission brings you closer to Him.

Once you figure out what is driving you, you can nip it in the bud and get back in line with your true mission. That’s where we all belong.

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