Living under a shadow


THREE-QUARTERS WAY THROUGH THE SESSION, he let drop a bombshell. In a slow and measured way he said: “I am living under his shadow and he under mine.” His parents, both in their late fifties, looked with sadness and bewilderment at him.


They had brought Calvin*, their son in his late twenties, for family counselling because they were unhappy with their relationship with him. He would go to and remain in his room after returning from work, secluding himself from the family. Conversations had deteriorated to one-word answers and when pursued were met by displays of irritation. There was always a palpable air of tension whenever they attempted to make connection.


It was not always like this. A few years back, they still went out for meals as a family. Things started to decline two years ago when Calvin’s girlfriend called off their relationship and he took almost half a year to recover his zest for life. In the last three months, things between Calvin and his new girlfriend had not been moving smoothly. His parents were worried that his withdrawal from them was signalling an impending crisis.


As I listened to them, I wondered if I was observing over involved parents worrying for their grown-up son or whether there was something else amiss. Calvin was the younger of two sons. There was little said about Calvin’s brother Peter* except that he was not doing well. When I probed further I learnt that he dropped out of university after a mental breakdown. Since then, he had not been able to find or stay with any job. Then the “penny dropped” as the mother revealed that Peter too kept to himself. It now became clear that Peter was the invisible “elephant in the room”. He was the persistent concern with this family but not openly talked about. Peter’s well-being and his future were foremost on everyone’s mind. Calvin was aware that their futures were intricately wound around each other. He felt that he could not be free to contemplate his future without considering the impact on his brother.


Calvin’s experience is not an isolated one. There are many living under the shadow of others. In his situation, the shadow is the burden of care of a sibling. For many it is the care of an elderly parent.


For others, the shadow is a negative family legacy. This could be a business failure and ensuing bankruptcy, a gambling addict who stole from his boss to cover his losses or a sibling who committed suicide. These shadows taint the way we see ourselves and others see us.


The Bible uses the word shadow in three ways. The first is a reminder of the shortness of time. When shadows lengthen, we know that evening draws near and the day is all but over. It is a reminder that our lives have a finite length. The second use is to remind us of the fear of all mankind, which is the fear of the shadow of death.


Both shadows speak of a negative legacy that plagues all of us regardless of our station in life. No matter who we are, our time on earth is limited and the final reckoning with death awaits each of us.


The last use of the word shadow is to remind us that we all come under the shadow of the His Wings (Psalm 17:8). This is a reminder of the hope that each of us can hold on to. Because we are under this shadow, we can be assured of God’s ever-vigilant protection, and find some relief from the strain of having to carry our daily burdens.


Do you have a shadow of your own? Perhaps it is a dark secret not even known to those nearest you. Is it time, in this new year, to free yourself and replace it with the shadow of the Cross? *Pseudonyms have been used

By Benny Bong