Looking Inward


I was describing a recent introspective moment to a friend. I told her that I had analyzed my defensive reaction to an e-mail and found another  example of “vainglory” – the need to impress others to gain approval.  As I chatted a  bit about my thought process, my friend said, “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

I said, “I’m not.  It’s just interesting how vainglory is still so prevalent in my life.”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself!” she repeated.

This time I looked quizzically at her and said, “I’m not being hard on myself.”  She then shared with me how important it is not to be too self-critical.

I agreed and changed the subject.

Later I began to think about the fine line between “being hard on yourself” and “shadow boxing.” Shadow boxing, seeing and naming our faults, is the way we learn about what’s going on under the surface in the shadows – the characteristics we would rather deny than acknowledge. In our struggle to rid ourselves of perfectionism (a soul-killer, for sure), we need to be sure that we don’t toss out the importance of regularly doing a “moral inventory” (as the Twelve Steps put it). We can grow only if we dare to look at and acknowledge who we really are.  That looking becomes harmful only if we beat ourselves up for what we find, rather than asking the Holy Spirit to help us remove any shortcoming that will keep us from becoming who God wants us to be.

Richard Rohr comments that shadow boxing is “for the sake of truth and humility and generosity of spirit, not vengeance on the self or some kind of total victory over the self” (p. 32 in  Breathing under Water, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps). It is a weapon against a deeply-rooted enemy of  transformation, “denial.”

In The Good and Beautiful Life, James Bryan Smith says that vainglory is the “bane of the pious” because it needs virtue in order to exist” (p. 140-41).  We can only take pride in a virtue when it is present. So, my shadow boxing with vainglory will continue – in the context of my awareness that I am one in whom Christ dwells and delights.


This entry was posted in Living as Apprentices and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Looking Inward

  1. Thank you for your comment! I like your term “nit-picking.” It’s a dangerous activity, isn’t it? It’s what Jesus warned the Pharisees about, I think. And it gets in the way of the life of an apprentice of Jesus.

  2. awh… how hard we can be of ourselves at times. I find myself nit-picking my thoughts and inactions as well as my words and attitudes and actions. Thanks for this peek into thinking about ourselves. I posted it to my facebook wall, too. God bless you as you write. hariette

  3. Thanks for the insight! I appreciate the HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, or tired) reminder. Choice is the word we all need to remember. We can choose to examine, choose to let go, choose to learn from the process. And thanks for following my blog!

  4. maggylou1956 says:

    I was always hardest on myself. I thought perfection was the answer until I started working the 12 steps. I really thought at first removing all my defects of character was the answer. I wanted perfection instead of progress because I did not understand. Then through having a spiritual awaking I came to see that our character defects are there for a purpose. In my case it seems it was for me to see they were necessary for this progress to begin and had nothing to do with being perfect. I came to see these defects of character as a barometer. When something popped up, I needed to look at what was going on. Was I hungry, angry, lonely, or tired? What was my hidden agenda? This helped me so much with shadow boxing and to see my first glance wasn’t always the right one and gave me a chance to pray, contemplate and choose to let go of what ever was going on in my head. These tools work with practice and practice brings progress. My well being and sense of peace comes when I let go of everything. It really is to our advantage to have these defects as long as we also know that we have tools to live with them. Everything truly belongs!

Comments are closed.