When Good Men Fail

W. Allen MorrisBy W. Allen Morris9 Minutes

Excerpt Taken from Chapter 7 of All In: How to Risk Everything for Everything That Matters by W. Allen Morris


Chapter 7
When Good Men Fail

A man cannot become the ruler of his own
soul and genuine in his relationships until
he has been through some wounding.
—Robert Hicks

Something happens to men who have followed the rules and climbed the ladder to respectability and success. At a certain point, often between their forties and sixties, carrying the weight of their unexamined shadow becomes unbearable. Many people call this the midlife crisis.

I think of it like a beach ball.

When I was a boy growing up in Florida, a swimming pool was always nearby. A water game I mastered was called “hide the beach ball.” I could hold a beach ball underwater for ages, a look of utter relaxation and innocence fixed firmly on my face. I learned to balance myself seal-like while sitting on it. I even pulled off holding two beach balls underwater at the same time.

When I tired, or just wanted to play a trick on somebody, I’d let go.

With an incredible whoosh, the ball would explode into the air, surprising and spraying water on anyone who happened to be nearby.

When we’ve been carrying a lifetime of unresolved pain, fear, guilt, or resentment, that burden can explode out of the dark in the same way. Earlier in our lives we were able to keep it repressed, but around midlife, what’s hiding in our shadow spills out, shocking and often devastating those affected.

I’m talking primarily about what happens when a man’s private struggle with anger or sexual fidelity suddenly breaks out into the open. Or in language of shadow work—what happens when we get stuck in our persona and remain blind to our shadow. The answer is that we become dangerous, hurting ourselves and those around us.

We have all seen this self-blindness play out. In recent years, numerous high-profile leaders in entertainment, business, and politics have been humiliated when their double lives were exposed.

Sadly, we’ve seen the same thing happen to well-known pastors and ministry leaders. In many ways, these are the most disheartening and damaging scandals of all. I think that’s because we expect so much more of men who have made a career of serving God.

Trust me, I don’t think of myself as better, more special, or less vulnerable than other men. (You’ll learn more about that in the next chapter.)

The big picture, of course, is that all men struggle with their private lives. Good men. Bad men. Spiritually devoted men. Spiritually disinterested men.

Some of us are mostly winning that struggle and growing stronger. Others of us are mostly losing while we work hard to hide our downward spiral.

It’s that simple.

Still, when the reputation and life’s work of a high-profile friend of mine went down in flames, I felt gutted.

“it was you, a man like myself”

Conrad was a brilliant philosopher, teacher, and leader in the Christian community. He also led a global ministry that helped millions to know God. (Out of respect and compassion for him and those who loved him, I am not using his real name.)

My tie with Conrad was not a daily or intimate friendship, but it was not just casual either. I can count years of lunches, dinner meetings, and discussions together. I hosted his last public speaking event in Miami and studied at his apologetics center in England. I traveled internationally to assist and speak at his conferences. I made significant financial contributions to his ministry. I saw the great things he and his team were doing. I believed in him. I admired, loved, and trusted him.

Then, after his untimely death from cancer, it was discovered that Conrad had been carrying on secret sexual liaisons for years.

When I learned of it, I felt like I had been slugged in the stomach. I felt lied to and deceived and heartsick. I felt angry.

As more details surfaced about Conrad’s secrets, I found myself thinking of King David’s well-known lament in Psalm 55:

If an enemy were insulting me,
     I could endure it. . . .
But it is you, a man like myself,
     my companion, my close friend,
with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
     at the house of God.

Can you feel the pain in those words? If you have experienced this kind of heartbreak or betrayal or been the cause of it for someone you love, you have a sense of what I’m talking about.

A friend of mine keeps a file in his desk drawer of promising leaders who fell victim to serious moral compromise. He calls it his “Burned List,” and it’s a long one.  He keeps the list, not so he can feel holier-than-thou, but as a warning to himself never to think he is immune.

It seems to me that leaders feel an unusual resistance to seeing or dealing with our shadows in this area. Because we live in the spotlight, we go to extremes to protect our public image. Which isn’t us, of course—it’s just our persona, or social face we present to the world. Jung called it “a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual.”25

Yet our work almost requires us to believe our mask is us. Fr. Richard Rohr connects living in public while hiding from ourselves to shadow work. He writes:

The more we have cultivated and protected a chosen persona, the more shadow work we will need to do. Therefore, we need to be especially careful of clinging to any idealized role or self-image, like that of minister, mother, doctor, nice person, professor, moral believer, or president of this or that. These are huge personas to live up to, and they trap many people in lifelong delusion that the role is who they are or who they are
only allowed to be.26

I found myself confused and wondering, How hard was it for Conrad to maintain his persona and hide this compartmentalized part of his life? What persona have I cultivated for myself? This led to more questions.

wrestling with giants

After my recent shock about Conrad, I found myself wrestling with five giant questions:

1. Can anyone trust anyone?
2. How could he be so deep in his deception and still . . . ?
3. Are there more hypocrites in church (or does it just seem like it)?
4. How can men learn to be more transparent?
5. If we are bystanders to a deception and want to help, what does “help” look like?

I would like to engage with each of these questions, drawing on my own experience and what I’ve learned from other men.

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