Finding Wonder Everyday: Killing Your Shadow Beast

Wonder Voyage Executive Director Shawn Small is writing a travel memoir about his life experiences and what he has learned while traveling the world. This week’s post is an excerpt from that pending book.

The Shadowbeast

We’ve all been hunted by a Shadow Beast. It begins to emerge when something shows us that the real world is full of pain. We begin to surmise that wonder is nothing more than a fantasy; a fading dream. As wonder fades, a void opens and we squint toward the gathering darkness and notice shapes forming in the shadows.

Our imaginations, the engine of wonder, start to turn inward and create beasts that are out for our destruction. The darkness, where they hide, blinds us from that otherworld sanctuary full of marvels and laughter and love, that we once believed was waiting for us. Using unfounded fears to smother our wonder, the Shadow Beasts become insatiable – hijacking our thoughts until we are trapped by a tent of our own making.

As we sit fretting behind the thin nylon walls, we convince ourselves that as long as we don’t venture out too far we’ll never be hurt again. We replace curiosity with security thinking we have made ourselves invulnerable, but the trade-off is far more devastating.

Our worlds start to shrink and our dreams for adventure and exploration die. We miss the vastness of the world around us. The shadows of ‘what might happen’ become distractions that hold us back from discovering the Creator’s hidden gifts that await us every day.

Shadowbeast from Shawn’s Youth

When my parents divorced I became the self-anointed man of the house since Dad’s visits were sparse. In my mind, I needed to protect my mom, my little brother, and my sister.

Mom began working long hours in a valiant attempt to pay the bills while continuing school. On rare nights when she did not come home until after 10:00 P.M., I filled her bedroom closet with pillows and blankets, hauled my exhausted little brother and sister into it, and stood at the door to guard them. There I was, a toothpick of a boy, gripping a baseball bat to my ribcage just in case a monster broke into our house.

During those first few months after the divorce, I became a bumbling ball of anxiety. I was in the largest school I’d ever attended but had no friends. Everything we owned had come with us in the station wagon. There was hardly any furniture and certainly nothing in the way of decoration, which left the house feeling cavernous and spooky.

Our food was scarce. We lived off of Pop-Tarts, TV dinners, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Worst of all, I worried about my brother and sister all the time. I wanted to protect them but I felt weak and terrified. All of these factors formed my personal Shadow Beast: aloneness.

The aloneness that preyed on my soul was the thought that I was ultimately alone in the universe. I felt alone in my pain, alone in my fear, alone in my thoughts, and alone in my struggles. Though I kept up a good face and acted like I was a brave little man, I kept my eye on the Shadow Beast of aloneness which stalked me while I began to bury wonder.

What Kills the Beast?

Wonder, though it is stuffed down, packed up and hidden away in the deep recesses of our soul, remains a tinder box ready for a spark to ignite it back to life. But we must be willing to take steps toward the beast and declare that we will no longer be hunted by its tormenting presence.

It takes time and practice to build up our courage, and sometimes, a hero to guide us. As a scared young boy, I needed a hero to lead me back to the wonder that had been withering away in my soul.




After a decade working in parish youth ministry Shawn started Wonder Voyage Missions. Over the last 15 years, WVM has led thousands of pilgrims to over forty countries. Shawn is a storyteller and an award winning filmmaker. He is an author who brings the gift of engaging narrative to our journeys. Shawn is dedicated to creating voyages that give people abundant opportunities to encounter God.

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