The night I walked into my son’s elementary school fundraiser dressed in a wig, bathrobe, and women’s boots—only to discover no one else had worn costumes—I heard the ghosts of shame groaning in the shadows of my heart.
A best costume contest had been advertised, and I had pulled out every stop to dress up as a rock star circa 1985. But with the exception of the few friends with whom I had arrived, no one else had decided to compete. I looked around and it was all sport coats and khakis.
And so the voice of shame began it’s whisper: You’re not good enough. Everyone else knows what they’re doing and you don’t. You look silly. Ridiculous. You’re a joke. The voice of shame, in its genius, took some half-truths and began to twist them into a seductive lie: You’re not cool enough. You’re not popular enough. You don’t belong.
I began walking from the car to the banquet hall, skidding across the ice in my four-inch heals, trying to stay upright. And I looked around for a hole to climb into. Although it occurred to me, I’d never be able to climb into it in these damn boots anyway.
The Voice of Shame
The voice of shame always has a lie upon its tongue. Shame is clever. It uses part-truths and it dresses them up as the whole truth and so we believe it. We so easily and so often believe it.
Some of us have buried the whisper beneath a mountain of accomplishments and padded bank accounts and large social networks and expensive clothes and food and alcohol and drugs and anger and fear. Some of us have never been able to bury the voice. It’s always right here and right now. Every day it tortures us with its slow drip of deceit.
And for others of us, it ambushes us at a fundraiser and makes us want to run and hide.
The Rest of the Story
I hobbled toward the front door, trying not to break an ankle (women, I don’t know how you do it), and I thought, “Get it together, Kelly. If you want to fight a war on shame, you have to be willing to engage the little battles, and you’re in one right now.”
So, I took a deep breath. And I looked at my wife and the friends with whom I’d arrived. They all looked ridiculous, too. And their faces called forth another voice within me.
As my pulse slowed a little bit, I heard the voice of Grace, whispering at the edges of my heart. And it didn’t try to challenge the claims of my shame. It only reminded me of the whole truth.
“You do look ridiculous, Kelly. And you are beautiful and beloved.”
“You aren’t the cool kid, Kelly, you never were. And you are beautiful and beloved.”
“You aren’t the most popular guy here tonight, Kelly. And you are beautiful and beloved.”
The voice of Grace wasn’t challenging the story I had been told by my shame. It was reminding me of the rest of the story.
The Voice of Grace
This is how the voice of grace works. Its brilliance eclipses the genius of our shame-whispers. It doesn’t try to disprove the voice of shame. It doesn’t do a “Yeah, but.” It does a “Yes, and.” It disrupts all the internal debates, undermines all the second-guessing, and avoids all the interior conflict. It just says, “Yes, that may be true, but this is definitively true.”
And I believe its whispering to all of us, young and old.
“The kids on the playground think you’re a nerd and no one wants to hang out with you…and you are beautiful and beloved.”
“The girls at school are calling you chubby…and you are beautiful and beloved.”
“You gossip and lie and cheat and steal and sneak alcohol and cut yourself…and you are beautiful and beloved.”
“You burnt the dinner and the house is a mess and everyone is disappointed in you…and you are beautiful and beloved.”
“You keep losing weight and yet you still can’t stand the sight of yourself in the mirror…and you are beautiful and beloved.”
“You lost your job and you can’t provide for your family…and you are beautiful and beloved.”
“You give yourself away to men and you can’t look anyone in the eye…and you are beautiful and beloved.”
Shame lies to us, telling us our brokenness and mistakes define us as people. Grace reassures us our definition is already etched in stone—it reminds us what we’ve done is not the same as who we are. Grace is the Love calling us out of the lie and it’s waiting on us. Our only task is to claim it’s truth.
Whatever lies you’ve swallowed, no matter how loud the voice of shame hollers in your soul, I believe there is another voice whispering, just waiting patiently and hoping to be heard. It’s the brilliant, counter-intuitive, scandalous voice of Grace, whispering its truth at the edges of your being:
“No matter what, you are beautiful and beloved.”
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The Mess: The messy places in life—and the messy places within ourselves—present us with a choice. Because the mess is where our shame collides with grace. We can choose to succumb to shame. Or we can fight back. Come visit The Mess, and join the rebellion against shame. Thanks for reading; it’s a gift, Kelly
Preview: My next post will be on Wednesday, February 27, and will be entitled, “How to Transform Marital Conflict into Common Ground”
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