No Matter What, You Are Beautiful and Beloved

Whatever lies we’ve swallowed and no matter how loud the voice of shame hollers in our heads, there is another voice whispering, waiting patiently and hoping to be heard. It’s the brilliant, counter-intuitive, scandalous voice of grace, whispering its truth at the edges of our being: No matter what, you are beautiful and beloved.

grace

Photo Credit: DaDaAce via Compfight cc

I walk into my son’s elementary school fundraiser dressed in a wig, bathrobe, and women’s boots.

A best costume contest has been advertised, so earlier in the day, I walked into a Goodwill store as a suburban dad and walked out as a rock star circa 1985. But now, as I skitter across the icy parking lot in four-inch heals with my chest hair showing, I realize something: with the exception of the few friends who came with me, no one else has chosen to compete.

The crowd of people slip-sliding from the parking lot to the entrance is all ball gowns and khakis and sport coats.

And, somewhere in the shadows of my mind, my shame-whisper begins it’s murmuring:

Everyone else knows what they’re doing and you don’t.

You look silly. Ridiculous.

You’re a joke. 

The Voice of Shame

The voice of shame within us always has a lie upon its tongue—it tells us who we are on the inside isn’t good enough. And 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 fear and anxiety and protection and pretending and anger and aggression and accomplishments and padded bank accounts and expensive clothing and large social networks and food and alcohol and drugs and every kind of numbing under the sun. Some of us have never been able to bury the voice. For some of us, it’s always right here and right now. Every day it torments us with its deceitful whisper.

And some days, it ambushes us at a fundraiser.

As I begin the long walk from the car to the banquet hall, looking for a hole to climb into, the shame-whisper evokes memories of loneliness and disappointment and inadequacy and it murmurs its false but oh-so-believable conclusion:

You don’t belong.

You’re not cool enough.

You’re not popular enough.

You are, quite simply, not good enough.

The Rest of the Story

Yet, over the years I’ve learned a kind of faith. I have learned that, beneath the harsh whisper of shame, is another voice always speaking to us. So, I take a deep breath and I look at my wife and the friends with whom I’ve arrived and they all look ridiculous, too, and their faces call forth the other voice within me.

As my pulse slows a little bit, I hear the voice of grace, whispering at the edges of my heart. It doesn’t try to challenge the claims of my shame. Instead, it reminds 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 doesn’t challenge the story I’ve been told by my shame—it totally subverts it by 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 the voice of grace is whispering in every single one of us:

The kids on the playground think you’re a nerd and no one wants to hang out with youand you are beautiful and beloved.

The girls at school are calling you chubbyand 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 but you still can’t stand the sight of yourself in the mirror and you’re scared of where this might end…and you are beautiful and beloved.

You give yourself away to men and you can no longer look anyone in the eye…and you are beautiful and beloved.

You lost your job and you can’t provide for your family…and you are beautiful and beloved.

No Matter What

Shame lies to us, telling us our brokenness and mistakes and disappointments define us as people. Grace reassures us our definition is already etched in stoneit reminds us what we’ve done is not 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 its truth.

Whatever lies we’ve swallowed and no matter how loud the voice of shame hollers in our heads, there is another voice whispering, waiting patiently and hoping to be heard. It’s the brilliant, counter-intuitive, scandalous voice of grace, whispering its truth at the edges of our being:

No matter what, you are beautiful and beloved.

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*Note: This post was adapted from an archived post.

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Disclaimer: My writings represent a combination of my own personal opinions and my professional experiences, but they do not reflect professional advice. Interaction with me via the blog does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor who can dedicate the hours necessary to become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. I do not assume liability for any portion or content of material on the blog and accept no liability for damage or injury resulting from your decision to interact with the website.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • JS Tarpon Springs, Florida

    Kelly,
    Thank you. This was just the message I needed this morning. I have a son who is graduating from college next week, scared because he isn’t sure what is out there for him and who sounded very dejected when I spoke with him yesterday. This morning I was able to acknowledge what he was feeling in a letter and add your thoughts that he is also beautiful and beloved. Encouraging all of us to accept our thoughts and then make sure to add the rest of the story is wonderful wisdom.
    Thank you again!

    • drkellyflanagan

      I’m glad those words came at a time when they could be added to the letter. In my clinical work, I see so many young men about to embark on that stage of life. It’s complicated and stressful enough, without also have to worry about your worth being up for grabs. May he know his is etched in stone.

  • Jeannette Shields

    It doesn’t matter how old we are, does it?! Thanks!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Ha! I actually had a line in the post “for young and old” and took it out. Age definitely does not matter. : )

  • ALEJANDR1971

    What for millennia have taught us that it is okay.If we do the opposite of these “teachings” is what shame tells us is wrong
    But it happens that the world has evolved,still have a dinosaur talking to us from the center of the mind saying:”You’re pathetic”.
    The voice of grace is the evolved version of the dinosaur.
    A meerkat to put another more funny animal

    • drkellyflanagan

      The idea of humanity evolving toward grace is a beautiful one. Thank you for that!

  • Shel Llee Flexman-Evans

    We are all on our own journeys and at different points along the path, so it is uncanny that this voice can intrude on each of us so insidiously and ubiquitously –and that your reminder can be so powerfully important for each of us. It is the very thing I walked through yesterday with my 6 yr old whose boundless energy had bounced him right off track and who was struggling with taking responsibility for an action without globalizing the wrongness to engulf him. It is the thing my husband wrestles with, to see himself loved and worthy not because, but just that it is so. And it is the only thing that quiets my own unkind, whispering passenger.
    I love that this is a “Yes and…” We are all the things we are. And we are beloved and loved. What a way you have with words and ideas, Kelly.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Shel, may your men, young and old, feel the “Yes, and…” in the core of their being, and may they rest in the peace of it.

  • Amy

    I am sure you hear this all the time, but today, on my 38th birthday, I feel like you wrote this for me. Thank you.

    • drkellyflanagan

      You’re welcome, Amy! I hope you’ve had a happy and grace-full birthday.

  • Another beautiful and helpful post on grace. I thought you said it all with the post on how grace believes in us, helping us accept our “bad” along with our “good.” And this one touched me in an even deeper, more personal way. As if Grace is a force that is in me but also seemingly quite outside me, which is what I need when I’m consumed by shame.
    Thank you so much for sharing your gifts of perception. I’m very grateful for your ministry.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Cara, I think there’s something to that paradox of grace within and without. When you listen to people who have spent their lives listening to the voice of grace, they start saying things like, “All is grace.” I suppose that would explain the paradox. : )

  • Robyn

    I’d love to hear the end of this story. What happened? Did you win the contest? Were your kids excited that you participated?

    Sometimes, my most “foolish” moments as a mom are the most precious to my kids.

    • drkellyflanagan

      We won the contest hands (er, guitars) down! It is one of the fondest memories amongst our group of friends and our kids thought we were hilarious. I couldn’t agree with you more that the foolish, embarrassing moments become the best, most fun memories. Perhaps grace transforms the past, whether we’re listening or not?

      • Robyn

        I love this! 🙂

  • cj

    In all seriousness, I have to ask “beloved” of whom? Kelly- can you expand please?

    • Mj

      Beloved by the Creator of the Universe who gave himself as a sacrifice.

      • cj

        so the only way to be beloved is to be Christian? I’m an atheist. Does that mean I forfeit what Kelly is talking about?

        • Shel Llee Flexman-Evans

          I have to think that this has broader resonance, CJ. I am not religious. I am agnostic. I think that there is something, though, that resonates about needing to know that at our core and exactly as we really are, we are beautiful and already loved. Not just that we are worthy of love, but that we may not even recognize all the ways, sources, and avenues that we are loved. That doesn’t mean a God figure to me. I expect that to those with a religious worldview it absolutely does.
          Will it matter to you if Kelly comes from a religious perspective or doesn’t? To me, the value in what he writes is what each of us makes of it.

          • drkellyflanagan

            CJ, the short answer is, “No, your beliefs do not mean you must forfeit the voice of grace.” In fact, I write about grace in the way I do because, after years of working with people of various faith traditions, ethnic backgrounds, and worldviews, I’ve discovered everyone can hear the voice of grace.

            Two other thoughts, and then I’ll exit the discussion and will be glad to hear what others think. First, every person I’ve known, personally or through reputation, who has made their life a practice of listening to the voice of grace and thus beginning to trust more deeply in their belovedness, describes an increasingly paradoxical experience: the one who they are beloved of becomes simultaneously more mysterious and more personal.

            Second, Leon Dufour, a Jesuit theologian and Bible scholar wrote at the age of ninety-nine: “I have written so many books on God, but after all that, what do I really know? I think in the end, God is the person you’re talking to, the one right in front of you.” People who make their lives about listening to the voice of grace seem to end up embodying it. Which is to say, they walk through the world and everyone in their wake is left aware that they are more than they ever thought they were—more worthy, more beautiful, more beloved.

            • CJ

              the last bit here, about walking through the world with a trail of grace behind you. to have that, to see it for yourself, to feel it and know it in relationship with others, is, to me, the ultimate awareness. but I feel the need to be careful not to make more of myself and events than makes sense in case I perceive either through unrealistic filters. Grace is also about trust.

              • drkellyflanagan

                CJ, I appreciate your trust that my handmade net is cast a little (or a lot) wider than most nets. I’m glad to have you around here. Thanks for risking and putting yourself out there.

          • CJ

            No Shel it won’t matter. I read what he writes and ponder it as a commentary on being human. Mj mentioned “Creator” and “sacrifice” which implies a Christian belief system. I just wondered how broad Kelly’s handmade net was cast. My personal experience of Christianity has not been positive. That’s not to say it isn’t for other people.

  • Thank you again, Kelly, for your wise and comforting words. I needed these today. Your post made me cry, which made me realize how much I needed to hear them – again. It is amazing how insidious the voice of shame is. Sometimes I don’t even realize that it is this voice that has been speaking to me until way down the line I feel awful about myself and then I can recognize its hideous voice. But then something like your post comes along to remind me that I am beautiful and beloved in my mistakes anyway. Thank you again for your wonderful words of wisdom!!!!!!!!!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Jenny, I can totally relate. I think much of the work is about becoming familiar with and mindful of the shame-voice, so we can catch it as soon as possible and begin turning our attention to the other voice that is waiting for us. May it get more and more of your attention!

  • Christina Haas

    This is exactly the message I share with women who have chosen to have an abortion. You are beautiful and you are loved. So on the mark for any of us who struggle with shame and fear of being “found out”. I love what Brene Brown says, “secrecy, silence and judgment are the three things that grow shame”. Thanks for standing tall and out loud and breaking the silence. Maybe we can begin to leave a new legacy for our children.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Yes, Christina, she is right on! And thank you again for the work you do with hurting women.

  • Sara

    So very wise: 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.”And powerful too. Thank you for sharing.

  • Lucy

    Kelly, thanks. I really needed to hear this. May you be healthy and happy.

  • Guest

    Oh my. No word. Only gratitude and resolve. Thank you, again, Dr. Kelly. You are some kind of wonderful. You are a gift.

  • Loretta St. John

    Oh my. No words. Only love and gratitude and resolve. Thank you, Dr. Kelly. You are some kind of wonderful. A gift. Thank you.

  • L

    I have been reading through all your old posts again and while they are all great, this one is very dear to me. Some of your posts talk about learning to apologize and to accept our messy faults, which is important, but to people who apologize too much – for themselves, for not being enough – I believe that we especially need to be reminded that we are also beautiful and beloved…that we are enough if we can look pass the shame. I just wanted to thank you for writing this post.