Dear Little One, Release Your Shame (A Letter from a Father to a Child)

shame

Photo Credit: Bigstock (Yastremska)

Dear Little One,

You have not been perfect. Far from it.

Do you remember the time you crept downstairs while everyone was sleeping and snuck the Kool-Aid from the refrigerator? Do you remember how, when you got caught, you lied and said you didn’t do it? You’ve punished yourself for that transgression for long enough. You are forgiven. Release your shame.

You are not the poor decisions you sometimes make.

Do you remember the time you accidentally brought home someone else’s homework, feared getting into trouble for making a mistake, and stuffed the homework beneath our house, where you thought no one would find it? You’ve lived in fear long enough. Release your shame.

You are not the things you do when you are most afraid.

Do you remember the bullies on the playground? You were trying to figure out how to become a man, and with every bruise, you doubted more and more if you could become one. The bruises on your skin became bruises on your heart. Your skin has healed—it is time now for your heart to heal, too. Release your shame.

You are not defined by the bruises you’ve picked up along the way.

Do you remember when you became the bully? Do you remember how you teased that poor, sad, lonely kid on the playground? You’ve wounded people. This is true. But the shame you’ve felt about it is a wound that festers, infecting you and everyone around you. Release your shame.

You are not the desperate things you’ve done in order to belong.

Do you remember all the subtle ways you’ve arrogantly looked down upon your peers? I get it. You think you’re fighting for a spot in a very tiny winner’s circle. You’ve fallen into the same trap as the rest of us. You are forgiven. Release your arrogance, which is really just another guise for your shame.

You are not the games you’ve played and won, or lost.  

Little One, I pray you will release your shame, because the truth is, you are me. Though I’ve written many letters to my own children, this is a letter to you, the child I once was, the little one who still exists somewhere within me. In fact, I think all those letters to my kids have also been a letter to you—the scared, ashamed, confused, and desperate little kid I was and, in some ways, still am.

Little One, there can be no true healing for this adult version of me until there is, first of all, healing for you. So, please, listen closely. Please hear this grace I pass along to you. Please receive these truer words about you:

When you arrived in this world, pink and slippery and shrill, you were good enough.

Life and time and brokenness have caused you to doubt your worthiness—in other words, they’ve caused you shame. That’s okay. It happens to all of us. But if we are to truly embrace this one sacred life, something else must happen to each of us as well—we must embrace this truth:

Nothing has, will, or can alter our original worthiness.

Little One, you have not been perfect. Far from it. But if you can trust your worthiness in this way, you will be free to embrace your people and your purpose with a blessed abandon. So…

Do your best, make your mistakes, be honest about your messes, and move on.

Go ahead, live in fear—that’s part of being human—but confess your fears and invite other people into them. Life is less lonely that way.

Take your risks and take your lumps, but know that your hidden heart is without bruise or blemish; it has always been whole and holy—love from it, live from it.

People will not always be kind. This will hurt. Cry when it hurts. Then, as often as you can, summon your own kindness in return. When you do, be surprised by the joy you find within you.

And most of all, refuse to play the games people tend to play—know that the battle for your worthiness is already won.

Because you were, are, and always will be, loveable.

Together,

This Bigger Version of You

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

—————

I wrote my new book Loveable to my kids, to the little one in me, and to the little one in all of us. It is available for pre-order and, for a limited time, when you order Loveable, you will get a free bonus—The Year of Listening, Loving, and Living—a second full-length book I’ve written as a practical companion to Loveable. You can click here to find out more.

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.

  • PB

    Thank you for writing this Kelly. Right on the money, I think. It took a couple of years in therapy to discover the damage that shame had wrought in my life and to heal at least somewhat. Is lovely to find this and see such insight being offered and expressed in such an accessible way.

    • PB, I’m glad to hear you recognize these words in your own experience and healing. Thank you for reading it. 🙂

  • Shel Llee Flexman-Evans

    Thank you.

  • I will frame this for my 5 grown children and it will be a gift to them that will surely keep on giving….Thanks Kelly!

    • Wow, Patti. You are welcome, and please give my best to your not-so-little-ones. 🙂

  • Nancy Currie Wells

    Beautiful. So many people need to hear these words. I’m so glad I read this today. Thank you.

    • Thank you, Nancy, and you are very welcome. I’m glad these words came at the right time for you.

  • Mike Gates

    Happy Wednesday!
    “…there can be no true healing for this adult version of me until there is, first of all, healing for you.”
    Man, ain’t that the truth.
    On a related note, I’ve been amazed at how more effective I’ve been in helping others once my own issues were relieved. Thanks for what you do and I’m looking forward to the new book.

    • Right on, Mike. One thing we like to say around our office is, “You can only take someone as far as you’ve gone.” The work you’ve done to heal has, I’m sure, born fruit for many, many people.

  • kate bean

    so true: loving kindness must start with the Inner Child in order to take root and grow into right action in the world. A very wise Franciscan nun counselled me to do this work and it has been life-changing.

    • Kate, when one runs into a wise Franciscan, it does tend to change your life. 🙂 I’m so glad that was your experience!

  • JC

    Concur. The second greatest commandment is to “Love thy neighbor as thyself” and deeper inside that very command is the idea that we should love ourselves. If I sit in agony over how poorly I have conducted myself in this life, I cannot in good conscience extend love to another. When I discipline my children for the very behavior that I loath in myself, I am unfair and unloving towards them. When I drop the disdain for self and previous errors in my life I find a lot more patience and love for my little ones as they learn and grow.

  • Grace

    Mt Everest is scaled by courageous climbers who trust in the guide who braved the summit first. You guide well 🙂
    Your words are trustworthy because you know God’s way of humility and compassion personally.

    • Grace, that means a lot to me, thank you. As Richard Rohr says, all wisdom is borrowed. I’m grateful for good guides myself.

  • Eleanor Rabnett

    Dr. Kelly – thank you.

  • Ilija Prentovski
  • Gale C Vance

    Just beautiful! Tears.