How Do You Live Beloved?

The answer to that question has less to do with how we live and more to do with how we listen. Or, rather, which voices we listen to

grace beloved

Photo Credit: enterlinedesign (Bigstock)

There was a typo right there in the Dedication.

Several weeks ago, I began offering a free bonus to anyone who pre-orders my new book Loveable. The bonus is a companion book—The Year of Listening, Loving, and Living: Becoming Your Truest You (One Week at a Time)—with weekly exercises to cultivate the experiences that will begin happening in the midst of reading Loveable. In the Dedication of the bonus book, I wrote, “To each of my readers—for five years now, your reading of my words as been a weekly gift. This is my weekly gift back to you.”

Do you see the problem?

I didn’t. Until a reader emailed me and pointed out the mistake. A missing ‘h.’ I’d poured over the manuscript countless times, and I’d even had people edit for me. None of us caught it.

My heart sort of imploded, and then dropped into my stomach.

I know, I know, it’s just one mistake. But if I didn’t see that mistake on page one, how many others didn’t I see? And aren’t we all just a human chain unto ourselves, defined by our own weakest link? Ironically, I’m about to release a book about embracing our truest self and then loving and living from that worthy place within us, and one missing ‘h’ threatened to send me into a shame spiral. Why?

Because shame never goes away.

Within each of us is this voice of shame—which begins whispering from a young, tender age—telling us we’re not good enough, convincing us our loneliness is our fault, and prodding us to prove our worth in a myriad of futile and destructive ways. We human beings are increasingly aware of this voice, and more and more of us are admitting we hear it. Which raises the question:

How do you quit hearing it?

The answer to that question is this: you don’t. If you believe it is possible to vanquish your shame completely, you will be sorely disappointed. Moreover, when your shame returns, your failure to silence it for good will become an additional source of shame. “What is wrong with me,” you will think, “why can’t I get past this?”

There is no getting past our shame completely. There is, only, the lifelong opportunity—presented to us every day and in every moment—to answer this question: Will you listen for the voice of grace instead?

Will you listen for the voice reassuring you that, while you might make mistakes, you are anything but a mistake?

The day after the-day-of-the-missing-h, my daughter arrived home from school and unloaded her backpack. She pulled out a paper cow she had constructed in class, and began telling me about it, concluding by turning the cow upside down, pointing at its belly, and declaring, “And that’s the gutter!”

The-day-of-the-extra-g.

It reminded me of the day last summer when she came in from outdoors holding her side and grimacing. She looked at me and said, “Daddy, I think I have a ramp.”

The-day-of-the-missing-c.

And it reminded me of countless days during which she has painted her fingernails or toenails with her momma and then come to me, proudly showing off her “pail nolish.”

The-days-of-the-inverted-n-and-p.

When I make a mistake with my letters, I feel shame. But when Caitlin makes a mistake with her letters, I feel affection. I see a little girl who is way more than the sum of her mistakes and way stronger than her weakest links. While some consonants may go missing, her worthiness stays put. When I tell her that, I become the voice of grace to her.

We all need a voice of grace like that, and here is the very, very good news: we all have one.

There is a voice of grace whispering within each of us, as well.

It’s harder to hear than the voice of our shame. After all, shame will speak as harshly and as sharply as it needs to speak in order to be heard. But the voice of grace isn’t interested in overwhelming you; it’s interested in wooing you. It isn’t a condemnation; it is an invitation.

The voice of grace whispering within you is an invitation to listen to the name you were given before all other names: Loveable.

How do you live beloved? At least in part, you choose over and over again to listen for the voice of grace. Until eventually, for a little while, it happens: the day-of-the-missing-shame.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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P.S. My new book Loveable is available for pre-order and, for a limited time, when you order Loveable, you will get The Year of Listening, Loving, and Living for free. 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.

  • Shel Llee Flexman-Evans

    The millions of tiny ways we erode ourselves really do seem enormous, even one tiny thing at a time. In others, those things stay as tiny as they truly are, so obediently, endearingly, and reasonably.
    So by all means, let’s do unto others. But for these tiny erosions, let’s do unto ourselves as we would do unto others. There is kindness enough to go around 360°.

    Thanks, Kelly.

    • There it is: “There is kindness enough to go around 360.” Indeed, kindness doesn’t run out when given away, it multiplies. When we give it to ourselves first, I think that multiplication becomes exponential.

  • Ginny

    Love this one, Kelly. Thank you. I am doing a Bible study on joy and the first lesson is believing in Father’s fierce love for me and resting in that. It’s only then that I can shut off that voice of shame I hear so often and actually live life to its fullest.

    • Right on, Ginny. That lesson is at the exactly right place in the study: first.

  • A. Julie

    Thank you, Kelly; that was lovely. (And I, usually a sharp proofreader, didn’t note the h had gone missing, either!)

  • Patricia

    What a moving post, Kelly! I thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn’t understand shame or how it impacted me for many years. Now I recognize that voice in my head and I can work my way through it without the damage it used to cause me. I agree with Shel, treat myself as I would treat others. Great point!

    • Patricia, thank you for sharing that and for the confirmation that, indeed, the voice doesn’t go away, but we can get better and better at going away from it.

  • Sheree Serna McLean

    So true! If I send an email or a text and I see a mistake AFTER I send it, I will tell the recipient about the mistake and what I “meant to say” even though it would already be obvious. In my opinion, we tend to focus too much on getting it right, but truth is, no matter how hard we try, we will continue to make mistakes, it’s a part of life. We can all benefit from replacing judgment with the grace card once in a while.

    • Sheree, I love that observation that we correct those kinds of mistakes, even though they didn’t interfere with the communication. It’s like our way of saying, “I’m not so flawed that I’m clueless about my flaws!” Letting those small errors stand would be a good, small way to practice a big, important transformation.

  • Doreen Myrfield

    “the day-of-the-missing-shame” – I love that . It speaks boldly and loving as the “gift” we are as we were created. God who loves us as beloved. What a perfect mantra for this season of Lent. Happy lenten journey Dr Kelly. (PS – I love the cover picture for this posting as well.)

    • Thank you, Doreen. I’ve been waiting on a Lenten meditation. Thanks for the suggestion. 🙂

  • JC

    Your mistakes have a linguistic term, Metathesis. More specifically in the cases listed above, they are called a Spoonerism or Marrowsky (older term). Both of these later naming conventions are after people of prominence who had linguistic quirks that others noticed and commented enough upon to name the “condition” after them. Talk about shame! – Now that my linguistic dorkiness is out of the bag I may as well share a fact about how we learn language;… “we”…”all of us”…every human. We learn by mistakes. It is a fact that we cannot learn nor does a single soul learn language (language being the core structure of culture, connection, and all things good or bad between everyone…even Helen Keller) without making mistakes. You have to do it until you get it wrong, and fix it, before you actually learn it. I have taught many ESL students and other students of language the same principle for decades. You cannot expand your vocabulary or level of fluency until you hit a wall, and break through it. It hurts grammatically, mentally, audibly, and socially when we hit those walls but we grow exponentially as we keep trying.

    • Wow. That is a fantastic observation and teaching JC. The only way to learn to speak is to mis-speak. That wouldn’t be a bad response to that crummy inner voice, “Yeah, I know, I screwed up. I’m learning.” Thank you.

  • Eoin Brennan

    I read an article during the week about a 15 yr old girl who got plastic surgery on her nose and face because of bullying. She was literally shamed into changing her natural, God given features, because some bullies decided the way she was born wasn’t ok. Do you think then that Shame is really the fear of not being accepted or loved by people, the fear of not belonging?

    • Eoin, that is such a heartbreaking story, and a good question. We’re still trying to figure out exactly how to define shame, but I think of it as the core belief that we are not good enough. That belief, then, promotes a number of fears. I’m not good enough for belonging. I’m not good enough to matter. And so on. I guess what I’m saying is, right now, I’d think of the fear as the immediate reaction to shame. Most of our anger is then a reaction to our fear–a way of having shame that doesn’t feel so vulnerable, and then most of our arrogance is a way to protect our shame without doing so much obvious damage. What do others think?

      • Jayani

        I agree with all of it except the very last line ‘Our arrogance is a way to protect our shame without doing so much obvious damage’. Maybe I’m interpreting it in a way different to the way you intend. I was just thinking that arrogance is definitely a way of protecting shame but wouldn’t that lead to a lot of damage? Protecting shame is giving power to that voice and I believe that can only be damaging. Thoughts? 🙂

        • Good observation, Jayani. I really like this conversation. And you’re absolutely right, some forms of arrogance can be damaging, especially when they are thinly-veiled forms of anger and fear. But other more well-developed forms of arrogance are often admired by people and by culture. For instance, the most mature form of shame denial is the self-made person who takes great pride in thinking s/he is actually self-made. S/he is often celebrated by others, too, as successful and extraordinary. For this person to face their actual ordinariness, they usually have to re-encounter their shame. Which fuels their continued drive to appear extraordinary.

          • Jayani

            This is extremely interesting! I have always considered the usage of the word ‘arrogance’ to have a negative connotation. ‘Stubbornness’ on the other hand can be a desirable trait. It’s also very interesting that you said ‘shame denial’ and that itself gives an indication that the shame has not been dealt with constructively. For us to really know how to interact with undesirable voices/ emotions, we must first allow ourselves to feel it and then build awareness and understanding of it. Denying it and redirecting our focus is a quick fix but it doesn’t guide us for when you encounter uneasiness or lack of worth again. I know we learn through our mistakes, but the most valuable lesson is not figuring out what doesn’t work but understanding what does. I also feel iffy about ‘pride’, because it has an underlying root in ego and not ‘soul’. Which may explain why this self-made person avoids (and therefore denies) encountering with shame because ego can’t handle the words of shame but the soul will always know its worthiness.

  • Patsy Seitz

    How timely! Just today I hastily sent a document to my co-workers that had two major mistakes, prompting the voice of shame to talk loudly in my ear. Thank you for this reflection, and thanks-be-to-God for the reminder that the voice of grace is the one to listen to.

  • Marilyn Waddington

    good stuff

  • Lynn Ploe Gillis

    I just love you Dr K 🙂 That was like a big warm hug…right back atcha!

  • I have learned a long time ago – most recently these past couple of months that its in the shame, its in the moments we are not perfect that we ARE our truest self. I have learned that all of my healing in therapy for the past 10 years was about using those moments of being “imperfect” is who I really am – mistakes and all. I myself would have beaten myself up over a misspelled word, but I have REALLY learned that its in the mistakes that I can accept who I am, and that helps me heal from the wounds of my past as well. that voice of grace is telling us “its ok to be imperfect, its how we were created, and its OK”

    • This is a blessing you’ve passed on to me and others who will read this. Thank you, Karen.

  • Annalisa Young Roy

    Thank you for this post. I agree, it always hardest to be kind to ourselves. I find that for me, shame comes when I have expected one thing of myself, but I did something less good. If I see myself as a person who is perfectly responsible (if I expect perfect responsibility), and then I forget an appointment, I feel shame. But if I see myself as a person who is pretty responsible, but sometimes forgets an appointment, I feel annoyed that I missed the appointment, and maybe slightly embarrassed, but not ashamed. Because it fits my self-image. I expect that I will sometimes make a mistake. It is true in many areas: I am a good friend, but sometimes flaky. I try to be on time, but I am often late. I try to limit my commitments, but I often sign up for things for which I cannot commit the time it really needs. So I am late to a meeting, or I miss a friend’s birthday, or my kids’ teachers get a kind of sad teacher appreciation day. These are unfortunate things. But As my self-image has become more accurate (or we could say as the world has helped me become a little more humble), I find myself feeling shame less often. Regretful, yes. But not ashamed for not being perfect. Not perfect is who I am. It is who we all are.

  • Rebekah Bierenga McDowell

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. A million times, thank you! I long for the day of the missing shame and the missing fear that I’m merely tolerated. So thanks for the reminder that I’m cherished and beloved.

  • Vic and Monique

    Kelly, my wife and I just got back from a Grace Changes Everything retreat with our friends at Trueface.org I love this conversation you have begun here. Are you familiar with a book called The Cure?