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 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 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 stone—it 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.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
Connect with Kelly
Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.