(This is part of the Enemies of Grace series. Click here to learn more.)
It happened while I stood chatting outside with a few other moms. Two young girls skipped around, giggling and having fun in that blessedly screen-free way that only the littlest among us can achieve these days. I was alone, but the other moms had babies with them, sitting contentedly in strollers while we discussed the hot weather we’d been enduring.
Suddenly, one of the little girls grabbed herself in a rather unladylike fashion, wiggling and twisting her bottom as a look of panic crossed her suntanned face. A dark stain appeared on her dress and she darted toward her mother, the telltale signs of a potty accident spread across her clothes.
“Uh-oh,” her mom responded, clearly frustrated. ”That’s why we tried to use the potty before we left home.” The rest of us offered understanding smiles as the mom rolled her eyes and tried to untangle her daughter from her legs, where the youngster was trying to hide. Mom continued with her short lecture: “This is what happens when you won’t use the potty like we talked about.”
Now, I know that dear mama was just reacting out of fatigue and frustration. But it was hard to see her little girl, shame written across her little pixie face. I could feel her pain too–the pain of being imperfect. Of failing. Of doing so in a public way. Oh dear heart! I almost offered to pull off one of my own layers so we could tie it around her little waist.
And then, a precious moment.
Her little friend walked over, without an ounce of judgment in her eyes. She just said in a cute, sing-song voice, “That happened to me once too!” And in that split second, the shame evaporated. United by a common experience, the two girls started chattering away about their accidents, as though potty-stained dresses were just an everyday nuisance of life.
The rest of us went on with our big-girl chit-chat, relieved that the awkward moment had been diffused. But in that instant, I felt a holy nudge in my heart: Do you see how beautiful that was? Do you see the power of a few honest words?
“That’s happened to me too.”
Aren’t those freeing words to hear when you’ve made a mistake? When you’re facing a huge struggle? Or when you’re feeling unbearably confused? In all these places, the devil tries to fuel our shame. To make us feel alone, unloved.
Shame is an ugly enemy to grace, making us feel disconnected from God’s love at the very time we most desperately need to own it. But a few little words can diffuse it: “No, you’re not the only one! Me too.”
- Have you burst into tears after dropping your kids off at school, frustrated with your shortcomings as a mother before it’s even 9:00 AM? Me too.
- Have you ever felt so frustrated with your spouse that you burst like a balloon and said a dozen things you later regretted? Me too.
- Have you felt like a huge disappointment to others–and to yourself? Have you struggled to believe God would still bother with the likes of you? Me too.
Maybe you share these struggles. Maybe yours are different. But I guarantee this: Whatever it is you wrestle with in the quiet places, whatever it is that makes you feel like you need to hide: You are not the only one.
We all struggle with imperfection–when it comes to hidden fears and failures, we just play different variations on the same tune.
I’m reminded of a Bible study group I joined several years ago. I’d been placed in a mixed-age group, and I felt unsure what I would face. These older saints intimidated me!
I was a young mom struggling (unsuccessfully) to hold it all together. I’d just come through a season of borderline depression after trying to play Super Christian Woman for too long. And these older women, in many ways, represented all that I had been trying so hard to achieve. I didn’t want them to see what a mess I really was.
You know what happened? I never saw even a trace of the judgment I so feared. That group just assumed I was a mess from the get-go, because they’d all been messes too. They gave me a resounding “me too” by sharing stories of their own marriage and motherhood mishaps.
It was exactly what my heart needed in that season–love in my imperfect places, encouragement that I wasn’t alone. A safe space to struggle.
Remembering those dear ladies got me thinking: How can I be more like them? What helps me to be honest about my own faults? To be a “safe space” for others, so they won’t feel alone in their imperfection?
It’s not an exhaustive list, by any means. But here are three ideas I came up with: Simple graces we can extend to each other so that we can all fight the enemy of shame.
1. Watch your social media.
All those shiny happy people, doing all those shiny happy things on Instagram and Facebook–it’s a lot of pressure to be shiny and happy all the time. (And to look good in skinny jeans while doing so). But it’s not real life, is it?
There’s nothing wrong with sharing happy moments with friends online: I hope we can all rejoice with each other when exciting things happen in our lives. But the more “fantastic” things we post on social media, the more we contribute to the illusion that life should always be fantastic. And as we scroll through everyone else’s amazing updates, our hearts struggle to stay content with our own simple lives.
It can all lead to a mess of shame, with everyone feeling like they just can’t measure up.
Social media can be such a beautiful tool for connecting and caring. But let’s be careful about how we use it: Are we trying to impress others with our social posts? To prove our value or worth through our clever words or beautiful pictures? Because if we are, then we may just be hiding our weaknesses in shame, instead of taking them to Jesus and letting Him pour value and worth into our hearts.
Here’s my take: Go ahead and post the mile markers. Invite others to celebrate God’s faithfulness in your lives. But if your family outing to the apple orchard was overshadowed by the silent treatment you were giving to your spouse and hair-pulling by your kids? Then maybe you don’t need to post that one picture you wrangled of everyone smiling.
Sometimes, we should post the hilarious disaster shot that captures the real mood of the day–let others see that we don’t always have it all together either. Or we need to post nothing at all, and quietly treasure moments in our own hearts. Pray before you post—or before you scroll through your social apps–consider how you can do it in a way that focuses on God instead of yourself.
2. Be first.
I’m convinced that Satan trembles when he sees women sitting down to a cup of coffee together. Why? Because something happens when we set aside the phone, hit “pause” on our mental to-do list, and just spend time talking with others. If we pray for it, and open ourselves to it, these can be sacred spaces where our hearts come out of hiding. Places where we experience acceptance and love.
Here’s the hard part: Someone has to go first. Someone has to say the first brave word and admit that behind the well-crafted facade, they feel ashamed. They struggle with a sickness or doubt. A sin they can’t seem to shake. A past mistake they deeply regret.
Someone has to open the door to a real conversation by sharing what’s in their heart.
In the comforting atmosphere of a living room or quiet restaurant, when you can see real empathy in a friends’ eyes? That’s where the brave moments of vulnerability can happen. That’s where we’ll find understanding and support instead of the judgment we so desperately fear. So be first. Open the door to a conversation about the hard stuff: Share your story. It has the power to nudge another soul out of shame and help them experience love.
Do you have a friend or acquaintance who’s struggling and needs to know you’ve been there too? Or maybe you need to reach out to someone in the midst of your own struggles? Take some time, maybe even today, to set up a face-to-face with a friend.
3. Check your reactions.
What happens when you notice someone else’s shortcomings? That mom who never signs up to bring food to the classroom parties. That coworker who bumbled through an important meeting. That woman whose newfangled plan for VBS turned into the disaster you anticipated from the get-go.
What happens in your heart when you see their failures? Do you gossip about it with others? Do you feel a little better about your own priorities and common sense?
Ouch. We all go there at times, don’t we? We shame others–if not verbally, then at least in our minds. But what if we tried to find the “me too” in these situations? Where have I failed to chip in when help was needed? What situations make me feel inadequate and bumbling? What is something I tried and failed?
It’s so easy to make quick judgments and assumptions about others. But truth is, we’re all just doing our best to get along in a world that’s very hard. We don’t get it right all the time. And the fear of what others think only makes it harder. So when others stumble, when they’re feeling imperfect and unloved, let’s not be the voice of judgement.
Let’s be the sweet voice that says:”It’s okay. You’re still lovable. We all make mistakes. At least you tried.”
Shaping the Sisterhood
I wish I could say that Christians always get this right: That we always choose humility and grace when it comes to our mistakes. But the sad reality is, our Christian communities can sometimes feel like the places we most want to hide. Comparison and competition wiggle into our hearts. And rather than owning our mistakes, we often brush them aside and pretend we’re doing just fine.
We need to fight this, friends. We need a sisterhood that fights shame.
Sisters who know that mistakes are part of the deal. Who offer understanding, not eye rolls, when others fall. Who who admit the blessed truth that we don’t have it all together either, and offer each other a way to move forward with grace.
Let’s just love each other the way God loves us.
Can you imagine that kind of community friends? Wouldn’t that be incredibly good news? And I think those watching from the sidelines might feel a holy nudge in their hearts and see: There’s something Beautiful going on there.”
Let’s make beautiful things happen today, friends. Let’s look around and ask who needs to hear our powerful words: “Me too.”