Beautiful Between

living fully in the now & not yet

Discouraged? Ashamed? You need to hear these 5 words

I was twenty and terrified, standing unannounced on their porch on a hot July night. My legs froze and nausea filled me. I felt like every moment was never-ending, like I was eternally dying inside.

Before coming, I’d meticulously covered the long gashes on my thighs. I was there to tell the truth, but I still couldn’t bear the thought of that kind of exposure. At least they couldn’t see the cuts. Nobody ever did.

I walked in, sat down, and they immediately knew something was wrong. I swore my friends could hear my pounding heart.

Thankfully, their kids were long in bed. But I couldn’t dig my voice out of the hollow of my chest, couldn’t form words to ask for the help I desperately needed.

When you don’t know it’s depression

The year had grown harder, week-by-week and month-by-month. There were days I couldn’t scrape together the energy to get out of bed. I’d dropped most of my college classes spring term to avoid failing – I, the straight-A student to whom school came so easily. Anxiety made it impossible to eat, and I lost so much weight that people asked if I was anorexic.

I didn’t know it wasn’t my fault. I never entertained the thought this might be depression. I didn’t have words for the pain or know how to feel, process and be healthy. Instead, I wrote it in my skin like a dirty, terrifying secret. Nobody knew my secret, and I knew, without help, I couldn’t stop hurting myself.

So one July night with fresh wounds, I’d walked trembling into their house. I could barely voice the ugly words when they asked what was wrong. They were quiet for a few painful breaths, then told me to stay with them for a while. I knew they weren’t asking. Then, I heard words I didn’t know would change my life:

I’m not disappointed in you.

It rattled me. I was speechless.

I don’t think less of you.

How could this be? How?!?

I’m a near college drop-out, a youth leader with a nasty secret, and you’re not disappointed? But they were honest words, and though I was incredulous, they stuck to me. They resonated in my soul, the first words that moved beyond the shame I felt.

Those words changed me

Days later, I would write in wonder and come to a slow realization: if these are the honest words of peoples’ imperfect love, can anything ever make God disappointed in me? If love wasn’t conditional when I was most pathetic, could “nothing can separate you from the love of God” mean something real to me?

It took time for truth to work its way through my soul and for the darkness to lift. I needed help. I sat with counselors and tried things to help my brain and body chemistry work right. But those words were powerful. They stayed with me, shaped me, became part of me.

Eventually, I learned to let myself hurt in healthy ways, to understand depression and self-care and love. Grace and compassion from people (and a lot more from Jesus) made hope grow inside me. I learned to be happy and to rest. I learned dark days don’t last forever, and even if they did, I won’t be alone in the darkness.

Not just for me

I also learned those words of unconditional acceptance bore unintended fruit. They weren’t just for me. They were for countless more people living under the weight of shame.

I’ve become a magnet for stories like this. Somehow, we find each other, and people tell me where they’ve been, about dark places they’ve wandered and are wandering still. I hear about addictions, depression, abuse, and self-harm.

When confronted with another’s shame, I share these words when I can. I know what a balm they can be when you try so hard, but keep failing. I recall the tiniest hope I felt when I unwrapped the gift of those words. I wonder if I’d have made it without it, so I try to pay it forward.

I’m not disappointed.

I don’t think less of you.

You’re not a failure.

You’re still worth loving.

I shared those words with a young woman I love and admire. She’s a fighter and she’s brave, beating back the darkness over and over. But sometimes, she gets tired. I’ve had the privilege of walking with her through some of those moments of exhaustion, to learn from her courage and remind her of who she is.

In a season of strength and joy, she slipped me a note I’ve treasured ever since. She didn’t think I remembered the words I told her on a dark day: I’m not disappointed in you, the same words that changed my life.

She told me those words had made room for the rest of her story to come pouring out and healing to come pouring in. She just needed to hear she was still worthy, still loved, and not a disappointment.

I smiled and I wept as I read that note. My heart was so full to be a tiny part of another’s wholeness.

I don’t know your pain.

I don’t know your struggle.

I don’t know your story. And, much as I may love to, sometimes I can’t respond to every email and message I receive.

But if we talked over coffee, if you confessed the failure or shame you try so hard to overcome, I’d tell you I’m not disappointed. I don’t think less of you. And I’d pray you don’t hear my voice, but the voice of Jesus reshaping the shame into security. I’d hope the words rattle around inside until you truly know nothing can ever separate you from His love.

And if you’re doing well, I’d pray you carry these words and pay them forward to somebody with downcast eyes and the weight of regrets. We all, every one of us, need to know we’re not disappointments and failures. We all can use our words to cut through stigma and shame; they’re more powerful than we know.

We never know whose life we may change.

Have you ever struggled with feeling like a disappointment or with shame?  What have been some healing words for you?  Could your story bring hope and healing to others?

This story originally ran as a guest post on my friend Steve Austin’s blog. 

10 Replies

  1. So very proud of you.

    A few months ago, one of the real-est friend ever asked me about a struggle of mine. She already knew the answer but gave me a chance to tell my story. Before I opened up, she said these words, “No matter your answer, I will not stop being your friend.”

    There is so much freedom to open up when the only response we face is Love.

    1. Those are about the best words you can hear from a friend. It’s crazy how we doubt that we’ll hear it, but I think people just don’t know how to say those words enough.

  2. John

    Such a well written article. Thank you for sharing your story. Being on the side of the consoler, we can think wrongfully that our actions of being there is enough to portray that we care and love them unconditionally. These words are so important and I thank you for helping me understand how I can care for others better.

  3. Janet Robinson

    Dear Sarah, you have such godly wisdom. I am so glad you are my daughter-in-law! You are the answer to my prayers for Micah.

  4. Caleb

    Thank you for sharing yourself in these articles – by being real. My wife and I are saved and she has anxiety/depression for several years and we have come across many of faith that do not understand how someone can have salvation and have depression.
    Your experience with people’s reactions to your struggles echoes many of her own.
    I myself have had to grow a lot in my understanding since we got married a little over a year ago and this helps me to understand even more so again thank you and don’t give up!

    1. Oh, Caleb, this is so encouraging. I’m so glad that it’s been helpful. Your willingness to learn and desire to understand says a lot about the supportive husband you want to be. Keep doing that. My husband is the same way and it has helped more than I could ever say.

  5. How can a person clear themselves of the feelings of shame, guilt, self sabotage, & other mental health disorders from what was done to them & also done to another by themself?

  6. Natalie

    I’ve never heard anyone say those words to me. I’m always feeling guilty and stupid for decisions I’ve made. Unfortunately, I’ve even prayed to God, beating myself up in my prayers. It feels like I’m always beating back darkness. I know it’s got to stop. Thanks for sharing your experience. It really gives me hope. Even though God may not always “work out all our problems”, it’s good to know He’s there with us in them, not judging, and teaching us mercy and compassion.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.