It’s easy to believe the false promises of drivenness: do more, be more, accumulate more . . . and then you can be happy. We often fall for the trick, believing that the next (and bigger) house or car or achievement will solve our inner problems.
We all fall into the temptation of substituting something else for real acceptance. Look pretty. Make the grade. Get the job. Be better. Write a book. Do well. Get a sculpted body. Make more money. Get the house. Own the mountain cabin. Shop more. Find romance. But underneath those accomplishments are deeper needs, deeper questions.
Am I okay?
Am I beautiful?
Am I enough?
Am I _________?
As soon as we answer the question “Am I OK?” with anything other than the promise and provision of our belovedness in Christ, we drift toward anxiety and darkness. Yes, there is a temporary high from the offerings of the world, but after the high fades, the sense of lostness and wandering returns.
Apart from the garments of God’s grace—given to us freely in the gospel—we’ll reach for the rags of some futile covering. Shame has to do with being seen, and we are convinced that being fully seen by God would destroy us. To be seen as we really are is just too much to fathom. Our guilt and shame demand a payment we can’t pay.” As long as we live as a stranger to the love of God, we will try to outrun or silence our own shame. But avoiding my shame doesn’t get rid of the shame; instead, it fertilizes it. Before long shame sprouts poisoned fruit that ranges from impatience and anger to covetousness and lust. We try to cover our wounds, but a Band-Aid is no help for a cancer. Shame’s unrelenting declaration is:
You aren’t enough.
You aren’t welcome.
You aren’t loved.
I remember watching Jean Paul Gaultier, the renowned French fashion designer, interview Lady Gaga, the music megastar. They talked about her life, career, and philosophy. Gaga projected a message of radical acceptance. Be yourself, she encouraged her fans. Be a “little monster.” Yet toward the end of the interview, she said something fascinating.
I think it’s why I like fashion and style so much. I feel the ability to create an alternate fantasy and reality for myself that, if I do it over and over again every single day of my life, falling asleep in my wigs, my makeup, my jewelry, my dresses, then somehow my fantasy becomes my reality.5
As Gaga finished the interview, I wondered, Do I really have to keep wearing my wigs? Is this the way to accept my little monster self? Do I have to live in fantasy to cope with reality, to find peace?
Six years after the interview with Gaultier, Gaga filmed another documentary, Gaga: Five Foot Two. While her style and creativity remained, something had changed:
I never felt comfortable enough to sing and just be this way now, to just sing or wear my hair back. I never felt pretty enough or smart enough or a good enough musician. That’s the good part—the good part is that I just didn’t feel good enough and I do now …I know I’m worth something. So I just have to stay there.
When shame is driving our quest for acceptance, it’s not enough to fashion wigs for our little monster selves. It’s impossible to find self-acceptance if we continually cover up who we are. It leaves us always dressing up but never at peace as our true selves. Peace arrives only when we stare down the little monster and see that we are not just different; we are actually broken.
That’s the bad news. But there’s good news too: we are accepted by our Creator precisely in that cracked condition. We are known and loved, and therefore secure beyond our abilities and accomplishments. We’re worthy simply because we’re beloved.
Author and priest Henri Nouwen writes, “Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection …Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’ Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.”
The acceptance we long for is not self-acceptance, or even others-acceptance; it’s divine acceptance—a welcome and delight freely given to us by the one who created us. Only God’s grace can dispel the darkness in my soul. It’s frightening, really: the way light shines into my darkness is through the cracks of my broken self. But if I’m willing to take that risk, I can be welcomed and exist in the holy beam as God’s forever beloved.
In the Genesis story, when Adam and Eve came out from their hiding place, they stood clothed in those flimsy rags they’d made from leaves. God asked them, “Who told you that you were naked?” (Genesis 3:11) as if to ask, “What happened?” It was their chance for honesty, not shame. God was simply trying to get them to come clean. His voice was the voice of love.
The good news about grace is that in our fickleness—as we strive, hide, blame, and sometimes even repent, the voice of God keeps calling to us. “What happened?” God asks. In other words:
Are you ready to be seen?
Are you ready to talk?
Adapted from Searching for Grace: A Weary Leader, a Wise Mentor, and Seven Healing Conversations for a Parched Soul by Scotty Smith and Russ Masterson, releasing from Tyndale House Publishers May, 2021.
Scotty Smith is the founding pastor and pastor emeritus of Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee, which he pastored for 26 years. He presently serves as teacher in residence of West End Community Church. He also serves as adjunct faculty for Covenant Seminary, Westminster Theological Society (Philadelphia), Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando), and Western Seminary (Portland). Scotty has authored ten books, including Unveiled Hope (with Michael Card) and Everyday Prayers. Scotty's blog, Heavenward, can be found on The Gospel Coalition website. Among his hobbies, Scotty enjoys photography, fishing, cooking, and exercise. Scotty and his wife of 48 years, Darlene, live in Franklin, Tennessee.
Russ Masterson is the founding and senior pastor of Christ the Redeemer Church of Marietta. Russ served as a student pastor and a college and singles pastor before founding Redeemer Marietta. By God's goodness, the church has grown from three families to more than 350 people in seven years. Russ holds degrees from the University of Georgia and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of three books: a memoir, 40 Days without Food; a novel, Adao's Dance; and his newest release, coauthored with Pastor Scotty Smith, Searching for Grace. The past ten years of Russ's life have been filled with weekly study and teaching of God's one-way love for us in Jesus—grace without any conditions, which frees, heals, and empowers growth in grace. Russ lives in Marietta, Georgia, with his wife, three daughters, and a joyful labradoodle named Brother.