We were sitting at a table along the wall in a crowded restaurant, menus in hand, diving right into the nitty gritty of our personal stories. I had known of this woman from church for a while but this was our first time getting together.
The longer I sat with Kate, who is a handful of years younger than me, the more I saw myself in her. Our journeys were similar, including quite a stint for each of us in what I call anything from the valley, to the darkness, to the pit. She had been there much more recently than I had, but the memories resurfacing of my own experiences in that dark night of the soul made it feel alarmingly recent.
As we sat together over dinner, she put her spoon down and looked me right in the eye. She’d been telling me about the shame she felt for all the things she had done during her years lived in the valley, far from God. Her eyes were sad but with the slightest twinge of hope in them as she asked me a question that nearly took my breath away.
“You talk so kindly about yourself,” She said matter-of-factly. “How did you get to a place where you can speak like that about yourself?”
I was shocked. Do I talk kindly about myself—and often enough that this near-stranger is picking up on it? I’d spent many years in a close relationship with self-condemnation, so to hear of her reflections felt like an out-of-body experience. Then, as the shock wore off, a sense of gratitude took its place.
I don’t know when, exactly, I grew a sense of respect and tenderness for myself, but she was right, it’s there.
There are plenty of behaviors from my past that I’m not at all proud of. There’s something, however, about the version of me who was so deep in the valley I wasn’t sure I’d ever get out that for which I feel sadness, not shame. Instantly, as I began responding to Kate’s question, my daughter’s face came to mind.
I know there will be seasons of my daughter’s life when she will find herself in the valley. It may not look exactly the same as mine, but it may feel just as painful and dark as the valley her own Mom has visited. Regardless of what it looks like for her, I can’t imagine loving her any less or desiring anything other than getting down in the valley next to her and walking with her up out of it. Unfortunately, there are some places that I, as her Mom, won’t be able to go with her and if who she is will only be defined by what she does, she and I will have a pretty tumultuous relationship.
I know this is true, because that’s the story of my relationship with my own self. When I extend love and respect to myself only when I’ve done something that I think warrants love and respect, I spend a decent amount of time feeling conflicted and disappointed, because I’m one of those imperfect humans.
I looked at my new friend and, with tears falling down both of our faces, I told her that I can love myself because I am not the sum of my poor mistakes or trips to the valley. In fact, those things can actually be used to help shape and grow me, which is probably a terribly unhelpful thing to hear when you’re actually in the valley, but I can attest to the truth of it.
I love that Kate heard the love I have for myself in my voice. It’s not because I’ve reached some place of near-perfection, but because I know God has the same desire for me as I do with my daughter, loving me like crazy while wanting to hold my hand as we walk out of the darkness. Self-condemnation still sometimes feels like the easier way to relate to myself, but I know I am worthy of more, as is my daughter, my friend Kate, and you too.
We are not what we’ve done, and I’ll mix tears with dinner to share that truth any day.
Mallory Redmond embraces anomalies–she is an adventure-loving homebody who keeps a clean house yet always makes a mess while eating or brushing her teeth. She loves dry humor, clean sheets, and gathering around the table with friends. Mallory and her husband, Darren, live in Ohio with their beagle, Roger, and daughter, Evelyn. You can follow her writing here, where her stories are told with the hope of further uncovering the places of connection in our humanity.