Shame, holiness, and hearing “I am so disappointed in you.”

I tried to stop listening, but I couldn’t. The conversation I overheard from the next booth at the restaurant was like a slow motion train wreck. The words rang in my ears and sank deep into my heart. I wanted to shout, beg for it to stop. Instead, I just prayed for the adolescent boy whose shoulders sank a little lower with each utterance.

“I can’t believe you did that. You don’t see me acting that way, do you? No. I am responsible. You could learn from me. You know how your dad’s health has been poor, don’t you? You are going to give him a heart attack if you keep acting this way. I am so disappointed in you.

I don’t know what this boy did. And I feel empathy for the mother. I really do. My boys are not yet teenagers. And I’m sure when they are, there will be times I will grasp into thin air, searching for words to use that could parent them through sticky situations.

But it was so hard to hear this mother talk this way to her son. All I heard from her mouth was shame. Each sentence, she plunged the knife wound deeper, digging for a reaction, hoping for some remorse.

I have imagined myself on the other end of a conversation like this many times.

Too often, it is how I’ve viewed God’s holiness, especially growing up. I saw the gap between His perfection and my sin. I knew how far I was from meeting His standards of behavior. I sunk into my chair as I heard my Father say, “I’m so disappointed in you.”

But then? Grace.

There came a point when I encountered the unconditional love of God. At last, I was washed over with the grace He lavished on us through Jesus’ death and resurrection. I sunk into my Father’s arms as I heard Him say, “I’m so filled with love for you.”

That is such a better place to be. Yet, sometimes, I forget. Sometimes I forget that God’s grace does not undo His holiness. I am still a sinner who is far from meeting God’s standards.

God is disappointed when I sin.

But, there is a key word that is different from what I used to believe.

When we fail, God does not say, “I am disappointed in you,” When we fail, God says, “I am disappointed for you.”

God’s holiness means He knows what perfection feels like. His grace means He wants us to feel that too. God knows how much better things could be in this world and in our lives, if we would just trust Him. He longs for us to surrender to the narrow way, the way that seems so restrictive, because He knows that it is the way to freedom, peace, and joy.

Yes, our sin disappoints Him. But not because He is ashamed. Because He is love.

How do you see the interplay between God’s grace and His holiness in your relationship with Him?