Dear Me: What is One Thing You Wish You Learned Earlier? A Few Thoughts on Guilt and Shame


I hope you had a great summer, friends. Our family had so much fun, but I’m grateful for the familiarity of routine that has returned and with it, the space to be back here at LifePrompted weekly. Just a reminder that my vision for this blog is for it to be interactive. I’ll post the prompt and my response early in the week, and you can post your own brief response in the comments or better yet, email it to I can’t wait to hear from you!

Tomorrow I’m headed to a ladies luncheon where a panel of speakers are going to be answering questions in the theme “Dear Younger Me”. For the last many years, I’ve attended a retreat where a multigenerational panel is one of my very favorite parts of the weekend. It’s so interesting to hear the different perspectives and to see how people, young and old, have grown and matured through their experiences. So, I decided to borrow that theme for the blog for the next several weeks. I can only offer you a 41 year old, mom of three, former preacher’s perspective, but if you accept my invitation to respond, we can recreate the power of a multigenerational conversation right here.

Our first Dear Me prompt is “What is one thing you wish you learned earlier?” My response is pretty vulnerable today, but I’m asking you to be vulnerable in sharing your thoughts with me, so I decided to just go with it. My summer involved listening to several Brené Brown interviews and a few other books that I think heavily influenced my response. If you don’t know the work of Brené Brown, you need to! As Jen Hatmaker says, she’ll meddle in your business, but her insights into shame and vulnerability and courage are truly transformative.

So here’s what bubbled up for me in response to the question, “What is one thing you wish you learned earlier?”

One thing I wish I learned earlier is the difference between guilt and shame. Simply put, guilt involves action. It’s the acknowledgment “that was stupid” or “I made a mistake.” Shame involves being or identity. It says, “I am stupid. I am a mistake.” 

So a strange thing happened this summer. We were watching an episode of Master of None, and I found myself really connecting with Aziz Ansari’s character Dev. He has fallen in love with a woman who is engaged to someone else. They’ve been hanging out a lot and having all this fun together, and she admits to him that it’s been so great, but she decides to go back to Italy with her fiancé. Dev asks her all these questions that I wish I had the courage to ask in college. I was telling my husband how I felt like I identified so much with Dev and my face started to fall and tears sprang in my eyes. I’ve never loved anyone like I love Gerry. We’ve been happily married (well, you know, except for a few rough nights) for fifteen years, and I rarely, if ever, have wondered what might have been.

What sprang in my eyes that night was the sting of shame. I’ve loved one other person before and that was in college. We had a lot of fun, much of it under the guise of studying Spanish. He met his wife the spring break of our sophomore year and even after I was sure they were in love, I kept asking him to date parties and hanging out. 

I like to think I hung on so long because I’m loyal and persistent and eternally optimistic that things can change. In reality I was a bit of a stalker, a little too desperate, very awkward. I’m still embarrassed by it. 

After watching Master of None, I had a dream about my college friend. We were having dinner, and I was peppering him with questions, mostly about where he is now and what he’s doing. It was good. We both were happy in our lives now, both friends, no unrequited love hanging between us.

I decided to google him to see if I could find out what he actually is doing now (I guess in this case I’m still a bit of a stalker, yikes!). The last time I talked to him in real life, he was working in a good job, but I sensed was still searching for what he truly wanted to do with his life. That was a long time ago. What I found surprised me and at the same time it didn’t.

What I discovered was a link to a blog he keeps of a missionary journey he’s on with his family in South America. There are pictures of him baptizing babies and presiding over the Lord’s table. After all those hours of studying Spanish, he obviously has kept his up and is putting it to such good use. I cannot say the same for myself. I’m so happy he found his calling, and I think now that maybe more connected us than I realized. We didn’t know it at the time, but we shared a common calling, a future of baptisms and offering bread and wine and good news.

When I look back on it now, I’m proud of young me for having such good taste. I didn’t wast so much time and so many tears on losers. I was drawn to godliness, to generosity, kindness, compassion. Not everyone can say that.

I’m not proud of my awkwardness, my desperation, how pathetic I must have looked at times. I used to be an avid journal keeper. Specifically, I journaled prayers. I quit at some point not long after college, felt led to stop actually, because I realized how many of my prayers were not about confessing my sin, but about confessing my shame. I wasn’t only admitting the ways I’d fallen short that day or the mistakes I’d made, I was apologizing for who I was. It’s fun to read some of those old journals and remember the things I worried about and the circumstances and people I’ve forgotten from so long ago, but they also break my heart. I was so hard on myself, and so bound up by my feelings of unworthiness. 

If there’s one thing I wish I’d learned sooner, it’s the difference between guilt and shame, and the even more liberating truth that at the cross, Jesus bore them both. God is in the business of saving us from our sin and from our shame. I’ve done a lot of hard work and soul searching over the last twenty years to be healed, and God initiated it all through the people and the circumstances he placed in my life. And just when I think I’m done, He uses an Indian comedian from South Carolina and a crazy dream about an old flame to keep pressing the truth deeper into my heart. 

Well, there you have it. I should have mentioned earlier that Gerry knows all of this. I told him right away about the dream and the googling, and he read this post before I published it. I also want to say that I tried not to reveal too much about my friend, and I hope I didn’t cross the line, because this really is a story about God’s work in my life. His kindness and friendship was a gift.

You don’t have to be this vulnerable, but I would so love to hear your thoughts on one thing you wish you’d learned earlier in life! Email me


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