Staring Regret in the Face: Scott Sauls
What do you do when regret, fear, and hurt feel like more than you can lift? Scott Sauls gets real about his—and a God who shoulders our greatest shame.
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What do you do when regret, fear, and hurt feel like more than you can lift? Scott Sauls gets real about his — and a God who shoulders our greatest shame.
Staring Regret in the Face: Scott Sauls
Dave: One of the things we all want more than anything is character. We want to be a person of character.
Ann: Yes. We want that for our kids as well.
Dave: So here’s a question: How is character built?
Ann: Oh, I don’t even want to say it.
Ann: Because the first thought that came to my mind was adversity.
Dave: Yes. We all know that. I preached that. Character is built through hardship. We want character, but we don’t want hardship. We don’t want the road to character.
Dave: We just want to sort of end up there, but it takes a journey.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: Today we get to talk about that journey with Scott Sauls, pastor, back in the studio at FamilyLife Today. Welcome back, Scott.
Scott: Thank you, Dave, Ann. Good to be with you.
Dave: You’re over here smiling a little bit. Are you smiling about the idea of character or what?
Scott: No, I’m still laughing at jokes you were telling off air before we started here.
Dave: Nobody laughs at my jokes.
Ann: Scott does, though. That’s good.
Dave: Scott, when I picked up your book that we’re going to talk about today, Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen, I did not know from the title exactly where you were going, but as I read it, it’s this journey. The subtitle is How God Redeems Regret, Hurt, and Fear in the Making of Better Humans. Pastored for—it’s been over 20, 25 years now?
Scott: Coming up on 30. We planted a couple of churches in the Midwest before our years in New York City at Redeemer Presbyterian, but I’ve been at Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville for the last 11 years.
Dave: And this is your sixth book?
Scott: Yes. It’s number six.
Dave: And you don’t have six kids. How many kids?
Scott: We have two daughters, yes.
Ann: Scott, why this book? Why this time? How did it come about?
Scott: Well, it was conceived, written and birthed during the pandemic. Candidly, I came across this quote from Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, who is a grief expert. Just to paraphrase it, she says that the most remarkable, empathetic people that she’s ever known, the people who show up well, the people who have compassionate concern and empathy for other people, are people who’ve been down to the depths and made their way through it somehow.
The last line is, “Beautiful people do not just happen.” That’s where the title of the book came from. In our experience, in our ministry, the three human pain points of regret, hurt and fear were just coming up all over the place. Y’all probably had similar experiences. Everything that had been under the surface for people just comes out in the open, explodes out in the open, due to the upheaval that happened through the pandemic.
Ann: It’s exposed.
Scott: Somebody asked, “What kind of book is this?” I’m like, “I guess it’s like a 21st century Presbyterian pastor trying to write something similar to Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel, meaning that that’s a book that I have looked to, to pastor me over the years when there wasn’t somebody nearby and available. I’ve looked to that book to pastor me and reacquaint me with the grace of God.
I thought, “What if I wrote my own version of that kind of book, where somebody could pick it up and say, ‘This book is a pastoral book.’” It's designed for people who are dealing with regret, hurt and/or fear, and people who are showing up for those people and meeting them in those places. So hopefully it’s a resource that will help some people.
Dave: I was blown away by it. I really was. It’s beautifully written, challenged me, challenged us as we talked about it.
Dave: I want to talk about those three pain points, but before I do that, I would love to read the opening paragraph. Either I read it—
Scott: No you can.
Dave: Or you can read it.
Scott: No, you go.
Dave: Do you want to read it, Scott?
Scott: You go.
Dave: You wrote it. As I picked it up and I read this.
Ann: Dave read it out loud to me. “Listen to this.”
Dave: I’m like, “Listen to this.” You talk about a way to start a book, especially being a pastor. You’re an influential person. Anyway, it says, “You suck.” And by the way, I asked my producer, “Hey, can we read this on air?”
Dave: “Or are we going to get listeners sending us emails about using the word ‘suck.’” Every time I would say that, even when I was preaching, I would say, “Parents, don’t ever let your kids say what I just said.”
Dave: But anyway, I’ll read it again. It says, “You suck. When someone said this to me recently, it wasn’t the sound of the words that surprised me as much as it was the person who said them. The insult didn’t come from a stranger on the internet, an upset church member, a partisan antagonist or some other usual suspect. Instead, it came from someone I have known my entire life.
“This person understands me inside and out. I am closer to him than I am anyone else, including my brother, my children, and even my wife. The person who told me that I suck was me. I said the words out loud while hiking alone. It slipped out of my mouth impulsively, as if from a primal instinct without premeditation and straight from the heart. Out of the heart the mouth speaks.”
Dave: You had me. I’m like, “Here we go.” Walk us through. What was that all about?
Scott: That was all about my publisher telling me I needed a better introduction—
Dave: I know what that’s like.
Scott: —in order for people to want to continue reading. So yes, I gave this whole theological, over-your-head thing.
Dave: You really did have a different intro?
Scott: Yes. My publisher was like, “This is the best book you’ve ever written, but nobody’s going to read it with this intro. They’re going to stop.” He’s like, “Did you ever read the Kindle and notice how the highlights stop after about the middle of chapter two?”
Scott: “They won’t even get to the end of this intro.”
Ann: So, Scott. This is the dialogue. This is really what happened?
Dave: Yes, you had me, because I thought somebody else said it, and then when it spun at the end, I’m like, “Okay, I’ve been there.” What was going on? It wasn’t just—you’re saying it wasn’t just one time on a hike.
Dave: This is a dialogue that the mouth speaks as an overflow of the heart.
Scott: Yes. So we all carry guilt and shame and regret, just stuff we wish we could hit rewind on, things that we’ve done, things that we’ve said, the people that we are, right? Like around lunch, we’re talking about narcissism before this conversation with another guest of yours. We’re all like, “Well, I’m kind of a narcissist. Aren’t you?”
We’re unfinished people, and that’s one of the things the Bible is very explicit about. That’s your gateway into the arms of God, and into the embrace of Christ, and ultimately into a changed life, is recognizing that you’re an unfinished person. You’re going to continue to be an unfinished person until either you die and end up with the Lord, or until He comes back and takes you home.
But that particular moment a memory popped into my head from high school, where I was an insecure 10th-grade kid. We’re in homeroom. I still remember it. There’s a very shy girl in the class, easy target to pick on and make fun of. I thought, “You know, I’m feeling really insecure today. If I could just do anything to make people laugh, maybe that will be a good drug of choice for that morning,” right?
So I said across the room, “Hey,” and said her name. “You’re the ugliest person I’ve ever seen,” and the class laughs, and I felt good for a second, and then felt really dirty after that. That was the situation where I sought her forgiveness and went through all that, and got her forgiveness, and she was very gracious and kind. But it still sticks with me, like within me is the kind of person who can say and do those sorts of things.
Not just 10th-grade me, but grown-up me. I still have that ability; it’s still in me. So yes, the words just kind of spontaneously came out of my mouth, but of course, the story goes on about how God provides an oasis for those kind of self-loathing moments, where we wish we were somebody else.
Dave: Yes. Obviously, part of that discussion in your book was about regret. You sort of introduce regret and then hurt and anxiety and fear. Talk about how—I know there are listeners—I’ve been there where I’ve had nights where I wake up in the middle of the night with a regret. I didn’t have a lot of them in many years of my life, but it seems like the last ten, fifteen years there were moments I regret saying something or hurting somebody in a way. In some ways it’s hard to let go of it. It’s a pain point, like you said.
Dave: So help a listener—I know you’ve done it. How do you navigate that?
Scott: When you reach that point of life where you start realizing that the clock is ticking, right? You start to get more contemplative and introspective.
Dave: Maybe that’s what it is. Yes.
Scott: I was just reading—
Ann: Kids are older this time.
Scott: —but I’m older too. I’m not just saying, “Hey, people like you.”
Scott: I’ve reached that season of my life, too, where I’m kind of on the back end of mid-life. I read an article a couple of weeks ago that said the older people get, the bigger they feel all their feelings. I thought, “That is so true.” Like the gladness, the joy, the things that we savor, get bigger, and the hard stuff gets bigger. Maybe that’s just God making you more human and making me more human to awaken us ultimately to our need for what Jesus Christ is eager to provide, right?
Dave: Yes. If you found a way to let go of that, I think, if I remember right, in your book you say the girl that you said those words to, you’ve gone back to her enough times to where she says, “Scott, we’re good.” You just want to make sure that she understood that you—
Dave: Sometimes it’s like we still hold on, even though we’re good, and God says, “You’re forgiven. You can move on,” but often we don’t.
Scott: Yes, and people say that, and people mean it. For me, anyway, because I’ve been walking with the Lord for so many years now, it’s maybe even easier than it should be for me to just assume God is just so forgiving and merciful over and over and over again. It’s not presumptuous. He is.
Scott: He says He is. So it’s a lot easier to get over it when I’ve sinned against God, than it is when I’ve sinned against a person, because as a person, I know I have a lot less capacity to be hurt and injured and wounded by somebody else. I assume that about other people, that what I say to God, it did leave marks on Jesus, but there are no more marks to leave on God, because it was complete. The work was finished in Jesus.
But when I sin against you, I say something mean or take something from you that’s not mine, or whatever, it leaves a mark on you, and it also leaves a mark on me. So I think that’s the huge task of a pastor or a pastoral couple. We should be pros at this by now, but we’re still realizing we’re fragile, and everybody around us is fragile. It’s a sacred thing to hurt somebody or to be hurt by somebody. There should be a grief, but not one that keeps us stuck in despair.
Ann: I think a lot of listeners—I think I was stuck in that for so long. Because probably of sexual abuse, I would say that over and over in my own head.
Dave: Say what?
Ann: “I’m unworthy. I’m fat. I’m ugly.” I think a lot of listeners go through this mantra in their heads. Some people use it as a way of motivation, even. Or something’s been done to us, and they’re stuck. They’re just stuck in this valley of “I don’t even know how to get out. I think, I know, I’m hearing that God says He loves me, that I’m forgiven, that I’m worthy, but how do I get out of that?”
Scott: Yes. Repetition, right? We’ve got to just be reminded over and over and over again. I think it was Martin Luther. Somebody asked him, “Why do you preach the basic, simple gospel to us every single week?” “Because you forget it every single week.” We’re chronic amnesiacs. We forget. We absorb guilt and shame like a sponge. We leak grace and love toward us like a broken jar.
Ann: Is that you? That’s really good.
Dave: You better write that down.
Ann: Put that in your journal.
Scott: Yes, well, I’m married to somebody who’s really great with metaphors, so it probably originated with my wife, Patty. But here’s the thing—and this is where I take the “You suck” story, where I try to take it where it belongs. Those realities about ourselves, those things we want to hide, those things we’re ashamed of, those things we don’t post about ourselves on social media, those things that we wish were never true, those might be the things that make other people run the other way.
But they are also the things that make Jesus want to run straight toward us, to embrace us and assure us of His love. Like that father of the prodigal son was just so eager to run toward his son. I think about cancer doctors. I live in a city, they call it the “Silicon Valley of Health Care,” Nashville. It’s like a world center for health care. I’ve always been a little bit chapped that they don’t call Silicon Valley the “Nashville of Technology.”
Scott: But some of these cancer doctors have cured a lot of people. When they spot or discover a cancer patient, they’re motivated. They’re like, “Let me at you. Let me at that. Let’s do this.”
Ann: “Let’s get you whole.”
Scott: “I’ve got what it takes to give you the best chance there is to survive this, so let’s roll,” in ways that somebody who doesn’t know the first thing about it might actually avoid that person, just because of the discomfort and not knowing what to say or whatever.
Scott: The Lord is like that with all of our wounds, right?
Ann: Yes. That’s good.
Scott: He’s drawn to that part of us. The very part of us that we are most ashamed of and repulsed by, He is most drawn to. Christ came into the world to save sinners. “I did not come for the righteous, but sinners. I did not come for the healthy, but for the sick. That’s why I am here.” Reminding ourselves and also surrounding ourselves with people that we can remind of these things and hear ourselves say it, and they can remind us, that’s the only thing I know.
Candidly, if I could just be honest, last night I’m having a panic attack in the middle of the night, just because I’m half asleep.
Dave: You’re afraid of Dave and Ann? Is that what it was?
Scott: No. No, definitely not. You guys are very approachable people.
Dave: So this was last night?
Scott: Last night—this part of my story I write about in the book.
Dave: Yes, right.
Scott: I’ve gotten myself into too much right now, and I’m kind of on overload, and don’t say ‘no’ very well. A lot of things just all kind of hit me like a deluge. She could say, “Dude, I’m trying to sleep. Can you go to the next room so that I’m not bothered by this thing that you go through every now and then in the middle of the night, usually.” But instead, she’s like, “Alright, let’s talk.” It’s two in the morning; she’s talking me through it, and that’s just part of our story.
But I happen to be one of those incredibly blessed people who is married to somebody who moves toward me in my weakness instead of away from me in my weakness. To have that person to embody the ministry of Jesus to me, with all the regrets that I carry and the unfinishedness and the damaged goods that I am on my very best day and in my very best season—to have somebody there to move in my direction, instead of away.
Ann: Toward you. That’s beautiful.
Scott: But it’s a picture of Who Jesus is all the time.
Ann: A picture of the Gospel.
Scott: It’s a picture of Who He is all the time.
Dave: And what a beautiful picture of marriage, the way God hopes and desires that we move toward one another, because it’s so easy, like you said—Patty could have turned. I can turn, Ann can turn away.
Ann: But you guys, when our kids come to us and they would say, “I’m despicable. You shouldn’t even love me, what I’ve done or what I’ve said,” as a parent—you’re right, Scott. Like the doctor, I want to run to them. Maybe they have done something that’s really hard or horrendous. I still run toward them and say, “Oh, man. We’re going to love you no matter what.
Ann: “Jesus loves you no matter what.” We do. We run toward that. I love that image, that Jesus continues to pursue us.
Scott: Well that word, “image;” that impulse in you is the image of God in you. To try to put definition around God’s impulse, take what you feel toward your children in those moments and multiply it by a billion—
Scott: —and you still haven’t even scratched the surface of the heart of God toward somebody who’s feeling despicable. Jesus made Himself despicable. He was despised and rejected so that we would never have to be. He took our future judgment day, He took it and moved it to the past, and took it on Himself at the cross. There’s nothing left except that Father waiting to embrace His wayward children and waiting to embrace His hurting children. Sinners and sufferers; that’s where it’s at with the Lord.
Dave: Scott, take us to you’re in the bedroom last night and you’re having a panic attack. What happens mentally as Patty reaches out to comfort you? What shifts, or how do you get out of that? Or how did you?
Scott: Well I start by feeling guilty that I’ve woken her up with my weakness, right?
Scott: And that shifts pretty quickly as she responds with an opposite reaction. There’s comfort. That old phrase, “misery loves company.” Suffering alone; nothing worse because it’s so unnatural to be isolated, especially in our regret, or in our hurt, or in our fear. Jesus is always there, but He’s invisible, and so we struggle to access that reality sometimes, and so He gives us each other.
He gives us the church, and He gives us friends. Some of us, He gives us family and spouses and kids or parents or what have you. Some of us don’t. Both Patty and I; both of us come from a family history—we’re the first generation believers in Christ, and we don’t have those family photos on the beach with three generations having a ball. We’re going to be the grandparents in our first set of pictures like that. But we have each other, and we have the community of the church.
Ann: So if you were single, and you had experienced that night, you know Patty’s not there to comfort you. What is your comfort, for that single person?
Scott: Yes. The Heidelberg Catechism says, “My only comfort in life and death is that I belong body and soul to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.” There’s always that. There’s always the Psalms. There’s always relatable prayers that other people like King David can give us through the Psalms. “Out of the depths,” like in caves while he’s isolated, running for his life or what have you. So there’s that.
But ideally, if I’m a single person, I’m not alone in life. Maybe I live by myself; maybe I have roommates, but it’s very important not to be alone in life. Sometimes all it takes is to have one or two other people that you know you can pick up the phone, you can show up on their doorstep, and say, “Hey, I really need you right now, and I want you to need me when that time comes for you as well. But I really need you right now.”
For some people, it gets to a level, and it’s been that case for me during certain seasons of life, where a counselor can be that friend, where you know you can say anything, you don’t have to be guarded, you don’t have to worry about losing the friendship or making the person feel differently about you.
One gift that the pandemic gave us, which is kind of a weird way to start a sentence, but one gift the pandemic gave us was that now if you don’t have good counselors in your home town, which that’s the story with a lot of people—
Scott: —there are good ones online.
Dave: I’ve done counseling online, and it’s like you’re sitting in their room. It’s just as good. It’s very well—
Dave: What a gift God’s given us.
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Scott Sauls on FamilyLife Today. Scott’s book is called Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen: How God Redeems Regret, Hurt and Fear in the Making of Better Humans. What a great title. We’d love to send you a copy of Scott’s book as our thanks when you partner financially this week with FamilyLife. Your partnership makes more conversations like the one we heard today get into more and more homes.
So you can partner online with us at FamilyLifeToday.com, or by calling 800-358-6329. That can be a one-time gift or a recurring monthly gift. Again, the number is 800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.”
You know, beautiful people don’t just happen, but beautiful marriages don’t just happen either. Right now you can register for a FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® getaway at a number of different locations all over the country. In fact, we still have 20 Weekend to Remember getaways coming up between now and mid-June.
If you register this week, the two of you, you and your spouse, can experience this incredible event for over forty percent off. So I’d encourage you. Don’t let the summer plans that you have keep you from prioritizing your marriage right now. Get ahead of the busyness and make plans for just the two of you. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com, scroll down to the Weekend to Remember link, and find out more information there.
Well, like Scott you might think that you might have to hide your story of regret. Listen tomorrow as Dave and Ann are joined again by Scott Sauls to tell all of us about the experience that changed his thinking about communicating his story. That’s tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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