You've caught glimpses of Michelle Derusha's new book True You and how impactful it has been in my life in my Lifelong Journey of Listening series the past couple weeks (The Movement Toward Stillness and Still).
I never noticed that oak trees are the last to lose their leaves until I began a daily practice of sitting still.
It all began with a whim. One sunny November afternoon while I was walking my dog, I decided to stop and sit on a park bench. As I rested there for a few minutes with Josie sprawled at my feet, I decided I would make this bench-sitting part of my daily routine.
I vowed I would stop at that same spot along our walking route every day, and I would sit for five minutes. I would sit in silence, I determined – without music or a podcast in my ears; without dialing my mother or texting my sister; without snapping photos with my camera phone or scrolling through Instagram or Facebook.
I would simply sit in silence for five minutes. It would be good for me, I reasoned.
Turns out, five minutes on a park bench seems short in principle, but is a surprisingly long time in reality.
The first afternoon I sat on the park bench, I looked at my watch after two minutes and then again after four. The next day I took a cue from Josie, who sat still, ears pricked, nose quivering. I looked at what she looked at; I sniffed, trying to smell what she smelled. When she twitched her ears, I turned my head too, trying to hear what she’d heard.
I noticed a little more of my surroundings that second day, like the fact that the leaves of the burr oak on the edge of the ravine still clung stubborn and tenacious to the branches. Unlike the maples, birches, elms, and ash trees, which had dropped their leaves like colorful confetti more than a month ago, the oaks were still fully dressed, their dry leaves scraping together in the wind like sandpaper.
I wasn’t at all sure what I was doing there, just sitting. All I knew was that I felt compelled to do it, even though I didn’t particularly like it, and even though I knew, after only two days, that I would resist it in the coming weeks.
At the same time, I knew this sitting in stillness was something I had to do. Somehow I knew that the stopping, -- the interruption to my daily routine and my incessant push to get from Point A to Point B -- was important, maybe even imperative.
Turns out, I learned over the weeks and months of sitting in quiet solitude that I am a lot like the oak tree that clings so fiercely to its leaves. In fact, I suspect a lot of us are.
We, too, clutch our camouflage -- the person we present to the world, to our own selves, and even to God.
We, too, are unwilling to shed our false selves, to let go, to live vulnerably and authentically. We are afraid of what might happen if we drop our protective cover, afraid of how we might be seen or perceived, or how we might see or perceive our own selves.
We spend a great deal of our time and energy holding tight-fisted to our leaves, simply because we are too afraid to let go, too afraid of what, or who, we will find underneath.
The thing is, though, even the stubborn oaks have to let go of their leaves eventually. New growth can’t happen until the old, desiccated parts fall away. Spring only comes after winter. There is a rhythm here – relinquishing, stilling, rebirth.
The truth is, God does not wish for us to stand stubborn like the autumn oak tree, cloaked in a façade of protection, our truest, most authentic selves obscured beneath a tangled bramble of false security.
Rather, he desires us to live open and free, our true essence revealed and flourishing, our true self front and center, secure and thriving.
God yearns for us to live wholeheartedly and truthfully as the unique, beautiful, beloved individuals he created us to be. Most of all, God’s deepest desire is for us to know him, to root our whole selves in him like a tree rooted by a stream, and to know his deep, abiding love for us.
God yearns for us to live in the spacious, light-filled freedom of Christ and to know ourselves in him, through him, and with him.
As we slowly begin to let go of our false selves, branch by branch, leaf by leaf, and layer by layer, as we finally begin to relinquish, open up, and allow God to prune us from the inside out, we will grow in ways we never imagined: in our relationships with loved ones; in connection with and love for our neighbors; in our vocation; in our heart, mind, and soul; and in intimacy with God himself.
Our true, essential self, the one beautifully and uniquely created by God, is there, deep inside, hidden beneath layer upon layer of leaves clinging fast. Within each of us is a spacious place, waiting to be revealed.
Letting go is the way in.
This post is adapted from True You: Letting Go of Your False Self to Uncover the Person God Created, by Michelle DeRusha, releasing January 1 from Baker Books.
The party was completely pin-worthy, Pinterest-perfect. Donning my little hand-made hat, I walked around the party watching the kids decorate their tea cups and laughing at the rabbit and queen of hearts costumes. The mad-hatter cake was just tilted enough, the frosting looking too good to cut into.
When a friend commented the next day how wonderful my five-year-old daughter’s party had been, saying “I don’t know how you do it all” I smiled modestly and cheerfully said something about just not sleeping but I was lying through my fake smile, hiding all the cracks underneath the surface.
Inside I was trying to do everything I thought I was expected to do and be something no one asked me to be, least of all my family. Like the slightly chipped teacups I bought at the thrift store for the party, I looked good on the outside but imperceptibly, quietly, I was cracking.
The voices on every side were bombarding me, telling me everything I should be doing. Feed your kids organic food, but live frugally and buy locally. Work out and get that perfect body, but make sure you don’t spend too much time away from your family. You can have that perfect party at little cost when you make it all yourself, but slow down so you don’t miss out on your kid's lives. The contradicting voices cried out, clawed at me, and made me feel inadequate, harried, and always less than enough.
By the end of that year, I was barely keeping the tight anxiety in my chest at bay, fighting exhaustion, and feeling far from God. I couldn’t fit everything into the day. Between my family, work, church, volunteering and everything I believed I had to do, God was relegated to the leftover edges of my life. I knew I couldn’t live like that anymore and I started practicing saying “no” to things.
Committing to live more simply, I pulled back on commitments, tried to let go of all the perfection, and promised to listen to God’s voice instead of all the other ones I had let become my Master that year. I spent more time just being with my family. Parties became small outings and I curled up with my new Bible study and asked God to speak.
The trouble was the voices didn’t stop bombarding me, telling me all the things I should be doing.
They came from authors of books and writers online who promised a more peaceful, spiritual life. They came from the very Bible study I hoped would be the answer to my spiritual dryness. They came from the pulpit on Sunday morning...
Today I am joining my friend, author Tina Osterhouse in her spiritual practices series, writing about the practice of letting go of everything you "should" be doing. Join me there?
On Wednesdays guest writers are raising their voices. This week I have the special treat of swapping places online with my friend, author Tina Osterhouse. She is joining us today sharing how we can attend to the voice of God in Scripture, see his fingerprints in our lives. When I read her words I am challenged and inspired to dig into the Word, eagerly looking for evidence that He is speaking, has always been speaking. I know you will be, too. I will be writing over at her blog on Friday...stay tuned! - Nicole
Last night I was over at my friend John’s house. He’s a spiritual formation professor at a Christian university. He’s recently walked through the valley of the shadow. We have a lot in common: a similar history in ministry, denominational similarities, and now, divorce. He lives on a lake with a big backyard and a long wooden dock. His daughters hung out inside the house and watched a movie. We sat outside and put together his new adirondack chairs. I passed him the screws, held the arm pieces in place, and sipped on Argentinian red wine.
I asked him about hearing from God, what’s important for him when it comes listening. He looked up from his project, reflective. “Oh, I suppose lots of things are important. Early in my youth when I learned to speak in tongues, or when I would spend hours in worship.” He paused and smiled. “I think the foundation for hearing God is when we learn to attend to God’s Spirit as we’re reading scripture.” He shrugged. “A lot of people plow through the Bible and try to read as much of it as possible. But slowing down and attending to God’s voice, to what the Spirit is saying as we read scripture is the best way to learn how to recognize God’s voice.”
* * *
When I was ten, my mom bought me a new NIV Topical Study Bible. Hardback. Beautiful. At ten, I didn’t spend a lot of time reading it. Not yet, anyways, but for some reason, one afternoon I ended up sitting on the living room floor with my Bible open, leafing through the pages. The sun was shining on that particular corner of the living room and the carpet warmed my belly, when I stumbled upon Jeremiah 17:5-8.
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the LORD. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.
But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and ever fails to bear fruit.
I read through the verses. I read them again. The imagery was striking. I understood. It made perfect, absolute sense to me. A desert, parched and barren …. a tree planted by streams of water. Roots that went deep into the stream. No fear of the heat. I paused. My little mind overflowed with the beauty and the structure of the passage, and also the overwhelming clarity. This was black and white. Yes or no. Trust in God or Trust in people. Life or death.
I wanted to be a girl who trusted in God. I wanted to be a tree, not a parched bush in the desert.
I’d always loved to read. I read novels all the time. I read every Janette Oke book I could get my hands on. Bodie Thoene was a personal hero. As for reading the Bible, it would take years to love scripture and let it wash me, let it change and transform me, let it feed my deepest parts and call me into the unknown, into the Truth that goes beyond intellect and touches the Eternal. Still, for being ten years old, there were elements in that encounter that went beyond mere reading. Something happened that connected me to that which is Other, and I knew it. I had touched the Mysterious and interacted with something More than myself.
* * *
John has been having some troubles with his work and we’ve spent quite a lot of time talking about it. During one conversation over the phone he expressed worry, doubt, concern – the stuff of life. Out of nowhere, I responded, “Read Jeremiah seventeen,” I told him. “Maybe that will help. Meditate on those verses.”
What seemed to come out of nowhere, wasn’t out of nowhere. It came from the place where my spirit and God’s Spirit had somehow touched, had communed over those gorgeous words so long ago. Twenty-eight years later, I drew them up and handed them to my friend so he might feast on their hope.
On Mother’s day, my son Lucas, gave me my gift. A picture frame with a beautiful tree he had colored. The picture was titled, Blessed. The verses underneath were … Blessed is the one who trust in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.
I smiled and caressed the words through the glass frame. Oh, those words … those life-giving words.
I’ve spent my life learning to trust God, learning to turn away from placing my hope in people and putting my hope and cares in God. The words of Jeremiah have been my food, my template, my anchor, the symbol I’ve grasped onto when I needed a frame of reference. There, as my fingers touched the words through the glass frame, I sensed a gentle smile from above, a moment of recognition with the Other, with God, Eternity and Time intersecting.
It’s not magic, it’s certainly not incantation or spells. Of course not.
It’s not mere words, either.
We enter into a mysterious kind of relationship with the Spirit as we engage with God through the scripture. Over time those mere words, ancient and as varied as the geography of our planet, become the story and substance of our lives.
On Wednesdays guest writers are raising their voices. When Julie first shared a piece with us, she mentioned poetry to me saying so much meaning can be conveyed in few words. When I read this poem with tears in my eyes, I couldn't agree more. As a writing mom, I identify with Julie's words. But I think any writer or any parent would find themselves in these words. We are all such souls divided. I am honored to share Julie's words with you today. - Nicole
Her child knocks at her bedroom door:
“Mom, you said we could play cards at four.”
“Oh,” she adjusted her voice and said, “just another minute or two.”
He pushed into the room, stared at her with his eyes of blue.
Her heart tingles with ambivalence; struggling to execute eloquence.
“Can we reschedule and meet in your room at 6?”
Eyes cast down, being nine-year-old-brave is hard enough-
“Sure Mom, I know you when you write sometimes it’s tough”
Relief, sweet freedom, now where was that thought?
The big boy sheepishly peeks in, wearing the shirt Mom bought.
“Mom, I am hungry, can I have a snack and a drink?”
She tries to ignore simply to recapture the idea and think.
She begins to type, the guilt wraps tight.
“Sure, buddy, and by the way that shirt makes your face look bright!”
Returned to her mode, yet worried and wordless.
Surely, it’s there, the Spirit-led trail to a revelation and endless
Imagination that was about to become
A punch for a theme flooded with some fun.
Enter her husband, who wakes after his not-loved nightshift.
“Oh there you are,” he says with pure joy and a spirit-lift.
Her smile widens with genuine glee,
Searching for his eyes to connect and see…..
There it is, her brain pops!
Quick, get to typing before the flash stops.
“You are busy. I will come back.”
His sad, manly voice hits her with a smack.
But she returns to write what God has asked;
To remove the veil and share her past.
Our job for Jesus can tip the scales,
Preparing us with wind for His mighty sails.
May balance lovingly restore
Within your soul to wrap so much love in moments
To Leave your Father and those on Earth yearning for more.
Julie Dibble is a Christian Speaker and Author who resides in Central PA. Her walk with Jesus began in her 40’s, for which she is forever grateful. Julie is married to Jason and mother to their sons, Braedon and Jackson. Julie’s mission is to share the Good News: Let Love and Be a Light.
On Wednesdays guest writers are raising their voices. I am honored to have Amy with us today, a fellow Redbud Writer's Guild Member. Just look at her short twitter bio - "Writer. Professor. Friend. Speaker. Woman. Explorer. Teacher. Wife. Encourager. Hiker. Mentor. Speaker. Mother. Runner. Artist. Theologian." Wow, I don't know how she does it all! She's an incredible woman and writer and I know these words will encourage you to raise your voice with Amy! Be sure to read the whole post for a discount code for her book! - Nicole
Being silenced is terrible.
I know too many who have been silenced by experiences that have taken their voice; some were not allowed to tell their story of abuse, others’ stories were stifled or not believed, and still others were silenced in different ways. And that silencing affects all uses of their voice. In order to regain the use of her voice, a woman’s story must be told and her voice restored to her through empowering prayer and ensuing action.
Silencing ourselves is also an injustice.
Even if we have gotten beyond past silencing or have never struggled with it, most women still face difficulties in finding our voice and using it. Some are afraid of having a weak voice or no voice at all. Others are afraid of having a shrill, annoying, or bossy voice. This is not simply about tone, but also about the deep inner perspective that is shown as we speak. So often, rather than risking an unliked or unaccepted voice, we silence ourselves.
As a professor, I speak a lot, and I know what it feels like to fully find my voice as I speak in front of people. It happens when I am unencumbered by self-doubt, I have a platform, and I am able to flow from thought to thought. It’s as if there’s a river from God flowing through me and out to others. Everything is aligned, all is in sync, and it feels amazingly anointed with Holy Spirit power!
I also find my voice in personal conversation, often when I orally process an event or thought, not knowing the outcome but following the process freely to wherever it takes me.
I wish I could have this voice at all times, but I don’t.
Most sermons that I hear are based on relatively short scriptural passages, have one “big idea,” three points, and a specific application. Preachers are taught this format in seminary, and it has proven to be an effective way of communicating. This, then, is often the way I preach, especially when assigned a biblical passage.
My best voice, however, comes across in first-person narrative sermons. I research a character of scripture deeply and tell the story as if it were my own. When I write the manuscript and when I preach, I feel the same way I’ve described above—it flows so easily.
When invited as a guest preacher, however, I always wonder whether it will be accepted, even though Jesus used stories all the time to teach. Should I do what everyone else does or should I be different? How will the difference be viewed?
I have to keep encouraging myself by the truth that my voice is neither better nor worse. It is simply different, and all voices are necessary. When we choose to emulate someone else’s voice, when we choose not to use our voices, we are depriving the world of our true voice and calling.
Everyone misses out when we are silent. Continue Reading