Soon, I will take up over-sized loppers with wooden handles that should have been oiled last fall, and, once late winter begins to move toward almost-spring, I will snip branches from our feral and fly-away forsythia bush. Bare branches in a sturdy vase will eventually give way to bright yellow blossoms–except for when they don’t . . .
My haphazard, slipshod approach to pruning, my uninformed and ineffective bush management yields uneven and unpredictable results. God is not THAT gardener. When He lops off a spiritual branch in the life of a believer, you can be certain He is after fruit, and His methods are sure. He knows what is superfluous. He knows what dead wood is weighing me down and also, when an apparently “good” thing must go.
When Michelle DeRusha and her family visited the Portland Japanese Garden in the Pacific Northwest, they observed the masterful application of open center pruning, a process that yields, over time, a tree with uniquely healthy and beautiful form. For DeRusha, the image of branch-by-branch relinquishment became a metaphor for the stripping away that happens on the way to one’s “true, essential self,” (19) and the outcome of her pondering is the gift of her latest book: True You: Letting Go of Your False Self to Uncover the Person God Created
Pruning for Deep Transformation
Michelle discovered that deep transformation requires three things: (1) observation; (2) reflection; and (3) time. These are all in short supply in most peoples’ lives, and our addiction to busy-ness just reinforces all our connections to a false identity. Silence and stillness provide the necessary brain sabbath to allow the doers and the driven to remember that we are more than just the sum total of our accomplishments.
Pruning for Clarity
A journey toward the true self may uncover some things we’d rather not deal with. On a writer’s retreat in Tuscany, Michelle came face to face with some startling truths:
“I didn’t have rest in my life because I didn’t have rest in God. I didn’t have clarity in my vocation, in my calling as a writer, because I didn’t know who I was in God. I didn’t know who I was, period, because I didn’t know who I was in God. And I didn’t know who I was in God because I didn’t know God himself.” (83)
Pruning in the Wilderness
When God met Moses on the far side of the wilderness, it was largely because Moses had stopped and taken the time to look at the burning bush. From that moment forward, the character-shaping, excruciating process began. God was after a leader sufficient for the task of shepherding an unwieldy rabble out of slavery and into an understanding of their role as the people of God. Standing barefoot beside Moses, I can imagine this must have felt like a wounding and a tearing away of all Moses knew about himself.
Jesus reminded his disciples, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (Matthew 16:25) This transaction, Michelle reminds us, is just plain hard. As all the fallacies we believe about ourselves are pruned away, we may also feel wounded and wilderness bound. Even so, the “stay and wait” (131) of wilderness living is the hopeful path to hearing God’s voice through His Word and realizing that the message is for you!
I share a number on the Enneagram with Michelle DeRusha, so her references to her “three-ness” resonated (and meddled) with me. We are the Achiever/Performers: followers of Christ who need continual reminders that there is no merit badge for busy-ness. Even standing still, we are planning the next task or talking to ourselves about how great it is that we are standing still so skillfully . . . (I know– it’s really sad!)
God has a better plan:
“Stand still and see this great thing the Lord is about to do before your eyes!” (I Samuel 12:16)
Standing still in heart, mind, and body; paying attention to what God is up to in creation, in my own faltering steps of faith, in the lives of my family and friends: this is a good beginning for calming the restlessness and for coming home to my true self.
What strategies help you to stay in touch with the True You?
Many thanks to Baker Books for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.
Cheering you on toward your new, true life,
I’ve had the fun of reviewing two of Michelle’s previous books. Most recently,
Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk was released in 2017 just in time for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. I enjoyed reading and writing about the Luther marriage, for the righteousness which is “of God, by faith” is available in Christ for all who commit their lives (and their marriages) to Him — by grace alone.
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