When the Truth of Your Shadow Side Sets You Free: A Wild in the Hollow Guest Post by Michelle DeRusha
Don’t we all have things swishing around our brains that we hope never make it through the gates of our lips? For Michelle DeRusha, it was when those very hidden words came out of her mouth that she found her freedom. It’s very familiar to me to think my secret will keep me safer, but if you’ve read Wild in the Hollow, then you know my story. I didn’t find my refuge until the truth of my shadow side came out. Well said, Michelle! Please welcome this amazing woman as our guest!
I had to admit I didn’t believe in God before I could begin to believe in God.
I realize that doesn’t even really make sense. But it’s the truth.
I grew up in the church but had “a hard fall from faith.” That’s usually what I tell people, even now, when I need to give a cursory overview of my spiritual journey. The reality, though, is that I didn’t believe in God for most of my adulthood, perhaps even for much of my childhood.
For a long time – decades — I didn’t admit that to anyone, most especially to myself.
I went through the motions of faith: I went to church and confession. I prayed, sort-of. But all the while I was pretending. I’d erected my fake belief as a façade, like one of those false storefronts in a ramshackle Old West town. Behind that façade was the real me, falling apart slowly, brick by brick.
If we hadn’t moved to Nebraska, I think I could have gone on fooling myself for a long time. Surrounded by the familiar – family, friends, job, home, traditions, place – everything intact and comfortable and consistent, I probably could have lived in denial till the end of my days.
But then we moved to a place I couldn’t even find on a map, and the façade crumbled to dust.
Nebraska stripped me bare. Alone in a new home in a new place with a brand-new infant, my husband off at his new job, there was nothing familiar or comfortable left to hide behind.
One afternoon, years after our relocation to Nebraska, I ended up in a pastor’s office. We sat across from one another in folding chairs. I didn’t know him, he didn’t know me, and that probably made it easier, because somehow, I said the words out loud for the very first time: “I don’t think I believe in God. I don’t think I’ve ever believed in God.”
“The offering of ourselves can only be the offering of our lived experience, because this alone is who we are,” says Richard Foster. “When in honesty we accept the evil that is in us as part of the truth about ourselves and offer that truth up to God, we are in a mysterious way nourished. Even the truth about our shadow side sets us free.”
That pastor, I’ll give him credit, didn’t even blink when I made my declaration, my offering. In fact, he said something that stuck with me hard, although in the moment, I didn’t know it would stick. “I believe the Holy Spirit brought you here today,” the pastor said. “I believe the Holy Spirit is working in you, right here, right now.”
I thought he was full of baloney. I nodded politely, thanked him, slipped out of his office and drove to the mall. Still, something in his words, combined with my admission, gave me hope. The teeniest, tiniest mustard seed of hope. I couldn’t explain it or recognize it. But I felt it.
I didn’t expect that admitting unbelief could ever be the first step toward faith. I never imagined it could work that way, that an admission like that could somehow nourish me. It doesn’t even make sense. I’m a rational, linear, black-and-white kind of thinker, so unbelief as an avenue toward belief doesn’t square. It seems backwards, convoluted.
Yet that’s exactly how it worked, is still working. The broken way led me home, is leading me. Offering my true, real self, my broken self, was the beginning. The truth of my shadow side, what crouched behind the façade, is what set me free.
A Massachusetts native, Michelle DeRusha moved to Nebraska in 2001, where she discovered the Great Plains, grasshoppers the size of Cornish hens … and God. She is the author of Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith and 50 Women Every Christian Should Know: Learning from Heroines of the Faith. Michelle writes about living out faith in the everyday at MichelleDeRusha.com, as well as a monthly column for the Lincoln Journal Star. She lives in Lincoln with her husband, Brad, and their two boys.