When the Truth of Your Shadow Side Sets You Free: A Wild in the Hollow Guest Post by Michelle DeRusha

Shadow Side

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.


About me


I don’t know how to pray
September 05, 2012
A Stone’s Throw: 1996
November 01, 2011
a prayer in doubt
October 19, 2010


Lynn D. Morrissey
Reply October 5, 2015

Amber, I'm thrilled that you have hosted Michelle today because, along with you, she is one of my favorite new authors. What I love about you both is your refreshing authenticity and transparency. Frankly, I don't think that writing any other ways does much good. I resonate with your heart-on-the-outside kind of honesty. Michelle, as well you know, I love anything you write, but this especially resonates with me, because as a young woman, born and bred in the Church, I came to the conclusion in my late teens-early twenties that I didn't believe in God. It was a devastatingly painful admission, because I was so depressed, and God had been my one last-resort hope. I was suicidal. So, in utter desperation, I started to journal and pour out all my unbelief onto the page. I truly believe it was there in my raw honesty that God met me. In retrospect, I believe He even prompted those wrestlings without my knowing it. We know this Biblical statement: The truth shall set you free. As I read your post, I also realized that telling truth will set you free as well. We must tell the truth--whatever it is in our lives. We must come clean (to use another Haines' quote) and from out of the shadows and tell our truth to God (and I believe to others as you are doing now). It is only when we become brazenly honest before God that He can begin to do His transforming work in us. I'll be honest with you. I hardly like all the truth I discover lurking down deep in my soul: There is plenty of evil in me. But as I am finally honest before God about the sin that I harbor, as I bring it to the light, He purges it. Oh how that hurts, but oh how freeing and purifying it is. Thank you for revealing your shadow side--for exposing yourself to the light of His presence, Michelle. I'm so grateful for your honesty.

    Michelle DeRusha
    Reply October 6, 2015

    It does hurt sometimes, doesn't it, Lynn? It's the refining fire, I guess, and you can't go through the fire entirely unscathed. Yet it's so worth it isn't it, to experience that freedom, that lightness. It truly is like being born again...or even being born for the first time, really.

    I always appreciate your candor, Lynn - thanks for sharing your story so honestly and for being such a good friend.

Martha Orlando
Reply October 6, 2015

Michelle, this reminds me of the man in the Bible who said to Jesus, "Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!" Oh, how I've said this over and over again to myself as I was growing in my Christian walk. I think it's more prevalent in us as Christians than many of us would dare admit. I love your honesty here, my friend, and I believe that pastor was exactly correct - it was the Holy Spirit working, and still working, in you! Blessings!

    Reply October 6, 2015

    That is one of my favorite verses, Martha. When I first started reading the bible and came across it, I was like, "Finally! A verse I actually understand!" :)

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