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Transformation and the True Self
Transformation and the True Self

Pruning Open the True Self

Friday, March 4, 2022

Author Michelle DeRusha uses trees as a helpful metaphor to understand how our True and small (or false) selves are intertwined:

I learned over the weeks and months of sitting [in nature] in quiet solitude that I am a lot like the oak tree that clings so fiercely to its leaves. 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. . . .

Sitting in silence every day helped me see that my “leaves” of choice are busyness and productivity, drive and efficiency, achievement and success. . . . I clung with an iron grip to my false self, to the false identity I’d meticulously crafted over the years. I was busy, productive, and driven. I pushed myself to accomplish, achieve, and succeed. . . .

DeRusha goes on to describe the pruning method by which a certain Japanese maple tree was made beautiful:

Marsha [a tour guide] explained that a particular Japanese gardening technique called “open center pruning” was responsible not only for the sculptural appeal of this maple, but also for the uncluttered space and serenity in the garden as a whole.

When a Japanese gardener “prunes open,” Marsha explained, he or she cuts away not only dead branches and foliage, but also often a number of perfectly healthy branches that detract from the beauty inherent in the tree’s essential structure. Pruning open allows the visitor to see up, out, and beyond the trees to the sky, creating a sense of spaciousness and letting light into the garden. It also enables an individual tree to flourish by removing complicating elements, simplifying structure, and revealing its essence. The process of pruning open turns the tree inside out, so to speak, revealing the beautiful design inherent within it. . . .

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, [God] desires us to live like the Japanese maple tree, 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 [God] created us to be. Most of all, God’s deepest desire is for us to know [God], to root our whole selves in [God] like a tree rooted by a stream, and to know [God’s] deep, abiding love for us. . . .

God invites us into intimate relationship . . . so that we may then live more compassionately and intimately with those around us. We are the windows, as Henri Nouwen [1932–1996] said, through which others may glimpse God. [1] They are windows through which we might glimpse God. 

[1] Henri Nouwen, Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life (New York: Harper and Row, 1981), 87.

Michelle DeRusha, True You: Letting Go of Your False Self to Uncover the Person God Created (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2019), 15, 16, 17–18, 19, 216.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Charlein Garcia, Untitled (detail), 2018, photograph, Philippines, Unsplash, free use. Jenna Keiper, Untitled Leaves (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Charlein Garcia, Untitled (detail), 2018, photograph, Philippines, Unsplash, free use. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: The true self is deeper than our egos and eccentricities. At times mirroring the innocence of a child, it awaits our remembering. May we also open, with childlike curiosity, to our own transformation.

Story from Our Community:

Like so many people with childhood trauma, I was raised without stable parents. Kenosis is helping me with self-emptying my false self, unwiring my childhood conditioning so that I can be my True Self in the image of God and live my life based on a gift economy.
—Elias M.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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