Review: True You

true you

True YouMichelle DeRusha.  Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019.

Summary: Using the analogy of pruning, explores how our true selves, our true callings can emerge when we remove the clutter of business, of false selves, and idolatries that obscure the true shape of our lives.

Michelle DeRusha proposes that the tending of ourselves may be much like the process  of fukinaoshi, or open pruning which allows a tree to flourish by cutting away the dense clutter of branches so that light can reach the center. It is hard pruning, cutting away living as well as dead branches that obscure the true shape of the tree. It is persistent, cutting away suckers that deplete the tree of nourishment. DeRusha proposes that God’s work of revealing our true selves follows a similar process.

DeRusha shares her own narrative to help us understand this process. It began for her with sitting on a bench for five minutes a day (“directed rest”) while walking her dog. She talks about the relentless press of busyness that clutters our lives and robs us of these contemplative moments. Sitting quietly is like studying the true to understand its essential shape and what needs to go. For DeRusha, a question came one day: “Why do you have trouble with intimacy?” An orthopedic injury came to represent physically a deeper question: “Do you want to get well?” It came to a head at a retreat in Italy when some more questions were asked:

“What does it mean for you that rest is found in God? What does it mean when we are away from him?

She broke down as she recognized that in her relentless restlessness, she didn’t know God, and thus finding rest, finding calling.

The remainder of the book describes the journey of “hard pruning” that began as it became clear what needed to be cut away. She talks about the dark night that comes in facing our brokenness, our apartness from God and our deep longing for God. She leads us into the stillness on the “far side of the wilderness” and the practice of waiting, of staying in place. She also discusses that learning who God is, and learning who we are go together–that this process of waiting, of resting begins to reveal the true shape of our own lives, our “birthright gifts.” In the end, this inward journey takes us outward, as we connect the rest we find in God, the gifts we discover in ourselves, and the needs of the world come together.

Each chapter includes a “Going Deeper” set of reflections at the end. This makes the book an ideal adjunct to a series of retreats, or an extended journalling process. This would also make an ideal Lenten devotional. She concludes the book with an appendix that includes practical tips for taking “directed rests.”

DeRusha combines the seemingly “ruthless” practice of open pruning with a gently written exploration that explores why we so clutter our lives, why we are so busy. Through her own story, she helps us ask if we are running from God–from resting in God and intimately knowing God. Her reflective writing helps us long to wait, to listen, to attend, to pay attention to our lives. She helps us to see how the pruning away of busyness and the false images of self opens us up to the true shape of our lives.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Figuring Out How to Prune a Library

The libraries of booklovers are like the forsythia around my home. They grow like crazy and require regular and sometimes drastic prunings or they become a total mess and take over the house! That’s something I’m realizing as I look at the stacks of books in different rooms of the house and the fact that every bookshelf we have is crammed full. I’ve started pruning and in the next years probably need to set out in earnest if I don’t want to leave a huge job to my son.  He has enough books of his own–thanks in no small measure to our rampant bibliophilia!

So how does one figure out what books to “prune”? Here are some of the thoughts that are beginning to form for me and I would love to hear from others who have gone through the same process:

1. If I haven’t touched, or even thought of it in the last five years, it is a likely candidate for pruning.

2. If the information in it is out of date, or the discussion (if a book of non-fiction) is clearly no longer relevant, then it goes on the discard pile. I think I still have a few textbooks that would readily qualify.

3. If I say, “reading that once” was more than enough–if I know that this is not a book I’d read again or reference, why am I keeping it? A recent book I read on the European Union fits this category and is on the pile to go to Half Price Books.

4. If it is a book that I think could be of help to a friend (and they welcome this!), then it is far better that it not collect dust in my house!

5. In some cases, there are books that hold special memories, and these I would want to go to those who might share those memories–best to make those decisions when we can!

A friend of mine is going through this process and suggested starting with the idea of deciding what books to keep. I admit, there is more than a little of the hoarder in me that would be tempted to say, “I don’t want to lose any of my friends–I want them all around me!” But if I had to use that criterion, here are some of the things that would (and likely will) guide me:

1. Is it a book that I have, or am likely to re-read because there are still undiscovered depths to explore? Obviously for me, the Bible (although not all the copies I have in my home) would qualify as would almost anything written by Lewis, Chesterton, Tolkien (the father), Augustine, Shakespeare, J I Packer, Calvin, or more contemporary writers including Steinbeck, Paton, Wendell Berry, Wallace Stegner. That’s not an exhaustive list but suggestive. Oh, and I would add anything by or about Winston Churchill! And there are a few historians I might re-read, like Manchester, Tuchman, and McCullough.

2. I would keep reference books I actually use–commentaries and dictionaries in particular. Even here, a number of these works have been digitized and it may make sense to donate print copies to theological students or others who might benefit. I need to think about that.

3. For this time at least, I would keep our Library of America volumes, which include a number of classic American historians and writers, and probably the set of Balzac novels I inherited from my mother who loved these as a child. And these I would want to find a good home some day.

Pruning a library really reminds me of my limits and mortality. There is so much more I would love to explore than I have life to explore it! The t-shirt my son gave me many years ago is true: “So many books, so little time!” One of the things I like about the idea of eternity in the new creation is the thought that this truly affords adequate time to explore not only the infinite wonders of God but all the things of God’s cosmos and perhaps many of the personages I’ve known only through their writing. Perhaps this is what the writer of Ecclesiastes was getting at in writing, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (NIV)

I’d love to hear how others have thought about library pruning. And if you believe in something beyond this life, do you think there will be books, libraries, or something better?