Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Writing toward the Questions by Michelle DeRusha

“I don’t do deep thoughts,” I said to him after we’d been dating for just a few weeks. I don’t recollect the exact topic he had raised – it may have been religion or philosophy or quantum physics -- but I clearly recall my need to set the record straight. This man with the shock of unruly hair and the quiet, kind demeanor seemed fond of big, open-ended questions. And thus I felt compelled to state my case from the start: topics that pushed at the boundaries or raised questions I couldn’t begin to answer – from God to existentialism to string theory – were taboo.

As the daughter of a sergeant major, I followed all the rules – at home, in school, at church. I never missed a curfew, never drank or smoked and always cleaned my room. I studied hard, got good grades and joined the Latin Club. I genuflected before I slid into the pew every Saturday evening, memorized the Ten Commandments in CCD and ducked behind the red velour curtain to confess my sins once a month. I was good. I didn’t question authority. I didn’t question the system. I didn’t question God.

For the first 20 years of my life I repeated the motions of belief – church, confirmation classes, confessional. I assumed practicing belief was the same as actual belief – or at least close enough to keep me out of Hell.

The next 15 were the frozen years. I didn’t believe in God, but yet I also didn’t admit that to myself or to anyone else. I simply turned off that part of my consciousness completely. I “didn’t do deep thoughts” I told myself and my future husband – end of story.

The problem was that God and religion (and string theory, for that matter) presented questions I couldn’t answer and possibilities I couldn’t comprehend. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the concept of incarnation or resurrection. I couldn’t fathom eternal life. I couldn’t picture what Heaven might look like. None of these abstractions fit into my structured, black-and-white existence. And because they didn’t fit, I dismissed them altogether.

And then, five years ago, I started to write. I sat at the computer in the basement, placed my fingers on the keyboard and began to record stories of my childhood. The result, of course, was that the questions I’d suppressed for nearly my entire life bubbled to the surface. And no one was more surprised than I to discover that within those questions I felt the first faint possibility of real belief.

“Wanting to know where we are going is often how we fail to go anywhere at all,” writes Julia Cameron in The Sound of Paper. Cameron is referring to the writing process in general, but her observation applies to life and faith as well. It took me more than two decades to realize that I wanted all the answers without ever asking the questions. I wanted to know the outcome before I even dared step on the path.

I suspect writing and faith will always be entwined for me. On the page I found the courage to ask the questions. And in the questions I found the answer I had yearned for all along.

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Michelle DeRusha moved to Nebraska 10 years ago, where she discovered the Great Plains, grasshoppers the size of Cornish hens…and God. She writes about finding and keeping faith in the everyday at her blog Graceful. She’s also written a memoir, Leap Year: A Story of Finding Place…and Grace, and is represented by Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary.

Thank you, Michelle, for writing this guest post. I’m honored by your presence here and more than excited to read your memoir. (Bonus: You make me laugh.)

As a result of reading or writing, have you ever had questions bubble to the surface?


  1. Michelle this is beautiful and makes perfect sense to me...we have to ask, and that can be pretty scary sometimes, but it is how we grow, how our faith grows. I will enjoy exploring Wendy's site, thanks for the invitation! (Hi Wendy)

  2. And what a beautiful journey the Lord has brought you on, this traveling to Truth. It is so glorious that He is big enough to answer all our questions. He loves us too much to let us simply go through the motions of living. Life is fully lived thoroughly engaged in the questions. I love how you see that He has been pursuing your heart all along! :)

  3. What a beautiful post! Thank you for sharing. ;-)

  4. How I can relate to so many pieces of this.
    Beautiful telling.

  5. This was beautiful! And yes, I'm constantly swallowed up by questions that bubble to the surface in the course of reading, but even more when I write.

    Right now, the question that continues to surface in my current WIP is how individuals overcome their non-Christian ubpringing or circumstances and find their ultimate purpose under God's guidance. Why are some people so lucky as to be born into a life of grace and hope, and others not? And if they're not born into it, how do they find their way to grace?

  6. Thank you, Wendy, for graciously having me as a guest here today!

    Heather: REALLY good questions bubbling up in your WIP...but I don't know if they have any least answers we can find on this side of Heaven! Or maybe everyone gets grace...even if they don't find it in their earthly life?

    Have you read Rob Bell's new book? It's controversial...but he asks similar questions...and poses some interesting possibilities for answers.

  7. The ritual, the routine, the discipline, the "goodness"--all these things keep us from going deep. You're absolutely right. And yet, they are good things--things we try to teach our children. I keep tripping across the idea that even good things can become idols, preventing us from considering the deep questions that drive us to God himself. Great post. Thank you, Wendy, for hosting Michelle and thank you, Michelle, for introducing me to Wendy.

  8. I think you do deep real good, my friend. :)

  9. "the motions of belief" -- ack.

    Don't I know that I have done it.

    I don't do deep thinking, but I love to stand here in the shallow end and watch you do it. :)

    Love me some Michelle. I do.


  10. What a great inspirational story.

  11. I love this story, Michelle. It amazes me how God brings us back to Him--often through questioning and doubt. And you're right, we have to ask the questions to get to the answers. All too often, I have felt the fear of asking questions. He always has the answers, though--always!

  12. I discover and over that I learn more from my writing than anybody else does, Wendy!

    Love the story, Michelle -- writing and faith make the circle complete, don't they? And He's in the middle of it all!

  13. Isn't God good? He used something you loved (writing) to draw you to Himself.

    My late husband always said, "People are looking for answers when they don't even know the questions." Your post reminded me of this saying.

  14. Michelle, this makes me so eager to hear the rest of your story. I love the title!

  15. Michelle, I think you are brilliant.


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