The Only Way to Be

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It’s November, and the vibrant leaves fall at my feet as I walk to the flower shop where I work, to the cafe, to the grocery store, to the bank, to my mailbox. These southern trees of Tennessee turn a little later than I’m used to, having grown up in Michigan. I was beginning to lose hope in seeing those brilliant reds and oranges when I looked out my kitchen window one day a couple weeks ago: the big oak tree across the street was lit afire with late afternoon sunlight.

The oak leaves are falling now. I watch carefully as I wash out my coffee mug in the morning.

The branches are less and less covered than the day before, a little more naked and exposed. A little more vulnerable.

The process is magnificent to behold, a dramatic act of nature that reminds me of this new song I can’t stop listening to by David Gray, “Back in the World Again.” There’s this one really powerful line that’s been floating around in my head for weeks,

“I’m naked like a tree; it’s the only way to be.”

Growing up in the evangelical church, I had this very strict notion of what it meant to be a devoted follower of Jesus. You were in the same pew every Sunday. You were on the same couch with your small group every week. You plodded through Scripture passages you didn’t understand, mining them for personal meaning. You held fast to high standards of purity and tried to enforce them on everyone around you.

For a season these acts of devotion to my faith bore fruit for me. I’m still blessed by the church pew I sat in, the small group I attended. I was loved and I learned to love in the faith community that raised me.

Yet it was also an experience that left me feeling far-removed from the world, perhaps even sheltered from certain truths. Truths like oppression, privilege, and social justice. As I’ve delved into these concepts and adopted a new understanding of God’s upside-down Kingdom, it’s brought me into a new season of faith in which I find myself shedding my leaves.

It’s a vulnerable feeling, to let my faith transform organically without holding on too hard to my old way of understanding things. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve slid down that slippery slope everyone warned me of. Sometimes I wonder what it means to be devoted in my faith, if it looks so different than I originally thought. Sometimes I wonder how to draw closer to God, if I’m so far from where I started out.

But then I look at that big oak tree, or I hear that song. Gray sings, “If it’s Love that lifts us from the dark, is it God by another name? Who’s to say how it goes, all I know is I’m back in the world again. I’m naked like a tree; it’s the only way to be.”

His uncertainty is infused with hope, and that’s faith if I ever heard it sung. A faith that is vulnerable, a faith that is shedding its leaves. A faith that is naked like a tree, devoted to the season that it’s in. A faith that lives and breathes in a world full of complicated truths, unafraid to be transformed by it. That’s the kind of faith I want, though I don’t always have the answers or certainty I long for.

All I know is I’m back in the world again, and it’s the only way to be.

_________________

Image credit: Dan Maurer

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Bethany Suckrow
I’m a writer and blogger at at bethanysuckrow.com, where I shares both prose and poetry on faith, grace, grief and hope. I am currently working on my first book, a memoir about losing my mother to cancer. My musician-husband, Matt, and I live in transition as we move our life from the Chicago suburbs to Nashville.
Bethany Suckrow
Bethany Suckrow

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