It has been many years since I picked up a book like Laura Sumner Truax’s Undone: When Coming Apart Puts You Back Together. I had come to think of titles like this as trite and “new age”, but feeling a little undone myself by some current health challenges I was anxious to see what she had to say. And the first pages (and all the pages that followed) did not disappoint. Here is the story of a woman a lot like me, struggling to navigate a path down the middle of life, a woman with a lot of questions and very few answers…and no desire to convince anyone that she has any special knowledge or access to special answers to the problems of being human. Just another person standing in the midst of her struggle and her faith, and using the tools she has to search for the best ways to handle what life throws in the her way.
What is most striking about Undone, however, is the beautiful tapestry Truax weaves, using stories from her own life, stories from the contemporary life around us, and the Bible itself, the basic text given us as our discipleship road map. Not only is her personal voice strong and her prose simultaneously inviting, comforting and challenging, but her sense of storytelling draws you deeper and deeper into the possibilities for understanding and growth presented on every page. For someone like myself, heavily steeped in the stories of the Old Testament books and the faith of our Hebrew ancestors, Undone seems almost a modern Midrash, a tale told to elucidate the text of our tradition, a tale told to make it live for us in our own day to day existence and struggle
To illustrate the damage done in our lives by self-deception, she tells the story of David and Bathsheba. To explain the concept that the mask we wear each day and call, “I’m so busy” is really a form of sloth (purposeless activity), she uses the story of the calling of the first disciples in Luke 5:1-11, where people who have been busy, busy without result learn that the remedy for sloth is not busyness,, but love Over and over and over again, she invites us to take a look at our lives and change, to let ourselves be undone and to put ourselves back together just like the people in the stories we tell over and over and over again on Sunday morning.
Truax’s tale of redemption is unabashedly Christian and I have never so appreciated being called a sinner (even though indirectly) ever before. I am always on the side of rehabilitating the basic precepts of our faith that progressives run away from — I gratefully call myself a Baptist despite the negative associations with that name and if you ask I’ll tell you in great detail why all those negative stereotypes don’t go to the heart of the word. And I am the same about words like sin, grace, saved, evangelical — as followers of Christ it is our job to reclaim those important words because without them we cannot adequately tell the story of our God. And Truax does just that — reclaiming what it means to fall and rise again, to be undone and to put it all back together — gently, lovingly, and with a solid foundation in the stories many of us hold dear.
I’ll admit it…I’ve read most of the classics that purport to help you find the good in the challenges of your life — like Necessary Losses (Judith Viorst) and When Things Fall Apart (Pema Chadron). Those books appealed to my intellect and made me see the possibility, but Truax’s book grabbed me by the heart and asked me to open my soul to the reality, the reality that living a life in which you strive to continually increase your participation in God’s embrace can really help you re-do anything that comes undone:
All of the parts of your past–go ahead and name them: adulterer, liar, cheater, user, abuser, hypocrite, snob. And all the adjectives that may go with the nouns: sneaky, devious, duplicitous, selfish and cowardly–go ahead and name them too. But at the same time name all the other things God says about you: Name the fact tat you are marked with the blessing of God, called the son, the daughter, of the Lord Most High. Remember the fact that you are endowed with the capacity to create, to forgive, to redeem and to love freely — all divine. Remember the truth that you are more powerful than you can imagine and more fragile than you think and that everyone else around you is as well. Remember that God always beckons us into the larger world of life. Calling us into the people we are created to be (p. 214).
I’m packing my case for the hospital and this book is coming with me on this next part of my journey. Truax delivers an amazing remembrance of what it means to follow a God who became flesh, in all its failings and sorrows, a God whose Son taught us that what has been undone can be yet made whole, if we will be open our eyes and our hearts and welcome embrace the true life of Shalom (wholeness) that is offered.