Leaving The Skin Behind
It was dark and everyone else was asleep. I pulled the covers up to my shoulders and prayed for my eyes to close. But, my mind was drawn back to the image of a snake. A snake in the process of shedding it’s skin. The way it dragged it’s belly against the rough ground, or scratched against a sharp surface, to slowly peel back the dead layer and leave it behind.
There are names etched into my skin, I thought. I am not just shedding past hurts, and old stories, I am shedding part of who I am. I am shedding labels and identities and names. This skin that I wear defines me. And it’s peeling away.
My skin is branded with both the good and the bad, the uplifting and the hurtful, the things I want to be and the things I want to run away from. Both are held on this old skin. This skin that’s carried me so far. But, all these names that I carry and internalize they hold me captive. They keep me chained. They prevent growth.
Snakes shed their skin because if they don’t they won’t be able to expand and grow. That is exactly why I need to shed my skin. The labels I’ve held on to, the labels I’ve given myself, the labels I’ve let others give me, they are keeping me from growth. They are holding me back from being and becoming.
Laying there in the dark night I whispered the words, “Lord, I want a new skin.” A pure skin. A focused skin. A skin that holds one name. Beloved. Beloved child of God.
I fell asleep with the prayer still on my lips and woke up repeating it often through the night. When morning came I awoke telling old stories again in my mind. I know that I can’t stuff them down or ignore them, I know I need to own these stories, and face them head on, but I also know there has to be a step after that. We can’t just keep scraping against these hard spaces. Eventually the old skin has to peel off.
As I stumbled out of bed I felt compelled to watch a snake shed it’s skin. I wanted to see it. I wanted to know what it looked like, felt like. I quickly came across a video of a beautiful red snake shedding it’s skin. It was mesmerizing the way the skin folded back and the snake slowly rubbed it’s way out of it, one section at a time, one centimeter of it’s body at a time. Until it got to the end, and with a shake, and a sharp wiggle of it’s tail, the skin was left behind.
This is the next clue in my journey. It’s been whispering to me for weeks, and it shouted loud as I watched the red snake wiggle out of it’s skin. “Relinquish.” Relinquish. Relinquish.
Let go. Surrender. Give it up. Relinquish.
The work of the snake is not just to scratch at the skin and help it to peel off, it’s not just to rub at the irritated places until it begins to separate. The work of the snake is also to leave the skin behind.
My work is not just to name the chains that hold me, it’s not just to retell and claim my story, it’s not just to exfoliate old wounds. My work eventually leads to relinquishment. I need to bring things to light, and poke at things, and scratch at things, and not just stuff them down, but eventually there comes a time when the label that particular hurt has been giving me needs to go. I need to let it go, to surrender it, to relinquish it, to drop it by the side of the road and leave it there.
As I watched the video of that shiny red snake a question kept popping into my mind, “How often do they do this? How often do snakes shed their skin?”
I felt nervous to look it up, but compelled to do it anyway.
Often. Regularly. It all depends on that particular snakes unique rate of growth. At times they might shed every two weeks, other times every few months.
Oh, friends, I wish I could be so unattached to my own identities that I could shed them off that regularly. That I could continually be coming back to a place where I am only God’s beloved, continually coming back to the pure center. Perhaps I can. Perhaps that is exactly the invitation God is extending to me.
Like the snake I will need to do this work over and over again. There will be new names that I take on, new labels. There will be new wounds, new idols, new parasites, new chains. I might even pick up some of the old ones again in new ways. And that’s ok. That’s for another day. Today there just needs to be relinquishment.
As I drove my kids to school this morning I kept thinking these things over and over in my mind, until I honed in on one motivating sentence.
There can be no rest without relinquishment.
And rest is what I’ve been after lately.
Think about it, we don’t sleep when we are tense and holding on. Sleep comes when we release and let go. The same is true in more abstract concepts of rest.
We often think, once this season is over then I can rest. Or once the baby’s a little older, or once our finances are a little more in order, or once that person stops doing x, y, or z. We think rest will come with the weekend, or with a change in jobs, or more sleep, or more free time, or new friends, or a move. We think rest will come when this particular trial we are facing is over and past. But, I think, we deceive ourselves.
Rest only comes with relinquishment. If we can relinquish in the midst, then we will have rest in the midst and after. If we can’t, we won’t.
When we live openhandedly, when we can live from a place of relaxed surrender to the Spirit, when we relinquish who we think we are and who others say we are, when we relinquish our own plans and desires into the trust that is built on knowing the Spirit of Love, we can rest. We can rest in any and every situation. We can be at peace.
That’s really why I enter into this hard work of shedding skin. It’s not just for the growth, although I do believe it makes way for growth, it’s for the peace, the rest. It’s because I want to live out of a place of grace and peace, and that means letting go of old skins, leaving them dead on the desert floor and moving forward into a new identity, a new skin. Beloved child of God.
Again and again, becoming God’s beloved child.
Isn’t this working out my salvation? Relinquishing all into the Sovereign hands. Isn’t this the journey of the mystic, the contemplative, and the saint? Living into that which God has already called us: Beloved child of the King. I don’t know, but I think it is. I want the many little deaths to self that lead to life. I want to shed the dead skin and leave it in the desert, so that I can be nothing more and nothing less than what the Spirit calls me. I want to die these little deaths so that I can move on to new growth and new rest.
Grace and peace, Bethany