Fallow Life

Finding Life In The Fallow

May 24, 2017

I came close to murder. Blinded as I was by brown brittle branches, I didn’t see any signs of life. Thus, I reached for a shovel and gloves, ready to rip its lifeless form from the fallow ground.

But when I pushed the mulch away to get a better grip, I noticed tiny green shoots pushing up from the earth.

“It’s alive!”

I called to my husband. He’d planted the shrub a year or two before when he’d built a sprawling patio and fire pit for sweet summer nights. But the bushes never seemed to take hold. Life was too much work. Thus, after two seasons of struggle, it gave up the fight.

So I thought. A closer inspection revealed a tenacity I’d missed.

“Let’s water it like crazy and see if it’ll take hold,” my husband said.

Nodding, I got to work. Cleaned away debris, gave it food, showered it with a soft downpour of water. Moments before I was ready to chuck it in the trash. Now it was an object of affection. For the rest of the day, I kept my eye on it, as if in the minutes since its resurrection I’d be rewarded with shoots of new growth.

Of course, I know better than that.

Life takes both tenderness and time, back-breaking effort and ruthless rest.

I’ve always made it a point to be straight-up honest with you, friends. Long before book contracts and travel became part of my daily reality, you’ve been my people. The faithful blog readers who endured my musings and, then, shared your own intimate stories. You have provided comfort and companionship more often than you know.

This is why I’m sitting cross-legged and bare-hearted before you today. Because I need to tell you something, something that matters for both of us.

I need rest.

Not a nap or a weekend away. I need a full season of quiet, a season void of deadlines and demands and endless expectations.

Thus, like last summer, I’m taking a two-month sabbatical. No social media, no blogging, no new projects or engagements or task lists. Instead, I’m slowing my schedule, quieting my soul and learning, once again, to be still. And listen.

I’m withdrawing not because I don’t want to write, but because I do. I cannot coax life from a shallow piece of neglected earth. Instead, my heart and mind and spirit need water and food and sunshine and rest.

In three years time I’ve written two books, conquered two bouts of cancer, buried my dad, and launched a third boy into adulthood, not to mention mothering three little ones with additional challenges. These are simply the big things, not to mention the daily rigors of ordinary life.

And I’ll tell you something we both need to hear:

If you and I don’t nurse the tender green shoots that remain today, there will be nothing of life left tomorrow.

Somewhere in the past few decades, we’ve lost sight of this. We’ve bought into the American “More is More” mentality. One that drives us toward metrics that move up. We want bigger email lists, better sales numbers, crushing Amazon ranks, and social media statistics that make others swoon. If percentages start to slip, we double, triple, quadruple our efforts until the graph of our existence resumes its upward climb.

In the process, the branches of the soul have turned brown and brittle. By all appearances, there is nothing of life left, and many are losing their souls. 

I’m not willing to do that. The cost is far too high.

How about you? Is your soul in need of care?

I can’t answer that for you. Nor can I tell you when or how you need to nurture it. You must—must—discern that for yourself. But let’s not neglect what nature already knows:

Winter is just as productive as spring, the fallow ground just as rich as the green.

Life requires an ongoing cycle of seasons. A tree can’t exist in constant spring. It also requires summer, fall and winter. 

In spite of our infatuation with busyness, fallow ground is holy ground. When we grow quiet, dig into the deeper earth of life’s meaning and purpose, we allow the barren, broken and untended parts of ourselves a chance to renew. It is in the fallow moments—not the frantic ones—that we discover green shoots in places we thought beyond resurrection.

And when we offer fallow ground to the Living God, life happens.

Extraordinary life. Uncommon life. Holy life.

That’s what I want, what I’m praying for. For me. And for you.

[reminder]Much like the brown branches of our struggling shrub, we can often see clues of our soul’s struggle to thrive. What are some of the signs that tell you its time to withdraw, rest or invest in nurturing your soul? [/reminder]


  1. Sarah

    I am taking a full month at the lake sabbatical. I’m thrilled to just be there and officially say “no working allowed” – and I know God will honor the pause, and restore as only he can! Blessings to you on your time away friend. Well deserved.

  2. Lisa Anne Tindal

    I notice it’s difficult for me to sense God’s nearness when I’ve buffered him with my busy and forceful pushing to find him. I crowded him out muffled him by looking for the connection only for the purpose of sharing in my words to impress another. I hope your rest-filled days are glorious!

    • Michele Cushatt

      Just today I read these words by Henri Nouwen, and you’re comment reminded me of them:

      “For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life … and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself. I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair.

      Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. The question is not ‘How am I to find God?’ But ‘How am I to let myself be found by Him?’”

      • Tabitha Johnson

        I love this. ?

  3. Damon J. Gray

    Good for you Michele. Enjoy your “Summer Sabbath.”

    For me, I know I need to back off when I feel the anxiety run down the insides of my arms and up my neck.

    I’ll see you on the other side. 😉 Now, go let your batteries get a good recharge.

  4. Dorothy

    Have a blessed and thus, fruitful, summer, Michelle!!
    Listen to the wisdom of the silence……

  5. Esther

    My baby boy is 10 months old and I haven’t had proper sleep at night for the past 10 months since he sleeps poorly at night. I’m so exhausted, physically and emotionally drained, not to mention my postpartum depression which I seem to have never recovered from. I just knew I’m pregnant again…which means I cannot have proper rest for at least another year…I don’t know how I can move on…where I can find strength to live on. I desperately need a break but it is not possible..

    • Sharon Dodd

      Oh, Esther, I feel for you and I wish I could help you. Reach out and get help from someone. I know what it is like to be exhausted. With a new baby, and postpartum depression, you must be overwhelmed. Please reach out for help.

  6. Andrea

    I think I just feel it in my bones – the exhaustion, the weariness. I also see it in my kids – the longing for more of me, the frustration when I neglect to plan ahead for them. Take as as long as you need, Michele. We’ll be here when you’re ready to come back.

  7. Pat

    Bless you, sweet friend. God has given me new things to do this year, but I’ve not been able to let go of all the old. Now, five months in, every little thing annoys me. This is how I know it’s time to take a step back and start pruning. Even a non-gardener such as me (I kill cacti) knows that bushes need to be pruned to stimulate new growth. Thank you for reminding me that rest is not a bad word. See you in August.

  8. Sharon Dodd

    Michele, I hope that you will be able to get some rest this summer and just recharge. I loved your book, Undone.

  9. Susan Nelson

    So glad you are resting! My goodness!

  10. Kimberli Wicks Freilinger

    I know I’ve hit a limit when (ok, this may sound weird) cuss words are my inner vocabulary. I don’t use that language in my thoughts or mouth so when my head gets cluttered it’s a clear sign I’m wiped out.

    I’m learning to look for and honor signs of stress sooner. I appreciate your transparency. I love to work but I can push too hard and it can take me out. Rest well. Praying for a sweet sweet summer for you.

  11. Pauline

    Such good timing for me… I resist this restful state and yet desperately need it. I wrongly equate busy productiveness with holiness – and that doesn’t even make logical,let alone spiritual sense! I committed myself to a summer of no formal ministry, no grad school courses — and am grateful for the affirmation that this is a good choice – to spend my time in mental and spiritual rest. Blesssings in the fallow ground – thank you for this!!

  12. Terri

    Thank you for your faithfulness. Praying for a sweet rest my sister.

  13. Stephanie Kurtz

    Thank you.
    You put words, beautiful words to what God has been calling me to. He has been calling me to a season of rest for years. I have been fighting it. I’m still fighting it.
    His words to me were “get out of my way”. I thought I could help. Help Him help me and others. Again He said “get out of my way”
    I’m learning to do that. It looks nothing like what I expected. I’m shedding my expectations, getting out of His way and following, less of me in front, not even side by side. Following.
    Where a day or two of rest is wonderful after that the work begins. It’s hard, it feels selfish and oh my mind! A whole season of this! Lord help me.
    I’m 40 days in and the temptation to return to daily habits is still there. I just read Matthew 4:1-11. How timely is God. Your words have been part of my journey. Thank You!
    Thank you for obedience to Him. It gives me strength to do the same.
    Enjoy this season!

  14. Jerolyn

    So much great truth in this blog, Michele! I’ve been wrestling with the same thing. It seems that the more I think I need to fill my life with, the opposite is actually true. The enemy tries to keep us distracted from what we truly need.
    Praying you have a wonderful, peaceful summer. We’re in the middle of planning a wedding so it will be interesting to see how God provides “rest”.

  15. Linda Lochridge Hoenigsberg

    Recently, we had to let a very difficult dog go in order to save her life. She was taking up all my time, all my emotional and physical energy, and still, she began biting my husband. Now she’s with new owners and lots and lots of special training, and we are thrilled for her. Although I still shred tears at the loss. But I knew then, and I know now, this was the Lord’s will for me. He wants me to take a year off…of doing almost anything…and rest. My body is so depleted, I came back from a fun vacation with a mouth full of canker sores and slept for days and days. Not good. So I stop. And I rest. And I spend time listening. I’m keeping a journal of living very intentionally. I’m intentionally NOT doing much beyond building up my body and my soul. I’m being intentional about what I eat, how I move, what I say “yes,” to and what I say “no” to. I’m taking a year to memorize Scripture again. It’s hard. My personality tells me to go, go, go, and do, do, do! I get bored by 1:00 PM and wander around the house. But I am taking up drawing again, and painting, and quilting, and trying to knit. I’m learning new recipes. I’m nourishing my body, my spirit, and my soul. I’m with you on this one, Michele! See you at the end!

  16. Wendy

    Finding myself in a season of eldercare the past three years, I have chafed at the confinement and narrowness of life it has brought. It’s been frustrating to have ‘lost control’ of my life, to have my passion to write severely curtailed. Yet I’ve come to realize that this is a time of rest–designed by God–to narrow my focus and strengthen my vision. Stress had caused a cascade of health issues; now I’m in a process of reprogramming my whole approach to living. Yes, rest is critical, body, soul, and spirit. May your summer be deeply renewing!

  17. Hendrika Heeg

    thanks Michele..I am trying to do the same…my husband passed away 3 years ago…think I have major burn out!! need time with the Lord.

  18. Jennifer

    I am in tears reading your post. I am at a transition point in my life. Grad school complete (almost, last class 6/16-7/20). Thoughts of moving / new job / new home / new everything. I think that’s where I’m being led and what I need. BUT, oh, the fear of leaving comfort. Thus, the nerve you hit and my tears.

  19. mary

    I Love This — and I needed to read it and let it soak into my dry bones. I’ve had a season filled with rushing and doing and deadlines and so.much.stuff. Some great, some hard — but just so much.
    And I wonder why I feel dried out.
    Take your time. Enjoy your rest.
    Breathe in.
    Trust Jesus in the process.
    I’m taking time out of my day to just be… not do. just be. Thank you for the reminder

  20. Dawn

    My NEON SIGN over my soul is usually the broken casualty of my demeanor; I’m quickly impatient, don’t LIKE my people, limp through my days. Yep.
    I get what you’re sayin’ and with Gratitude for ALL your books, blog, FB live, podcasts etc etc has given to me (my spul), I applaud you taking rest. And, assurance that I’ll be here when you get back cuz, well… Your Awesome !

  21. Katy

    God bless Michelle. You deserve it. I’m new to your site. I read your first book Undone on an airplane in April and am finishing up your devotional I Am this week. I now look at your site every week and have enjoyed spending time with you. You are an inspiration and I will be forever grateful I found you. You make me laugh, you make me cry, you give me hope and you have strengthened my faith. Thank you. I look forward to your return and you will be in my daily prayers. God bless.

  22. Brenda

    I am going to comment even though you probably won’t see this until summer and your rest is over, but that’s okay…I love your books and your blog and even though we’ve never met, I’m sure I’d love you in person! I am reading a great book by Shelly Miller called “Rhythms of Rest”. It is all about taking time each week for rest and Sabbath. I am in the process of making this real in my life. I am in my 60’s and have been super busy all my life…doing good things, and yet, I’m feeling tired and burned out. I want to enjoy my husband, my adult children and grandchildren and I can’t do that if I’m always tired. This book and then your post today, has reaffirmed what I’ve been thinking and reading about….it’s time I rested. And you….enjoy your time off this summer and enjoy your family…. Here’s to taking time each week to enjoy Sabbath, God and my family…

  23. Dawn

    Michele –

    I’m so gonna miss you during this season of rest and recovery, but at the same time I cheer you on! In the short amount of time I’ve “known” you, I’ve been so encouraged and blessed by your honesty as I’ve read many things you have written. THANK YOU for blessing us…I grow best when I’m surrounded by other broken women, those who truly know how hard the journey can be and the challenge of truly seeing ourselves as our Lord sees us.

    We’ll be praying for you!

    Hugs and love,

  24. Mary Gilzean

    Oh, Michele, your books and blog have been such a blessing to me. But I SO get the need for rest. I, too, have unplugged and taken breaks from social media, etc. It’s so freeing! I think your next book project (long after the rest) should be titled, “Finding Life in the Fallow.” While there are a few good books on the topic of sabbath, I for one would LOVE to hear more on the topic from you. Your life story is so unique, and God has gifted you to tell it well. Thank you! Enjoy your rest.

  25. Jeannie

    Happy Summer Michele! Enjoy your children and soaking up blissful rest.

  26. Beth A. Boehr

    Michele, I absolutely love the gift of words you use to express your heart. I love your tender, sensitive soul that you are willing to expose to us so we can glean some of your valuable, yet painfully learned, insights. Thank you for not allowing the world’ demands to determine your destiny!! Our God reigns and I know He will pour into you mightily as you rest in His arms!!! May the great physician give you exactly what you need in this two month “time out”!!
    I’m so glad I got to know you a little better at Leverage 2017 this spring!!

  27. Jeanette Hanscome

    I am so proud of you for doing this, Michele! I had to do something similar (though not an official sabbatical) after I finished my last book. I had nothing left and just needed to rest my brain and let my heart recover from what that manuscript required.

    Have a restful two months, dear friend!


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