Summit

I was on the top of a mountain. I went to the Northwest School of Theology conference. It was the last full day. I hadn’t said much until this point. But my passion was stirred. My spirit was heavy. So much energy in the room. I spoke. Some congratulations followed.

Then another moment to speak a little while later. I knew the time was coming. I had prepared something. I almost didn’t share it because it seemed more serious than what others had shared and I didn’t want to be the person to shut down the party. But at the last minute I decided to share what I wrote and leave it in God’s hands. The reaction was overwhelming. I had to turn away.

I’ve experienced this before two or three times. It’s difficult to describe but it’s like I’m not even in the room when it happens. It’s like my mind can’t really take it all in and understand it. I’m there but I’m not seeing everything and I can’t remember much afterward. Only bits and pieces.

I remember a lot of people talking to me in a congratulatory way. I remember someone I know giving me a hug. I remember someone saying I am a theologian. I remember one of the speakers, Brad Jersak, saying he wanted to put what I wrote on a blog: http://www.clarion-journal.com/clarion_journal_of_spirit/2018/09/never-give-up-by-sarah-nyhan.html

So I was really pleased. It seemed like all the struggles of the past year were paying off in a sense. I felt like God helped me to communicate the comfort with which He has comforted me. And hope. Especially hope.

My expectations were that maybe I’d finally reached the top and it would be all downhill driving from here. Not a fall but more like smooth sailing. I was pretty disappointed when faced with problems soon after. The very next day in fact. More than blowing a tire on the interstate on the way home at 3am after my flight was delayed over two hours, the real disappointment was in sharing my excitement with others outside the group and receiving little to no response.

It was good in the sense that it humbled me. I’m afraid of becoming prideful and ruining everything. Having my mountain top experience during the conference and then nobody outside of the conference really giving a flip about what I said afterward was great for keeping my feet planted firmly on the ground.

At the same time I felt frustrated and disappointed. I feel most times like I have the best news on the planet and nobody wants to hear it. I feel like I have invitations to the best party in town and nobody wants to go. Jesus talked about this also. So I’m in the best company.

It was also interesting to think about why the reactions are so different. God is not weak. Think of all the stories. If He wanted to, He could make this all known in such a way that people would hear it and see it. Why doesn’t He do that?

All I can think of is that the not knowing leads people to seek Him in the process of trying to figure out life and themselves. So again I am faced with the new perspective that knowing the right answers isn’t the main point. The main point is relationship.

Maybe some of these people aren’t at the place where they are ready to hear what I have to say? Not that I as a person am better. But in some ways I think WHERE I am is better. In other words, it is what it is and that’s ok either way.

It’s just such a mental trip to see something so clearly and put it in front of someone else and they have no idea what you are talking about. They don’t see what the big deal is.

It reminds me of “the dress” that went viral awhile ago. Some people swore it was black and blue. Others swore it was white and gold. How can we both be correct and be so different? Or the yanny/laurel phenomenon?

I read once that the color blue doesn’t even exist in nature. It is only our eyes that see it based on the filters we have for the light that we see. Or that’s my understanding at least.

In like manner, I read somewhere that people with blue eyes like my own see shades of colors differently than others. Maybe that’s why sunsets and shades of blue resonate so deeply with me when others could care less.

All to say it seems like the same applies spiritually. I have to come to the place where I don’t need anyone else to validate what I am saying. Where it’s ok if nobody gets it. Where I can be happy and let others be where they are in this adventure.

Yet share anyway. Still open my heart. Still be available. Not get bitter or discouraged. This is all so much bigger than me. My identity and value cannot be wrapped up in what I share or who cares about it.

Let others be. Trust God with the details.

Not everything I wanted to say on this. Or the way I wanted to say it. But life calls…

A picture is worth a thousand words. I’ll end with a meme and a quote a friend shared with me. She’s the only one outside of the conference who seemed to understand and share my joy.

Huddle

My ex tried to warn me. When I told her I found a church back in 2011, she said it was just a club. I thought to myself, “What’s wrong with being part of a club of people that are headed in the same direction as I am?” Well, it’s fine when you are accepted, but it turns really ugly when they reject you.

I say ‘they’ knowing full well at times that I probably treated others the same way that I am being treated now. Maybe Justin Timberlake’s lyrics are wisdom: what goes around comes back around. Or more to what my readers may know: judgement, so to speak, begins in the house of the Lord. We, those who have at times incorrectly esteemed ourselves to be quite elite, forget that to the measure we judge others is the standard by which we also setup our own medicine.

And so I sit here after being rejected by those still in the club. They tell me that what I now believe is from the devil. They tell me that I am with the anti-Christ, even though the whole crux of my hope is the incarnation of Jesus and I can’t shut up about what that means to me.

They tell me that I am a heretic and they are going to warn others about me. Which in a funny ironic way is “free press” that might in the long run reach more people and have more of an impact than would be possible without them. Takes a whole new meaning to the concepts of “no bad press” and God working all things for good. They are spreading the good news without even intending to or realizing it. Their prayers being answered contrary to their expectations and without their awareness. Evidence that we are all participating with Holy Spirit, even and maybe more so in our weakness. All glory to God.

They tell me that I don’t care about the truth anymore and so they distance themselves from me. Which is ironic as their mission is apparently to bring people to truth. Yet in their own words and actions, they leave those they have identified as lost. I am thankful Jesus doesn’t do the abandonment I experience from some of those that sing His name every Sunday.

Again, I say this knowing I’ve done the same in the past. All well-meaning actions motivated by verses in the Bible that I thought justified and even commanded my actions. So I get it. In a way I am now quite blessed to have the perspective of both sides. Hopefully my words will bring healing to all. To those that are probably ignorant to how they are hurting others. And to those that are being hurt.

But as this journey continues, I am encountering a phenomenon that I did not anticipate: I am learning how to be a real person and live a real life. Grieving the multiple decades that I have formerly lived pretty much in a cult mentality. More generously referred to by those in the club as a “holy huddle”.

It is literally like I am learning to be a human again. Thinking all along that I was light years ahead and now conversely feeling so far behind. Like an alien that has landed on a new planet. Worse than being a child because I have to unlearn all the old junk in addition to figuring out the new ways. A huge serving of humble pie. More prayers being answered in unexpected ways.

The beauty being those teaching me by example are completely unaware of how much they are challenging me in the best ways. People those in the club deem unworthy. Children of God even if they have sex with the wrong people, imbibe the wrong substances, and don’t look the part. Waiving the wrong flags but expressing more love. In actions, where it counts most.

This stretches every part of the former me still hiding out deep within my psyche. All my boxes are being burst open. For the better I’m sure. But it’s taking time for me to get my bearings. To navigate this new course. Or rather to be led. To be held, quite literally. Not on the performance treadmill anymore. Not trying to balance the world on my shoulders while spinning all the so-called “spiritual” plates.

Finding my safety not in deciding who is in and who is out. But rather experiencing a firm foundation in the absolute security of my identity as a beloved child of God in Christ. Perfect love casting out fear after fear that silos me when I attempt to self-protect. Some of which include the fears of failure, not having the correct answers, not having all the needed information, not having enough time, and never experiencing relief or justice during my time on this planet.

Increasingly ensured that God is bigger than me. Bigger than us. Bigger than our failures and our pain. Bigger than our minds can know. Better than our hearts can imagine.

His love the only strength that keeps me from shutting down in the face of such relentless suffering and sadness that is endlessly experienced and broadcasted. His love in those moments where He shows me He sees me. His love surprises me, catches me completely off guard when expressed even sometimes most grandly through the seemingly selfless gestures and generosity of relative strangers outside of the religious clubs.

And as tempting as it is to swing the pendulum in the extreme opposite direction, happiness is found in releasing everyone from my expectations. Relishing and celebrating those moments of connection where our actions align beautifully with who God created us to be. Yet relying only on Him. Understanding all are human; still broken at their best. Giving each other permission to be in process. While not excusing, enabling, condoning, or allowing behaviors that should not be. And in that regard, realizing the dance of defining every minutia is way above our pay grade. We do our best and trust God with the rest.

A person I am especially fond of advised me to mine for diamonds. Or in the words of another human I appreciate, eat the meat and spit out the bones. That is what is helping me a lot as I learn what this new life of relationship looks like. Celebrating the good keeps my heart and hands open. Enjoying people when they stay and genuinely giving them grace when they go. Knowing whatever happens here in this life is only the beginning of the story.

Community

I can make a religion out of spending all my time inspecting the invitation to participate in relationship with God. Religion or witchcraft also looks like trying to reduce relationship with God down to a religious performance. This was never about Him using me and He will never settle for me simply playing a part even in my ignorant attempts to manipulate Him.

There is no formula. Relationship is total freedom and total respect, but never excusing, enabling, or condoning. It doesn’t depend on me, yet everything I do matters. I can insist on going down a path that leads me to the end of myself if I don’t trust and see yet that I am completely safe, secure, and deeply, dearly loved. God wants me close, but will endure the pain of my wrath when saying no to me is better for my ultimate health and healing. This was never about punishment. He has always been passionately furious for me and His redeeming wrath will not settle for anything less than what is absolutely best for me.

People are watching us even if they aren’t ready to listen. It’s ok to be silent and not force connection. It is intelligent, wise, and safe to wait until people have laid their weapons down. We do not have a legalistic obligation to be in relationship withanyone, but we can experience more freedom as we participate with God in pursuing the process of forgiveness and forsaking taking punishment into our own hands. We are not responsible for the growth and change that others will find in their own conversation and relationship with God.

Views

Looking at the mountain is not the same thing as being on the mountain. The views are completely different. So is our experience when we make a religion out of spending all our time inspecting the invitation to relationship with God. We substitute looking the part for real healing. And yet God is with you now wherever you are. Ask Him. Ask Jesus to reveal God to you.

I’m Here

I was led through an exercise where I was asked to think of a place where I would like to meet Jesus. Any place. If I could decide to meet Him anywhere. Then to picture me and Jesus in that place.

What does the place look like? Smell like? Feel like? Etc?

What does Jesus look like? Is He touching me? If so, what does that touch look like? Feel like?

Does Jesus say anything to me? What does He say? And finally, what are His eyes saying?

I don’t want to share the rest of the details, but for me, Jesus said He enjoys me and it’s ok to be silent.

It’s ok to be me and not have anything to say. I can stop all my trying to force connections. With Him and others. Give space. Trust Him. Stop trying to carry the whole world on my shoulders sometimes.

Redeeming Wrath

Trying to manipulate God is religion. Or as I prefer to call it, witchcraft. It is no different than the idea of witches sitting around a boiling pot with a book of “spells”. The key is that you think there is a formula where if you do xyz then God’s switch/button is pushed to automatically do abc. And if He doesn’t do what you thought was His side of the deal, then you must have gotten the formula wrong. That is religion and witchcraft. That is not relationship. Even if your book of “spells” is the Bible. Even if your formula consists of doing things that are so-called “good” when done on their own without any agenda. This is subconscious stuff we’re talking about. As you mature, you grow away from blatant prayers like, “God, if you do abc then I’ll do xyz.” But even if you know not to explicitly say it, your heart might be at the wheel still making decisions to that effect.

Relationship is entirely different. Relationship is not about control and manipulation. Which is why it is so difficult to accept. Total respect for the other person. Total freedom. To walk away or stay. I choose to love you even at your worst. Because of who I AM. Letting the other person go completely. Yet not enabling. Not consenting, not condoning. My releasing you is not me giving you permission to treat me however you want. To do to me whatever you want. I still have the ability and responsibility to exercise my power to choose how much I expose myself to your behavior. This is relationship.

Where you are invited to participate. Where your choices and decisions matter. But not in terms of performance. Where you as an individual matter. But not in terms of conforming as if we were created with our highest good being religious robots or so-called “spiritual” yes-men. To reduce it down to that is an insult to the beauty of who we are and who God is. Not an insult in terms of an affront to ego. But insult as in a gross miscalculation, a severe understatement.

Real love does you no favors by allowing you to continue on in stinking thinking. Even when it means I get something out of the deal, out of your wrong thinking. Real love doesn’t use you like that. Real love, even though it wants you close, will endure the pain of pushing you away when it is better for your ultimate and highest health and healing. It looks like punishment, but nothing could be farther from the truth. I AM passionately furious FOR YOU. Not against you. I will not stop and settle for using you as if ego was everything or anything. You mean too much. I want more for you than you want for yourself. That is real love.

I long for your embrace. I wait day in and day out for your return on the horizon. Even a word. A glimpse of hope. I would search under every rock and behind every tree if I knew it was better for you. But you’ve chosen a different path. One you have to get to the end of on your own. Not because I want it that way. But because you insist. You don’t see yet. You don’t trust because you don’t know that you are safe and that you are loved. Dearly. Deeply.

Good

I am realizing that so many years in religion led me to believe that people are “good” if they have the so-called right answers. Or they are “good” based on their position. Or other religious performance statistics. Many times this made for those in the religious group to be acting just like the uber religious people who shunned the hurting man in the story of the good Samaritan.

I have experienced both sides of that situation. To my great regret, I am realizing I thought I was better than other people. I thought of other people in a class beneath me. Usually because I thought I knew or did better than them. In religious terms. Now I am grieved to realize my errors. I am seeking to not be like that anymore.

It’s frustrating to realize how much of an unconscious knee-jerk reaction I have towards others. Even with the best intentions, I fail every day at this. I realize, just like our Bibles say, that nothing matters without love. But it’s one thing to know that intellectually. It’s a whole different level to have it come out of you organically, from a heart that is in greater and greater stages of healing. I’m glad that I am more aware of my wrong views of people. But this is no overnight transformation. Decades of religious junk has to be cleaned out of me.

And so I have to also give grace to others. It’s almost easier to give grace to those who are not religious. We expect them to be a little more rough around the edges. And yet it is often those religion judges most harshly that have surprised me over the years with their generosity and love. Humbled me. I felt ashamed. All my learning is for what?!?! If those outside of religion are more loving than us?

I remember one time I posted on Facebook that I was sleeping on my floor in my new apartment after I was moved quickly due to a major water leak in my old apartment. My furniture hadn’t been moved yet. Out of all the most religious people in my list of friends on Facebook, it was two people who never go to religious services and who the religious leaders would judge as “sinners”, it was only those two that reached out to me and asked me to stay with them so I wouldn’t be in pain sleeping on the floor. There were so many in “ministry” in my friend group that never offered or even checked on me. That day was a wakeup call for me. I want to give them grace, because I know I have done the same to others. But it just really had an effect on my priorities.

Realizing that we label people as good and bad even though the Bible says all have sinned, there is not one righteous, and yet all are loved. What would it look like to chop down my tree of the knowledge of good and evil? What would it look like to stop categorizing people as being “in” or “out”? “Good” or “bad”. “Saved” or “sinner”? Yes, even saved or sinner.

What if we are all eternally secure in Christ? How would that change our lives, our world? What if we considered everyone a brother or sister in Christ? That is religious talk, but I am speaking mostly to religious people, so I’ll keep the language. What if we couldn’t justify our mistreatment and maltreatment of others based on their behavior? Then we would have to take responsibility for our choices and actions. A novel idea to those that like to blame everything on “destiny”, aka often I believe incorrectly referred to as “God’s will”.

What if everyone you met was in Christ and had something to tell you about God? I don’t know it all. What if the person you are judging understands something about God that you don’t know yet?

Not only is it a novel idea for many religious people to take responsibility for their choices, but it is also painful. Waking up to realizing it is you who hurt people, you who mismanaged resources and time, you who could have done more to get what your heart desires and longs for. Painful. Eating a lot of humble pie. If you’ll take the medicine that is good for you, that is for your healing.

Even this is not condemnation. All for edification. All for growth and healing. If you hear this speaking to you, that means you are ready for another level of internal cleaning. Not to obtain some standard of performance. But for your ultimate highest good. For your benefit.

And mine. I’m living what I’m preaching. Believe me.

You can’t muscle this one through on your own. This isn’t about effort. It is about real healing. Ask God for help. Be ready for the ride that ensues. Always an adventure. 🙂 Always grace.