Already Included #33 – Surprise!

By Sarah Nyhan

Had some interesting experiences lately. I love when Holy Spirit teaches lessons just through regular life. Much easier not to doubt or let others take them from you. When you have lived it yourself for real versus determining the validity of what someone else is telling you.

So the first example is that I have been wrestling for some time with the concepts of determining how much of life depends on me basically. Specifically I have been wrestling with whether or not I am “hearing God” at all or correctly. I am farther along but not as settled as I’d like to be on this issue. What follows are some thoughts I’ve had lately.

First, I was formerly involved in a church where people talked about hearing from God ALL the time. There were some that I believed heard their own agendas more than Holy Spirit. But for the most part, I personally whole-heartedly believed I was also hearing from God at the time. Not audibly. But “in my spirit”. Whatever that means? How can you distinguish that from your own thoughts? I’m not doubting it. I’m just asking, how can you really tell for sure?

Even as wary as I am about assigning thoughts to God these days, let me share a few things that happened recently. One was that I was playing a game of Freecell. It is how I deal with anxiety and stress sometimes. I am always trying to beat my time. Despite 1,514 attempts, my best time was 41 seconds. Hundreds of games went by and I wasn’t able to get any less than 41 seconds.

So I am playing as I usually do and I was talking with God in my spirit about this whole hearing from Him thing along with the freewill issue. I’m not even really paying attention at all to what I am doing in the game. I’m more in my thoughts than the task at hand and I look down and see that I won the game in 23 seconds!!!!! Almost half of my personal best time without even trying or being engaged!!!

I felt like God was encouraging me through that experience to just do the regular things in life and let Him surprise me. Don’t be so concerned about figuring Him or the future out. Let Him surprise me.

My insistence on knowing what He is saying to me is about control. It is the absence of child-like trust. In some ways, all I can get is what my little mind can dream of if I insist on my way. But if I stop trying to control everything, and instead surrender to trusting God’s super-big heart for me, then the universe and beyond is possible. There is no limit.

But some of us are slow learners. The problem is I’ve been doing it so long, and been around people who talk that way for so long, that most of the time I’m not even aware when I am falling back on my usual habits. I can know “the grace of just this day, this moment” in my mind, but that might as well be a world away from my heart.

So the opportunities present themselves repeatedly. As all that is not love’s kind gets burned away. Not tests. God isn’t tricky. He is always FOR me.

Fear took the wheel as usual. I was soooo sure that I knew what this week was going to look like. A big meeting. I was so sure I was reading all the “signs” correctly. Yet again. I mean they were so “obvious”. Everything was adding up. Or so I thought.

The time came and it was exactly opposite of what I was so sure was going to happen. Afterward – a little chat in my spirit with God; what gives? Again, the lesson: to let it go; embrace mystery. Trust only in God’s heart versus trying to figure out the future.

This is so difficult for me to navigate. And yet over and over I see Him pick me up when I fall down and make a mess. Maybe THE most freeing thing about this already included knowledge is that I now think that the point of this life isn’t to get everything “right”. Mind blown! That was my ENTIRE existence before! Again I feel like a person who has lived in a cave for 30+ years and is rejoining the human race. What do you do with your time if you aren’t trying to get everything “right”?

I keep asking God what the purpose of this life and our existence is. I don’t have the answer yet. Maybe I never will. Or maybe it is not that complicated. Doesn’t even the Westminster Catechism include the line that always confused me before: man’s chief end is to enjoy God forever?

The only way I ever saw that before I understood perichoresis, was something like I had to listen to Christian music all the time and work really hard to convince myself that I never wanted to listen to anything else. Good grief! To reduce God’s magnificent absolutely stunning Creation of human relationship with The Divine down to religious rituals!?!?

So I trip along. I am more at peace than ever. I am learning to let go of everything; every idea of what the future holds. And YET, go forward.

There is a paralysis that occurs when you are wrestling with this transition. How do you live? You just do the next thing. Trusting God’s heart. That this life is more than getting things right. That our God is not tricky. That He loves us so much. He is not the least bit intimidated by us or surprised by our mistakes. Even our anger. I feel like life is more like a dance. Like God is always looking us in the eyes. No matter which way we turn.

What if we are made for so much more? Than just getting right answers. What are the seeds of greatness inside of you? What is the Sarahness of God that the world or even one person needs from me? What about you?

I like to think of all of us as tiny painters. Contributing our part to this wonderful masterpiece of life. God giving us all a unique color or a unique brush. So binary in my thinking, but you get the point.

Look at the ocean or a jungle. How many different species and iterations are there in the plant and animal kingdoms? And we reduce our human existence down to falling in line with rules given by an angry God!?!? Maybe we should put the man-made echo chamber of technology down step back outside again. Get down to our roots and remember where we come from.

I hear laughter! Loads of laughter from Creation. Crying out in celebration. We are meant for so much more. We have the God who created galaxies inside us. And we are inside Him. I don’t know how it works, but I believe it. I think I experience it.

We have not because we ask not. Even greater things than these. Remembering that this life is not the end. And love is the greatest commandment.

This is not a condemning sermon. This is a whisper to the dream inside of you. A dare to ask God for the next step. To reignite inside you what used to feel free to imagine. Let’s stop dress-rehearsing tragedy.

This world cannot be all there is. What if we felt completely secure in God? How far would we reach? How much higher would we jump? Not just for the sake of. But really releasing all that is not of trust and rather relishing in Whose we are and the freedom we have to BE! Abundantly!

Amen? Selah.

Already Included #32 – Greatness

By Sarah Nyhan

I’m still so amazed at how much my thinking has changed since encountering this “already included” gospel. Looking back I realize I have lived decades from my mind, in a religious fog. I was content to bulldoze forward in the same way even after believing this “already included” message. You know, start setting up metaphorical tents of worship to God and allow myself to be consumed with theological navel-gazing per se.

I was caught off guard and frankly a bit disappointed when in contrast I felt Holy Spirit leading me toward first re-entering real life and real relationships. I am slowly becoming more at peace with this shift.

God knows my passions and desires, I am confident that a time will come when doors are opened again for deep-diving into a theological buffet. But for now I feel like I am leaving the religious bunker I’ve been buried in for at least the past two decades and am literally learning how to be human again. First things first. Living what I now know versus accumulating more knowledge for knowledge’s sake.

This can feel overwhelming some days. It feels like the bottom has fallen out from under me. Suddenly my road map for life has all but completely disintegrated. What is left is very good, but there is a lot of work in rebuilding everything else.

At times it feels like I am a newborn relearning everything. Or a traveler to a brand new world. Mostly exciting, but there are also times of grief and fear. It seems like there will never be enough time to get everything back in balance. Sometimes even there is the temptation to just shut up and go back to the old way in order to feel some sense of normalcy.

Most of my decision-making process has completely changed. The more you hang on for this ride, the deeper the healing. I am amazed every day at realizing how much our spiritual beliefs filter down to our decision-making processes in even the seemingly most mundane daily choices. I don’t want to get side-tracked on that subject by providing a slew of examples. My point is only that without realizing it, I had built an entire destructive way of being based on a lot of lies.

Again, it was all I knew. There is deep mourning for all that has been lost along the way. But I have to be patient with myself. I have to forgive myself. God is not upset with me. He is only ever for me and my healing. For my benefit and enjoyment! Not for His ego. All I can do is in this moment and moving forward.

As I’ve mentioned before, the redefinition of my values has been a huge part of this journey. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that as an American, we generally place a high value on “greatness”. And yet I have found myself redefining greatness in much less superficial terms than before.

I don’t know if he did, but is Jeff Bezos great if he cheated on his wife? Is Steve Jobs great if he treated his first daughter as if she was second-class? My point is that I think we as Americans have gradually shifted to confuse fame, wealth, genius, attractiveness, and productivity for greatness. Even in Christian circles.

I am learning a new definition of greatness. Quite frankly it has been an extremely painful process as everything I used to define myself by has been stripped away from me, much to my chagrin. But now I can see that greatness is first and foremost relational.

I am not being great if I am not treating myself well. I am not being great if I am not taking responsibility for my life, as much as I am able.

I am not being great if I am not treating others well. This goes way beyond our inner circle. And this again is a measured by what we have to give, not by what we don’t have to give.

Frankly, I gave of myself to others for so long that I had nothing much left to give anymore. I was so depleted after several decades that I feel like I am still in a state of triage; mainly because for more than two years I have been fighting the call to rest. Remember, we labor in vain unless the Lord is building. He gives His children rest.

I used to think greatness was all the things I could “do for God”. Now I see it differently. If God sees to involve me in participating with Him as He does something really cool, I’m still up for the adventure. However, now I see greatness as rather the degree of excellence of love and heart that I bring into each moment and each interaction.

As much as I like writing, words fail me to adequately capture all that I mean, but you know it in your heart and in your gut when you haven’t been great or haven’t experienced greatness from another.

I’ll be the first to say that I am not a “good person”, to use our previous terminology. I am ashamed of so many decisions and choices I made while operating under my previous value system. The weight of it all overwhelms me at times. Only God’s love and absolute lack of condemnation fuels me forward a significant amount of the time. Making each new moment more of a gift and opportunity to be better.

Excellence of love and heart will look different in each moment for each person. As an example, sometimes love might look like making time for someone; other times it may look like having to lovingly tell them that there are other things that require your time. This is a blessing in that noone posturing authority for ego or financial gain can trump Holy Spirit’s leading in your life. Yet, this is also challenging because there is no formula.

Excellence of love and heart requires you to be present and not check out of life and/or go in auto-pilot mode. This can feel painful as awareness of positive and negative feelings and desires surface and feel sharp like fire to a mind/heart/spirit that maybe has been numbed or pacified by distractions for decades.

Excellence of love and heart requires relationship with God and others. Constant relationship. Not just boxes to be checked on a to-do list. This isn’t an obligatory annual Christmas card to a distant relative.

But this also isn’t some weird call to join a cult. Or a condemning guilt-trip. This isn’t spending hours kneeling in prayer.

Only a reminder that God is not the Sunday service duty that some have reduced Him to. God is way more than that. Christ is IN you. We’re talking every breath of our being. Relationship is embracing our eternal adoption and not trying to do or figure daily life out on our own. Relationship is running to a welcoming Papa who never tires of our tears and celebrates all of our joys. God is personal. And when we realize that, we begin to stop objectifying people. We start speaking life and the love that organically overflows from us brings healing to others.

This isn’t complicated most of the time. This is a smile to the tired cashier. This is a hello to a friend. This is even enjoying a moment of nature in Creation. Being silly with a kid. Being diligent and honest in your dealing. Giving people freedom versus imprisioning them in our expectations/fantasies. This is paying our bills. This is making sure we eat foods that nourish our bodies. This is picking up our trash versus leaving it to be someone else’s problem.

What if the measure of how great we were was not how “right” our beliefs are, but how excellent our love and heart is? Not just knowing all the “right” things, but actually being a decent human being. Christians, this is the non-believers’ main complaint with us. I’m not advocating tolerance to the exclusion of truth. I’m just saying mainly to my fellow theology enthusiasts: people don’t care what we know until they know that we care.

Already Included #31 – You

By Sarah Nyhan

I think I know what Saul/Paul was doing for those first few years after his conversion. I think he had to go off and be by himself while everything he thought he knew fell away and was replaced by truth. Less of an intellectual exercise. More of a rebirth in the sense of so thouroughly experienced that every single cell is saturated with this new real life. Actually lived and alive versus simply conceptualized.

This is what has been happening with me. To use Paul Young’s analogy, I didn’t realize I had constructed and others had helped me build such a monstrosity of a facade. My entire identity was totally tied to what I did, what I had, and what I thought I knew. Versus truth. All of the facade is now being burned away.

I was ready to jump in and repeat the same old formula with this new-to-me “already included” knowledge. But I feel like God is saying, “No, baby girl. We’re going to do things totally different this time. I appreciate so much your heart and enthusiasm, but I have everyone else. What I want us to focus on for now, for this time, is YOU. You are important also. Your healing and wholeness is the priority right now. What eventually overflows will organically be shared with others in due time.”

This is TOTALLY different than the experience modeled for me by the church as an incorporated entity in society. What do most churches do that I have experienced? They have not been hospitals for the soul, even though they claim such. Instead they have been like labor camps. Oh sure, there is initial love-bombing if you are considered an outsider. But once you’ve converted then it’s all about what you can do for them, dressed up as what you can do for “god”. And then the only acceptable answer is: always more. To them, Jesus’ sacrifice was not enough; you also must die.

This is my new litmus test for truth: are you offering me anything? Are you invested in me as a person? Is relationship with me a priority? Or are you just doing the same ol’ dance with new clothes? You know the one. In its extreme form it looks like what we think of most televangelists. Although more subtle and maybe more insidious forms are likely manifesting in most local church entities. In my experience.

And although the damage is the same no matter the motivation, I suspect the great majority of pastors and preachers start out with absolutely fabulous intentions. I really believe that. Maybe even some seasoned folks still think this is the right way. I mean, it’s all they have ever known. Like me, it’s all that was ever modeled for them from the pulpit.

Though I suspect at some point, as I experienced, you encounter a crisis. If you pursue truth hard and long enough then you must eventually, even in short time, face a crisis. Where the religious machine fails and your heart has a choice to make. I can’t tell you what to do. That is between God and you. But eventually you’ll have a decision to make. Is your trust in the religious machine or is your trust truly in God?

And really, to be even more specific, is your trust in yourself or in God? Again, I never saw it that clearly in the beginning. But over and over and over, it’s been made clear to me that is the core problem. Religion says I am responsible. That I can’t really trust God all the way.

Let me tell you a story. A true story. The other day some people from the city came out to the property I manage. They wanted to cut some trees near the powerlines. Caught off guard, in the heat of the moment, I was convinced by the city workers to approve them completely removing the trees versus only trimming them. Later when I was not under their influence, I looked at the trees and regretted my approval. But I thought that it was too late to change my mind.

As I stressed about this, one day they entered the property while I was gone. However, the property owners just “happened” to also show up at the same time for a rare site visit. The property owners were able to speak with the city workers and save the trees. All without any help from me.

This is our God. Who knows that I mess up. And knows that I don’t know how to fix my mess up. And He cares for me. So He somehow makes the property owners show up at the last minute and save the trees. This is a God I can trust. To be way bigger than me.

This is the God that is interested in me. Not just what I can do. Not just what I can give. Whose priority is relationship with me. As long as it takes. Not so that I can do anything for Him.

I was reminded this week of the verse in the Bible where it talks about a good man leaving an inheritance for his family. Not the other way around. Who among us has even ever experienced that? With our biological or church parents?

And again, I don’t think most know any better. Just passing on what was passed to them.

But how different would it look if we cared more about healing the person and being in relationship with the person versus setting them up to be another cog in the religious machine? Versus stripping them of everything they can possibly give? Fleecing them. Until they can’t take it anymore and run away out of desperation. For their lives.

All I am saying is there is another way. All things work for good. We get there one way or another. If not in this life, then I am sure we will see clearly during whatever comes after. But why wait that long? We can choose life now. Jesus came not to build another religious machine. He came to give us life, and life more abundant!!! Right now. The kingdom of heaven is at hand – right now. Jesus came and showed us what we have been missing all along. What is available to us right now. Without having to jump through hoops of performance or poverty in all its various forms.

You absolutely will encounter loads and loads and loads and loads of trouble. But it will be different trouble. It will break your heart versus breaking your back. In that sense, there will be some dying. Of your ego mainly. As everything that is false is burned up. That is a dying without counting Jesus’ sacrifice as incomplete or insufficient.

In case you’ve never read anything I’ve written before, I am not talking about a legal or accounting transaction. Merely that WE needed to kill Jesus, the Son of God. So we would finally have proof that no matter what we can think of or do, God is always and forever for us. The resurrection proved that God is not the least bit intimidated by or ever against us. As individuals. Even as He drives out ever last bit of hell that we hold onto in our blindness.

God doesn’t destroy us.