Already Included #40 – Ezekiel

By Sarah Nyhan

Ezekiel was sent to his own people. He was rejected over and over again. This was not a surprise to God. Ezekiel did not fail just because nobody listened to him and changed their ways. Not even Jesus in human form was enough for many people.

So I can let myself off the hook. Is relationship with God the goal, the end-game? Or is there some other race I think God asks me to win?

What if everyone truly is eternally safe in His heart? What if God cares more for us than I could ever imagine? What if He isn’t disappointed with us? Can I be assured that just as Holy Spirit never leaves me, Holy Spirit is always in endless conversation with them? In ways they can hear.

What if He already tore up the report card I created for Him to sign? What if inviting Him into our grief, sadness, and anger is what it is all about? What if our hearts echo the cries of His heart? What if He sits with us and holds us together when we can’t keep everything together? What if He never expected us to fix these things? What if it all works out on the other side, if not on this side? What if there is something bigger going on?

Tell it to my heart. My heart only wants relief. My heart wants results, Lord! My heart doesn’t understand what You are doing! Why You let this go on so long! Where are You?!

He meets me every time. Satisfying my soul,  often without answering my questions. Even as I put Him on trial. Peace that truly passes understanding. Knowing that I am seen. That I am so clearly heard. And fully loved.

I walked the dog this morning. New house, new neighborhood for both of us. Only a week in. The dog bolted forward ahead of me. I let him go because he was so excited. It wasn’t about being in control this morning. It was about enjoying the walk.

We crossed the street about 30% of the way down. We continued on to the end and then turned around. A neighborhood where almost every house looks the same. No scent on that side of the street.

The poor little dog went down almost every path to the front door of every house for three to four blocks. It’s like his little mind was thinking, “Maybe this one!” And he would run up the path and stare at the front door and have this confused, thoughtful look on his face. Then I would walk ahead and he’d run to catch up, pass me again, and run down the path to the next door.

He didn’t trust me. He thought it was his job to get us home. I wasn’t mad at him. I was just heartbroken seeing him try to find home over and over again.

Finally he caught his scent from the beginning of the walk and stepped a little more confidently the rest of the way home.

It reminded me of how I don’t trust God. How I bolt ahead of Him offering solution after solution. And He knows where I need to be. He isn’t worried at all. I want the answers without the intimacy. I want to be in control because I don’t trust His heart for me.

I don’t think He has me on a leash to restrict me; just to protect me from what I don’t even know I need protecting from. Can I learn to relax and enjoy the journey?

Enoch walked with God. I want to be like that. Not tiring myself out by dragging God along every path I think I need to go down. Instead trusting He will be with me always. But checking in, looking to Him more.

Relationship. Real relationship. Not just reading books, listening to sermons, studying the Bible, listening to worship music. But a real relationship. That is going to be messy. There will not be any formula I can fall back on. But it thankfully doesn’t depend on me either.

Already Included #38 – Wrong

By Sarah Nyhan

One of the biggest changes in my life over the past almost three years is that I now experience the freedom to be wrong. Like the prodigal. Or the prodigal’s brother. Or like when Peter grossly abandoned and denied Jesus – his great friend, his God – in the darkest hour. Afterwards Jesus pursued Peter and made him some fish tacos. 😉 Not the other way around.

Peter was given the freedom to be wrong. Abraham was given the freedom to be wrong. But here is the point – did their choices serve them and theirs well? Do my choices serve me and mine well?

Yes, I can be wrong and assured that I am loved exactly the same. Yes, I can be wrong and God will not abandon me. But will my choices even get me where I ultimately want to be?

Forget rules. Rules are somewhat of a base level of operating to me now. Rules are for when I’m not experienced enough to understand and comprehend the consequences of my actions.

For example, a baby or a toddler needs rules because they don’t have the context to understand how vulnerable and powerful they are in the world. That yes, mom and dad are always watching out for them now – but that is not always the environment outside and away from their parents. So you give your toddler a rule to never touch the stove because sometimes it could be hot and there may not always be someone there to pull them away from the stove in the nick of time.

You don’t tell your toddler not to touch the stove because of your ego – or hopefully not. Some people are like that. Some people make rules just to have control and power over others. But as they are properly designed, rules are a protector and a teacher. Not an end unto themselves.

This is TOTALLY new thinking for me. Overwhelming at first. Like when a kid graduates and goes out into the world for the first time all on their own. The freedom to make every decision they want.

Yes, I can do everything and anything I want to do. Technically. But what am I here for? What am I doing on this beautiful planet spinning out here in space? What is the point? How do I place myself in the middle of all the people I have the privilege of doing life with? If rules are the only thing keeping me from hurting myself and others then I have way bigger fish to fry than debating theological nuances.

Or maybe not. Maybe I do need to go back to square one. Because my view of who God is and how God sees me and others is at least the unconscious basis for how I treat myself and how I treat others.

Am I faithful to my spouse just because of rules? That’s ok, but that is base thinking for the immature (without any negative connotation or condemnation). I think eventually the idea is that I graduate from base rule-thinking to understanding how important I am in this world and to the people I have relationships with.

There will never be another person who can be me to the people I do life with. My spouse may be able to find a different spouse who treats them better, but they chose me first – and no one can ever again fill that first role that I filled. No one can ever be my child’s biological parent again. Or first adopted parent again. No one can ever be my brother’s oldest fully biological sister again. Or fill in the blank.

No one can ever replace me in the places I am in people’s lives. My mark on this world, myself, and others cannot be erased. Yes, they will encounter other people, other people who will love them better that I have tried to love them. But that will not erase the impact my presence, absence, and choices has on them.

And not only that. But this minute, this hour, this day is not a rehearsal. I will not get to do it over again. I can do differently, but I cannot do over.

So is this the life I want? Am I being true to even myself? If all else goes away, am I even the person I want to be? Do my choices reflect that? Am I unhappy because I don’t live up to my own values and don’t even respect myself?

Rules paint me into a corner. But higher thinking gives me my life back. With all its freedoms and responsibilities. I am no longer a child. I can no longer blame God, religion, or rules for checking out and disconnecting from my heart, mind, and spirit. Those I do life with will only buy that for so long. God will always love me and others may also. But that doesn’t mean people will always tolerate my choices.

Perfect love drives out fear. Today is a new day. I can’t do over, but I can do differently. I may not be able to repair what is broken, but I can at least stop being destructive. I can make different choices.

As I experience God’s love, I can accept myself and life as is and move forward accordingly. I can grieve without feeling despondent or hopeless. The sun rises again. This moment is a blank canvas.

God knows who I am. He meets me right here, right now. He is always for me, always for us. Satisfied with nothing less than our complete healing. Until all that is not of love’s kind has been replaced with all the good that is freely ours to experience all the time.

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.