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.

Already Included #30 – Good

By Sarah Nyhan

You can be right or you can be in relationship?

Maybe. Still figuring this one out.

Probably it’s more like one of my favorite quotes from Jane Austen: “You have drawn two pretty pictures; but I think there may be a third – a something between the do-nothing and the do-all.”

In any event, I am learning that my old way of labeling people as merely good or bad is not working anymore after letting this already included message sink in. Probably it never worked. I remember a former friend previously saying, “You’re so damn black and white, Sarah.”

I have realized that unfortunately people who do the most heinous things can also do very good things. And vice versa – those who are generally known to do mostly good things can do something really hurtful every now and then. This is being human.

I thought before that some people were good and some people were bad. You just had to find out who was who. Well, I’ll tell you how far that gets: eventually you end up totally alone and even loathing yourself.

I think everyone will disappoint you at some point. I heard I think Russell Brand say that expectations are akin to fantasies. And I have been guilty for decades of holding people hostage to my expectations/fantasies.

Now that is not to say that there isn’t good and bad behavior. Although even this has been challenged for me. I was raised to believe that certain cultural norms were good or bad. I have had to learn that just isn’t so. If a male wasn’t raised to open and hold a door for a woman, that doesn’t mean he is a bad person. That is only a cultural norm. Another example is even leaving the toilet seat up. Or sending thank you cards. Or not cutting in front of someone in traffic. All of these are just cultural norms. As America is diversified by people from all over the world, I have had to come to the realization that the world I grew up in has changed and many people are not going to do the things I was raised to do. But that doesn’t make them bad people. Or good people for that matter. I could continue on that subject, but not today.

Yet we know there are truly some good and bad behaviors. For instance, I’d say across the world humans know it is good to provide for children and elders. People across the world know it is bad to hit someone – especially if they are the weaker party. People know it’s bad to murder. Etc.

But there is a whole lot out there that I have had to take off the table. Did you know a person isn’t bad if they don’t go to church? And not good if they go to church every day either. Etc. You get the idea.

But that being said, why are we so compelled to label people as good or bad? I guess I can only speak for myself. For me, I think in truth, I am more so attempting to categorize people as safe or unsafe. And that opens a huge can of worms, gets to the heart of the matter.

This might change in the future, but for now I’ve determined that no one is categorically completely safe. This realization can initally lead to a lot of panic, anxiety, and depression. But I’ve learned that the more I accept this human state in all of us – the more personal responsibility I take for my own safety. This is opposed to failing in attempting to make everyone else responsible for my safety.

Now again, this is another can of worms. I would like to clarify that children are not responsible for their own safety. It’s the responsibility of ALL adults to keep children safe until they can do so for themselves. The same with others who need protection: the blind and those who are are challenged in other ways that leave them vulnerable in ways where they are unable to do for themselves.

But at some point most of us have the capability to keep ourselves out of a lot of trouble. But this means standing up, claiming our power, and saying no. Something that I have found is not taught or encouraged in group situations, including a lot of churches.

We can go on and on about #metoo. I think the conversation is very helpful. But women, at some point we have to stop tolerating the bullshit we accept from these men. We do ourselves and the rest of women a diservice when we allow a man to disrespect any of us in any way. I am first to say guilty as charged.

Hear me out: if I go down a dark alley at night in a mini skirt and get raped – it was NEVER my fault. I should be able to walk down a street naked and not get attacked. The attacker is the only one to blame.

But if I hear my girlfriend has a guy who cheated on her, hit her, and stole her stuff – and I am trying to get his attention – shame on him still – but shame on me also!

These are extreme examples to prove a point. But this plays out in everyday situations. How many times does our gut tell us something and we ignore it? Because the person looked normal enough or played the part. And then on the opposite side, we take this to unnecessary extremes and discriminate against people for simply how they look.

It gets even more complicated when you realize some people are safe only to a point. How do you balance interacting with them without encouraging them any further? Realizing they aren’t good or bad. They are just human – and yet every one of all the billions of us are uniquely different.

What does this look like day to day? Mainly what hills do we want to die on? What is important and why? Is someone actually being bad to me or is it my ego wanting to scream, “Off with their heads!”? Am I scared? Are there other options?

Nobody can tell YOU how to answer these questions. And the answers will probably change over time. You do better when you know better. Experience and life teach us new lessons every day. So we are always growing.

What this looks like for me now is setting my own standards for the first time in my life. Versus always looking to others for approval or direction. And not apologizing for that. Yet, being prepared to accept whatever consequences may ensue.

It also looks like allowing certain people back into my life but only to certain extents. You don’t give your car keys to a toddler. In like manner, people now have to earn my trust. Whereas before I gave them way too much benefit of the doubt and unfortunately some people knew and abused that.

I blame the church in some sense for this. I attended a church that taught love believes the best to the point where it allowed opportunistic wolves to fleece the flock at times. Or we preach forgiveness way past the point of again serving up the flock on a plate for wolves to devour.

There has to be wisdom and balance. It would be so nice to just be able to identify all the “bad guys” by a purple stripe on their palm or something. But life is way way way more complicated than that.

I am finding I have to reevaluate my thinking on everything and everyone all the time. People change and people have their limits. Even all of our cells are replaced every so often. Just because someone was doing great last year doesn’t mean they can’t be pushed to a different level this year.

Dr. Bruce Wauchope does a lot of work on explaining how our minds are corrupted in framing our worlds in terms of the good/bad tree. And I agree. He does a much better job of explaining this than I can do now. I recommend checking out his talks on YouTube.

But in the meantime, my thinking is changing from “Is this person good or bad?” to “Do I like what this person is doing? Why or why not? And if not, what am I going to do about it?”

To insist on labeling people as good or bad in my experience leads to the death of all my relatationships. This is probably a huge shock to those still living in the paradigms of thinking some people are in/safe with God and some people aren’t.

It’s “easier” to ask a few questions as a litmus test. That doesn’t require connection or relationship. That doesn’t require being present or opening ourselves up. That doesn’t require taking each new person as for who they are individually versus categorizing them.

To her credit, my ex who had a devil tattoo is still to this day one of the best people I’ve known in terms of almost everything. For sure she had her faults, but I lament dragging her to church one time and harassing her to go a million other times. I lament trying to “convert” her. For all her faults, she had real love, love we see in Christ, down more than 99% of people I know. Not a pushover either. She knew how to say no.

A real shame for all of us who sat in church for mutiple days a week year after year, decade after decade and it never changed our hearts. We thought all we had to do was say the right things. Never really risking real engagement.

There is so much more to unpack on this subject, but that’s all I have time for today.

Already Included #29 – Works versus Work

By Sarah Nyhan

Life is so funny and God is so much bigger than the boxes I try to nail Him into. When I first started these “Already Included” posts, I had such a different idea of what I’d be talking about. My desire was and still is to be able to explain and expound on all the purely intellectual theological aspects of this already included message.

Much to my surprise, it was rather revealed to me that I spent the overwhelming majority of my life in my mind and now I was going to learn how to really rejoin the human race and learn how to live again. To really live. Something that I had forgotten how to do after so many years spent just reading the Bible and listening to preachers. Hours and hours every week.

I am confident that once I learn to live again, once I really am living then God will open my mind again to allow me to be able to fulfill these pressing desires I have, these heavy burdens I have to be able to first share what has happened for and to me. And then be able to explain this new-to-me way in terms that will be understood by those that are still where I was.

But first things first. Jesus didn’t say the number one law was to learn the Bible. Jesus said to love God and love others as you love yourself. All of those I’ve had to learn from a totally new angle. Start from the beginning. Back to basics, almost like a newborn. Hmmm. 😉

All to say my ideas of how I wanted to post were in short time thrown out of the window. Instead real life took and is still taking priority. This is a very good thing. But it took me a long while to come around to accepting it and seeing the good in it. To be able to let go of my plans. To let go of my ego also.

If there is one thing I hate, it’s being so sure of something and then having to eat humble pie with those I’d like acceptance from when things turn out differently. So frustrating. Sometimes I feel so humiliated. But even that is helping me let go and not tie my value to the acceptance or lack thereof from others.

Kinda needed in this business of going against the grain. Not that I aspire for that life; just how it played out. My Ezekiel experiences, as I call them. Funny from my perspective because most of the time I am clueless to the bull I can be in people’s china shops. A former pastor called me a pitbull more than once. Apropos in terms of my pursuit of truth, for sure. It’s taken me many years to realize others have a limit for truth.

I’m sure on some level I also initially resist difficult truths, but at the end of every day there is something so innocent in me that is truly relentless in determining what is real and what is not. In every situation. Realizing lately that the journeys I take in those efforts are not wasted time even if they take longer than others.

After the first decade of so of my life, after I saw hypocrisy in adults I previously took at face value, I have always needed to make everything add up. It wasn’t enough to just tell me. I needed to see it for myself. I needed to know how A led to B. I needed to know the why.

I would pray nightly: “Lord, please help me not to be deceived.” Be careful what you pray for. Truth is a blessing that sometimes feels like a curse. There is a certain appeal to ignorant bliss.

As much as I needed to know, this left absolutely no room for mystery. No room for God to be God and surprise us. Trusting Him has been the hardest thing in my life. Letting go and trusting His heart for me.

All the reading in the world won’t move your foot to step out into the water. I wish it worked that way. Real life takes God out of your head and makes all of this come alive.

Just like a baby cries when leaving the womb – every cell, every feeling in me aches as I stretch into this person I am fully intended to be. Not just a brain. But a heart, a soul, a body, a spirit. I feel set on fire sometimes. Every step out of my mind and into the moment like leaving a completely dark cave for high noon on a hot summer day.

Often I collapse in the real physical exhaustion of it all. But I sleep better these days. Especially as I learn to talk to God more versus allowing anxieties to paralyze me. Because there is so much to learn and do. So easy to get discouraged if you don’t stay in the moment and if you forget you are in God’s eternal embrace.

And these are things I still wrestle with: prayer and work.

I think for the majority of my life, my view of prayer was really wrong. I saw it more like a way to manipulate God into doing something. I still don’t know and haven’t had the time to dive into the old texts with this new-to-me lens. Maybe I’ll see things more clearly one day. But so far I’ve surmised that prayer, if we want to keep calling it that, is merely conversation. And primarily for the purpose of changing MY mind.

I used to do the whole prayer and fasting bit, but with what I now believe is the wrong way of going about it. I used to fast and pray for specific things to happen. Now fasting for me is more just a concept of isolating myself from distractions. And now the prayer aspect is just asking for God to help me see things His way, to see the truth. To clear my mind from all my own ideas and make room to see things as they really are. I have had such powerful experiences and successes in approaching prayer this way. It has been an absolute joy.

If only all of me would catch up and on. After so many years of doing things the wrong way, I find I still miss now more than I hit. But the times I hit are becoming more frequent. That is very encouraging. I am so blessed to have sojourners who have come alongside me and paved the way by their examples. We give each other grace, eh?

And so this work business. I don’t think I have it mastered yet. At all. But I certainly have come a long way from where I started. Thank You, Holy Spirit and those who have been patient with me. I really want to talk about what I think is such an incredible and important distinction that I personally feel was not adequately communicated in previous churches I attended. Actually, their rhetoric may have contributed greatly to how confused I became.

Because I remember I was not raised the way I turned out. I was raised to always work hard and take care of business. At least those that claim to follow Christ never approved of any kind of “crazy faith” or “prosperity gospel”. I have no idea how I fell into that. I imagine it was just little changes in language that eventually added up so that I was gradually led over a period of decades to where I ended up. And yet you can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Which is this super difficult line for me to figure out.

As an example, I recently met with a former youth pastor of mine from the church I attended with my parents decades ago. He tried to tell me that any experience or feeling I have is basically inadmissible in the court of truth. Yet I’m sure out the other side of their mouths they tell people to have a relationship with Christ. How exactly am I supposed to have a relationship with Christ if I never experience God?! Ohhhh, do you mean I am supposed to have a relationship with the Bible instead? Or that only those in power have the authority to say that their experiences are valid but others’ experiences are conveniently not valid?

That is probably the kind of treatment that initially led me to be more and more open to other lines of thought. But I think I went to the extreme opposite end of the spectrum in my pursuit of truth. I ended up in a group where they preached basically that if I was good enough then God would provide everything I needed in the physical. Note, it wasn’t said exactly that way. Of course. But that’s basically what it boiled down to. If I had enough “faith”, if I “believed” enough, if I “followed Christ” enough, if I “died to myself” enough then God would provide for all my physical needs. And the real evil in that was there was this unspoken but understood condemnation that was communicated when your physical needs were not met: it meant you were doing something wrong or not doing enough. So the answer was easy: just do more, just be better. Because there is no end, eh?

I spent YEARS on that horrible rollercoaster. Fear consumed me because there was no love in that god we created through our own projections. It literally drove me to feeling suicidal and then eventually giving up instead of killing myself. Because even at my worst I didn’t kill myself for fear that would send me to hell before I had a chance to figure out the “right” way, how to get back to heaven. Little did I know my blindness was hell enough; no more hell was needed.

And in giving up, the pendulum swung again. I let go of thinking that I had to do anything for God to give me anything. And that was a good start. I finally realized, through Holy Spirit, that God’s perfect love casts out all fear. I accepted it like a thirsty man accepts water after walking through and almost dying in the desert. BUT… I only solved half the equation. I laid down works but I didn’t know yet how to value work. Only one letter difference but worlds apart.

If I could tell my former self what I know now, I’d say: start everything from the position of refusing to compromise on the fact that God is anything besides absolutely good! That has to be the beginning of any conversation we have. And so…

If God is always good, then it’s my perspective and understanding that is wrong if I’m doubting His goodness. This is where prayer comes in. Do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, go to God. And He will help you. Maybe not by providing you with the explanation you want, but always with the step you need to take next. Trusting His heart and thereby His timing and ways. I realize this sometimes seems like a trite statement in the faces of very real significant losses and pain. But I am sharing what has worked thus far for me.

So that’s what I did after I felt so disillusioned when God did not provide for all of my worldly needs in the ways that I expected after I accepted this already included message and rested from all my “works”. I was angry. I thought I had been given something really important. I didn’t understand why my desires to focus on sharing it were not rewarded in the physical in the ways that I thought were reasonable. This was an extremely difficult time.

Finally I stopped praying for God to do specific things and instead I started to quiet down and ask Him to show me what I was missing. Every time I felt abandoned in the physical, I would feel Him so strongly in the spiritual. There was no denying it. Even if I tried. What gives, God?

Slowly my mind started to shift. I started to understand that work is very different than works. Work is not “bad” in general. But “works” tend to not be great when commonly misused. Work is what you do to pay your bills and put food on the table. Works are things you maybe only unconsciously do in order to manipulate God into doing something for you.

Works can look like a form of religious superstition. Like I have to give the church 10% of my income in order for God to bless my business to make more money. We could go down a rabbit hole on this one, but to keep the focus, in practical matters – ONLY giving 10% to the church will not make your business successful if you sit at home on your laurels and wait for money to fly into your bank account. Work is also required. And work in this context is good.

I hate to go here because I still believe God does miracles, but I think it is cruel to preach from the pulpit that paritioners should ONLY pray away certain health conditions. I’ve heard some churches get crazy with this and attribute every negative thing to a “spirit”. To the extreme this can look like people praying away the “spirit of diabetes” or “the spirit of lung cancer”, etc. Unfortunately some of that thinking got into my head and I think it is wrong and kills people. Literally.

The alternative is to explain to people that it is ok to pray for miracles, but in the meantime we live in a physical world where if you jump off the edge of a skyscraper, probably 99.99% of the time you are going to die. Not great odds. And similarly if you don’t put in the WORK of stopping smoking and getting your diabetes under control then your chances of dying from those things are very high. All the Bible reading, serving at church, praying, tithing, etc probably ain’t gonna save your lungs if you keep smoking.

I’m one of the last to give up on a miracle, but I’m also starting to become one of the first to get to work doing what I can do in the meantime.

Does that make sense? Once you start to accept this, I’ve found you can experience a lot of anger. You can feel cheated out of sooo much by all these pastors that were more concerned about you helping build up their kingdoms while appearing completely unconcerned about how your life was being neglected and destroyed in the process. Countless people have burnt out physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. Others have experienced their families and marriages falling completely apart. Even suicides and worse. Now you know why I am so passionate about seeing people freed from wrong thinking!

They are afraid the pendulum will swing all the way back again. That we will give up on God totally. I admit some or my actions might lead outsiders to wonder. I haven’t picked up a Bible in a long time. I don’t have a church I attend. But these desires are slowly coming back in better measure. I’ve learned to look to God first.

I turned a really hard corner this week: I realized the feeling of love is not enough. It might sound unrelated, but it’s not. It’s easy to feel love for someone. It’s a lot more rare to find someone who does the hard work of being a loving person. To find a person who loves because that is their character whatever the weather. Versus a person who feels love but only behaves in like kind so much as serves their purposes. Then they jump ship and leave you high and dry.

Too long I have confused the two. Works and work. And those that feel love versus those that truly are loving.

As I accept this knowledge and move forward, I have enough work to do in minding my own business. But I share for any on the same journey.

Already Included #28 – Let Go

By Sarah Nyhan

A heart cry more than a cerebral piece.

It has taken me almost two years, but I am starting to understand that there is a big difference between giving up and letting go.

Giving up says, “I’ve messed things up too much. What’s the point in even trying or hoping anymore?”

Whereas letting go says, “God is always on my side. I never know what surprises the future may hold. Whether in this life or whatever comes next. I’m going to aim for what my heart desires and trust God when doors close.”

Of course easier said than done. It seems every time I think I have this down, I start to lose my grip on something I didn’t realize I was holding onto. As much as I fight letting go, I can see in hindsight all the positive things that come out of it.

Chiefly that my identity and security were and to a much smaller extent probably still are tied to so many things other than truth. My identity used to be tied to things like my career, the car I drive (which sounds so abhorringly superficial when I think of it now), my education, the clothes I wear, the place I live, my size and marital status, the people close to me, my health, etc.

I’ve had to let it all go. It’s not been taken away from me so much as those things have been allowed to crumble and fade away.

Who are you without everything in this world that you know and love? We work so hard. Building up our little castles – monuments to our egos. What happens to you and your sense of value and worth when you can’t have any of that anymore? Who are you? With none of the relationships you hold dear, no community, no home, etc? Who would you be?

It’s a blessing and very difficult at the same time to find out, to go on that journey. I’ve never had so little and yet felt so full, so assured.

I am a child of God. It sounds like religious happy talk. So few words make something so huge appear a bit simplistic and trite. But finding our source in who we really are is the beginning of everything important.

And yet no watershed of relief in this world followed. Quite a shock. “Is this how You treat Your kids, God?!” Round and round we go until I see truth. My logic another hack job. When there is so much more to unpack. But perfect love lets me ask those hard questions. We are down to the minute these days. I pray to see clearly and then kick and fight as all distractions disintegrate and leave my soul naked. Raw and irritated. By this life and its disappointments.

I’ve become aware of how results-obsessed our culture is. As if the doing of something has no value unless it produces what is aimed for. As if running the race is not worth the time unless you can finish or win. We shame each other so much. I’m guilty also. Of not holding space for people, and especially loved ones, to work through stuff and grow.

More to the point, I’m my own worst enemy. Are you your own worst enemy? Society doesn’t help; for sure I’ll give you that. But this is where identity in Christ alone can literally save us.

I’m learning to let go. Of perfectionism. I proved that I could get a 4.0 GPA. Quite frankly, nobody seemed to care half as much as I did. It was pure masturbation of my ego. To put it quite crudely. I was quite disappointed that no one else seemed that impressed. In hindsight, now amusing; since I’ve learned to take myself less seriously.

Now that my identity is in Christ, I can take that phone call or that nap in exchange for a loss of a few points off my GPA. Unthinkable in the past. Now my GPA and impossible standards of perfection don’t define me.

But letting go doesn’t mean giving up. In the past I’ve been known to drop classes if I thought I’d get anything less than an A. Ridiculous waste of time and money!! Now I let go of my perfectionist ways and I sit with that B or that C. Gasp! As uncomfortable as it makes me.

But I don’t start up on the self-hate speech. Well, maybe for a little bit. But there is no condemnation for those who are IN Christ Jesus. So I’m learning to listen for Holy Spirit, take my ego out of it, and yet still look for what I can do differently to get the grade I want to get next time. Knowing I don’t need it, but allowing myself to want it as long as I weigh it properly among my other priorities. That healthy balanced life. More of a full person who is actually living than a dysfunctional robot cloaking my insecurities behind so-called religious zeal.

This is not a pretty picture in process. As with most works of art. So I’m in good company. You are also. This beautiful human race. As broken as we can be. Capable of so much even as we muddle through our depths.

Another example. I now know the cure for codependency: this already included truth. If God is already and always for everyone, if He is changing our minds about Him versus us changing His mind, then that means Holy Spirit is ALWAYS on the job and I can truly let go. While at the same time not giving up on people. I can still honor my heart’s desires for their health and restoration of all things. I can still love. But that looks very different than the sickness of codependency where we attempt to manipulate people into doing what we think they should do. Well-intentioned or not. Only a heart fully trusting in God’s heart for ALL can let the prodigal go away. Can honor his choice. Can respect him. Truly. While always keep an eye on the horizon. That’s letting go but not giving up.

There are so many more examples. But those are the two that have been on my mind.

To take it back to the Bible, giving up is what the Israelites did multiple times after leaving Egypt. They only saw their own understanding. They didn’t trust God yet. They panicked and wanted to run back to what they knew each time it looked like the odds were against them. Understandable in many ways. We are not much different.

But God… continues to answer our prayers. Continues to knock at our hearts. As long as we want to take.

Lord, let me be like those men with Daniel. Who when they faced the fire, they let go but didn’t give up. They said You could save them on this earth but even if You didn’t, they would still follow You.

Let me be like Esther who let go of everything in this life but didn’t give up. She marched in there maybe on her uncle’s faith more than her own. But she still did it.

Let me be like Joseph. Though everything looked like the end, he kept his integrity. He didn’t turn bitter. He let go, but he didn’t give up on You.

Let me be like the other Joseph. Who woke up one day to his future wife telling him she was pregnant by God. The odds? A dream but then the onslaught of reality. He let go of his plans but he didn’t give up on You. He stayed with her as they faced poverty and persecution.

Let me be like another Mary. Who followed You to The Cross. Her only love and hope. Ripped apart and away. She let go, but she didn’t give up on You. She went to where she knew to find You. She gave You her tears. She knew You cared. She trusted Your heart even though she was devastated by her loss. You showed up and she knew You saw her.

Please do that for us, Lord. As we traverse this world that needs so much to know the real You. As I need to let go even more and enjoy You each day in the middle of doing life. Not future-tripping, but letting go and letting You surprise me. Leaving myself open to the mysteries of how great You can be beyond the boxes I try to nail You in.

We love You, Lord. We thank You, Jesus. We don’t even know what we ask for when we pray big prayers, God. Please help us, Father. I know You already do, but what else is there to say except ‘help’ and ‘thank You’?

We want to be fully who You created us to be. I feel like we haven’t even scratched the surface. We let go of all our attempts to do something great for Your approval. And instead choose not to give up on us particpating with You on the dreams in our hearts. Knowing either way You are especially fond of us. You love us and we love You.

Already Included #27 – I Believe

By Sarah Nyhan

I still believe in miracles. I just don’t believe I am a fortune teller.

I still believe God can do the impossible and nothing is too difficult for Him. I just don’t believe that He always does what WE, in our limited vision and understanding, think is best.

I don’t think I have to believe enough or have enough faith to make miraculous things happen. I don’t think I have to fast enough or pray enough to make miraculous things happen.

It sounds rather harsh, but I now think that thinking there is a formula to manipulate God into doing something I want Him to do sounds a lot like witchcraft. The Bible is not a book I use to cook up spells as I stand over a boiling brew.

I now think it’s quite the opposite. I think letting go of all of that “magical” thinking is maybe more the catalyst for God being free to pour out supernatural stuff into my life as it won’t now be reinforcing any stinking thinking that would otherwise be the death of life in me.

This comes down to trust. If I think God is always and forever for me then I can relax completely. I know He wants more for me than I want for myself. I know He is not satisfied with any death or sickness in me that I am willing to settle for.

I don’t have to try to predict or control the future. I can just be. I am free to choose and make my own decisions. At the same time that I hold my dreams, desires, plans and goals very loosely. Not that I don’t aim for anything, but I now make a lot more room for God to surprise me.

I don’t think God is tricky. I now think of “signs” as more to catch my attention than literal direction. To get me thinking or to get me to the next step. Versus a literal end in themselves.

In my last post I shared an example of “signs” being used to challenge my thinking. Not in a destructive sense, but in the way where you let a kid struggle to learn something new because you know they are capable and ready.

Now let me give an example of signs being used to get me to the next step versus signs meant to be taken literally.

Back in 2009 I was living with my girlfriend. I had a dream one night where I dreamt that it was “The Rapture” and all these bodies were being lifted up into the sky, but I wasn’t. In my dream, I looked over at my girlfriend and I heard God say, “So she’s worth it?”

I woke up and shot up in bed. The dream was so realistic that I wondered if what I dreamt really happened. I called my mother and figured if she answered then “The Rapture” didn’t happen. She answered and I asked her to pray for me.

My girlfriend at this point had woken up and came to see what was going on. I told her I had to leave. In less than five or so hours later, I was moved out and living two hours away. Two years cut off just like that.

My best friend. Everything. I cried and cried and cried. I was so mad at God! But if He was that serious then I had to do what I had to do.

Flash forward ten years and I’m learning about this “already included” message. I’m realizing I was wrong about a lot of things. So my mind is more open to revisiting everything I thought I always knew. But this gay thing, that is too painful and too much to rip open right now.

Until it’s forced upon me over and over. Three specific times. The last was an encounter with a leader of a local gay Christian group. I can’t run from facing this anymore. But my “signs”?

So I followed Brad Jersak’s example of asking God what He thinks. I said, “God, what about those ‘signs’? I thought for sure you told me homosexuality was wrong? I don’t believe anymore like I did before that homosexuality is cause for someone to be separated from You. But some things are still ‘wrong’, right?”

And as God often does, the answer I received back delivered truth with surgical precision versus the hack job I was attempting: “That was the only way you would have left her before she broke your heart.”

Literally, stunned silence! I did not expect or anticipate that response at all!

When truth hits you so hard and deep that to explain it is to do it an injustice. But for the sake of my point, I’ll try to continue to communicate:

God works within our logic. He masterfully blows it up from the inside out. As Paul Young says in The Shack, not all roads lead to God but God will find us on whatever road we are on. Something to that effect. And so every moment He asks me, “What road would you like to take?”

I’m amazed that even in our brokenness, God allows us to cross paths with each other for times. So the good in us can bless each other. So the not-so-great parts in us can keep being worked out. Iron sharpening iron.

And this is the case. We needed each other for a bit. And enjoyed each other for a bit. But in retrospect I can see the time was probably coming to an end.

But back then and even until recently, I didn’t have enough self-esteem to walk away from people who weren’t all the way for me. I would have stayed until the bitter end.

God knows me better than I know myself. God knows I would never let go. God knows my heart couldn’t have taken a hit from her that would have broken my heart anymore than it was already broken. It would have knocked me down further than leaving the way I did tore me apart. Maybe the way it worked out was easier for both of us compared to the alternative.

And so He worked within my logic. He worked within what I now believe was my very false fear of eternal damnation. Because that was the only thing big enough to get me out before my heart was broken. Even to save her from having to live with breaking my heart. Wow! God is an amazing genius like that!

I wasn’t ready then to see what I see now. A lot of junk and fear had to be worked out of me before this “already included” message could be received. I need to remember this when I am so impatient for others to understand.

And the gay thing? Still being worked out. Maybe I already have the answer but I’m not ready for it. I don’t know. And honestly that’s ok right now.

God is powerful enough to make the answers obvious if that was the point of this human experience. If we’re all here just preparing for some final exam.

The process is obviously much more important than just having the right answer. The depths we explore in our working things out are beyond rich in opportunity for growth – in terms of our relationships with God, our relationships with ourselves and each other, and otherwise.

This Bible I used to love to live and die on is in my new opinion now an invitation to relationship more than the religious equivalent of a Ouija board.

It sounds like I’m being crass and bordering on blasphemy, but I’m really not. I still hold the Bible in high regard for what it actually is and what it can really do. I think it is masterfully used to achieve its intended ends – which to me is absolutely NOT to take everything in it literally.

Any rational person already picks and chooses how they interpret it. Even the most orthodox people don’t go around stoning each other in today’s society. So to consider what else may not be exactly as we have always interpreted it is not such a stretch.

But I think the Christian church at large, at least the circles I’ve been exposed to, still leans a bit more on superstition than God’s heart. And in this context, I am learning to let go of fortune-telling. I am learning to let go of trying to figure out the future. I am learning how to make a concerted effort to stop future-tripping, as I’ve heard Paul Young refer to it.

Yet I still believe God can and probably will do the impossible. Whether that looks like moving mountains in my heart and mind, or showing off for the world to see in more concrete ways – I now trust Him to decide. And I stop trying to figure it out. Common sense and experience says God being God and me being so very human, the likelihood of me accurately foreseeing how the future will play out is really low anyway.

This involves a lot of mystery. A lot of letting go. A lot of being present in the moment. A lot of trust! That only grows through experience, but not the kind of crazy “leaps of faith” we thought we needed before. True rest is risky and revolutionary for the super-religious.

“Your salvation requires you to turn back to Me and stop your silly efforts to save yourselves. Your strength will come from settling down in complete dependence on Me – the very thing you’ve been unwilling to do.”

Already Included #26 – Signs

By Sarah Nyhan

As much as I’m ashamed to talk about this subject, I write for the little Sarah that I used to be – in case there is another like me out there that Holy Spirit somehow steers towards this page. So they’ll feel validated and less ashamed. So they’ll feel hope.

Today I had a breakthrough. A major victory. But there is quite a back story. Let me see if I can condense it enough to get you caught up fairly quickly.

I could unfortauntely write a book about the subject of “signs”. Maybe I will. But today I’ll just say that when I think back, I’m unsure of how long it’s been since I made decisions based on “signs”. I wonder when and how it started.

I know for sure it originated from being among religious people. I don’t think there was ever a sermon or study on “signs”, but more is caught than taught. I am now becoming aware that the language that people around you are using can subconsciously seep into your thinking and change you without your realizing it is happening.

For example, in the church that I started walking away from a few years ago, you could be telling someone that you were going to make a decision to pursue a certain thing and you might hear responses like: “Oh, is that what God told you to do?” Or, “Oh, so you received confirmation that that is God’s will for you?”

Another example would be when someone would be talking about a decision they made and they’d say something like, “I feel God is ‘calling’ me this way.” Or, “I’ve been led to do [such and such].”

The language is so subtle. And in that sense, insidious. No one actually ever tells you directly to start looking for “signs”. But their words imply that somehow they are hearing from God. So naturally just being around that language invites your mind to entertain those concepts.

My theory now is that unfortunately I think when you are looking for something, you will tend to only focus on seeing what you are looking for and ignore other evidence. I don’t think this is conscious. I think it’s just a fact of science and how our brains tend to operate.

The classic example is when you are looking to buy a new car. You have a car in mind and then every car you see on the road tends to be that car. Suddenly it’s like everyone owns that car.

Another example can be on the more negative side. Say you just broke up from a long-term relationship and your heart is broken. Suddenly it seems like every song on the radio is a love song sent to torture you, every person you see is flaunting the fact that they are in a happy thriving relationship, every movie is a love story, every advertisement you see is about love, etc. You get the point.

Again, this is only my opinion – but when you are in a group of religious people that tend to read the Bible in a literal way as God’s main Word to us, versus reading it more literarily and viewing Jesus as God’s Word to us, then I think we can basically end up using the Bible like a Ouija board or tarot cards.

Let me be clear: I have been one of the worst offenders I know in this area. Unfortunately bordering on… well, let’s just say my passion for God mixed with this horrible “signs” mentality led me to have a huge list of things I regret doing and are difficult to admit to even those that know and love me. Much less, publicly. I have dug myself into so many holes and have the battle scars to prove it. But I can assure you the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

This is why it is so important to guard our minds. This is why I think since I heard this “already included” message that I believe God has allowed me to be somewhat socially isolated not as punishment but rather for protection. Spiritually I have been reborn in my mind and just like you protect human infants, my newfound freedom is being protected until it has a chance to grow and get rooted in deep enough. I didn’t realize or appreciate this until recently.

This is what I think is also meant when Jesus talks about putting new wine into old wineskins. I am not able to take this “already included” message back into my old ways of being. I absolutely cannot. The box I used to live in has been blown to smithereens. I can only move forward. Sheltered by our actual God versus trying to setup a religious house of cards.

And as much as I am not used to actually totally trusting the God I always talked about, I am so thankful He is allowing the fig leaves I’ve been hiding behind to wither away. In the dying of all I thought I knew, I am finding real life. I am coming alive.

And so it goes for signs. The genius of God is that I see Him working in my logic. Blowing it up from the inside. Letting me hold onto it as long as I insist. Until I let go of my understanding and lean on His heart, His matchless unending love. Until I stop trusting in my knowing, believing, doing, etc and instead trust solely in the Father I’ve always wanted. That we’ve all always wanted. Even in the best of circumstances.

When I think back, I see there has always been an easy way and a hard way. The easy way was to take love at face value. The hard way was to do it all on my own.

The easy way was to trust God’s heart and let go of “signs”. The hard way was to not know God’s heart, to drown myself in Bible knowledge and miss the big picture. The hard way was to depend on myself and always need to know because I needed to control.

This is primarily what “signs” are about: a lack of trust and a need to know in order to control. Maybe for those who have been in a better place of knowing God versus just knowing a lot of facts about Him – maybe they have never fallen in or as far into this “signs” mentality as some of us.

And on the flip side, maybe a blessing of leaning more towards the agnostic or the atheist side is having a more grounded common-sense approach towards decision-making versus the magical thinking train of thought that I fell into as I pursued “signs”. Maybe it is easier to have that foundation and then at some point be able to see the true God and filter out all the circus of witchcraft that many Christian churches tolerate – knowingly or otherwise.

I am taking a hard line. I can because I know from first-hand experience how absolutely evil and destructive these things can be. And this is not ok. Not in any way. To turn any away from the unconditional everlasting depths or God’s very personal love for each one is the epitome of heresy and blasphemy. Is wickedness. Is the Pharisees all over again. In different clothes and different houses of worship. Jesus died for that!!! Anything else is more the work of the “anti-Christ” than what I’ve been accused of.

And that is the real interesting kicker to all of this. Never, in my entire life, have I taken more responsibility for my decisions and actions than after this “already included” message seeped into my heart, mind, and spirit. And yet the first objection I usually hear from those that oppose that everyone is eternally safe in Christ is that they think people will run totally wild if they feel like they are eternally safe with God.

I agree that there might be some testing of the waters so to speak. Some pushing of limits. Looking into the sky, waiting for lighting to strike. Waiting to fall out dead on the ground. Things you thought were off-limits before. Maybe you’ll take a taste. We see this with kids in real life quite frequently when they get their first freedom from their parents.

But from personal experience, I’d wager you might not encounter the same “grace” and “protection” you experienced in the times of your delusion. You are a big kid now. You are growing up. God prunes us. His passionate wrath FOR us knows when we are strong enough for the next step. He doesn’t quench the smoking flax or break the wounded reed. But when we are strong enough, He takes off the training wheels.

Quite a shock to me! Kinda like I was a little girl taken in by a great King and at first He provided lavishly. I didn’t to do anything. He knew I needed healing and recovering. Anything I needed, He provided. But a long time went by and He prepared me to be a full person. To be able to go our and do whatever I wanted. I was excited at first. But then the responsibilities of this freedom hit me and I was used to not having to think for myself. I was used to always having Dad bail me out. He still loved and loves me as much as ever, but he knows it’s sometimes good to tell me ‘no’ now. To help me understand the power I have by letting me experience the natural results of my choices. Never to harm me. I see this now, but not at first. Always a beloved child, but not a baby, not an infant anymore. I am designed for so much more. I need to learn and develop in order to continue to explore and enjoy the full richness of this human experience.

And here we return to the talk of “signs” and my major victory.

In 2014 I told “signs” ‘no’ for the first time in a long time. Out of desperation. Not trust. GOD showed off for me in a huge powerful way. I’ve written about it before in a piece I entitled “Iniquity“.

A short time after that, God helped me when again I said ‘no’ to “signs” out of desperation and chose a career in real estate versus teaching. That struggle had me feeling suicidal. When I say this is serious business, I know what I’ talking about.

But I still didn’t get it. Hindsight is 20/20. I look back now and see over and over and over the past five years how God has always been telling me, “I love you completely and you are totally free, but if you don’t see it then we will spend as much time as you need to in order to get through this.” My forty years, literally, wandering in the desert I insisted on. “No, I’m not ready for the Promise Land.” That was never the point. God is always big enough for us. Not that we always get what we want, but that our strength isn’t what we lean on.

I learned to trust these past two years. I felt like I failed and fell on my face more than any time in my life. And no condemnation. None. Only my choice for how long I wanted to keep banging my head against the same walls.

This is where a book would do better. I could give you chapters of examples. But let’s fast forward to two from the past month.

When I say God works within our logic, this is what I mean. I think He frustrates my thinking on purpose sometimes. So I’ll let go of bad thinking, specifically this “signs” mess. About a month ago I was wondering if I should move to Corpus Christi. As I had this thought, I crossed a street named “Corpus Christi”. Why, God?! That is way too random to be a coincidence. BUT that does NOT mean it is a “sign”. And this is where I failed before. The old Sarah would have said, “Ok, God is saying I should move to Corpus.” NO! The new Sarah sees the literal street SIGN as a challenge from God: “You get to decide, Sarah. What do YOU WANT? Would a move to Corpus get you where you are trying to go in life? Is it even feasible realistically?” Etc etc etc. I didn’t have enough “faith” to believe the literal sign was a “sign”. I actually had enough TRUST in God to turn down the “sign” and decide that a move to Corpus is not what I WANTED right now for many reasons. And it was like almost immediately after that a great job opportunity in my current city came up and I ended up being offered the position.

And yet again, that decision in regards to Corpus was more desperation even with more assurance and calm than ever before. But today!

I bought my current vehicle based on “signs” even though God allowed me to hear the salesman tell me to my face, “Sometimes I feel like the devil when I am selling cars.” I kid you not. How more obvious can you get?! Yeah there were signs all right, but my brain only saw what it was looking to see. Even as probably Holy Spirit was bringing to attention how badly my gut was feeling about the deal. But this was before I knew I was “already included”. And that vehicle ended up being a pile of junk! A continuous blaring reminder to not make decisions based on “signs”. But it takes longer for some of us.

And even though I’ve been on my Dave Ramsey hustle after finally starting to dig myself out of the giant holes my “signs” dug for me (with my help and participation), I was considering buying a new car just so I wouldn’t have to worry as much about my car’s problems.

So I went to a mechanic. He tells me he doesn’t think fixing my car is worth it. He recommends buying a Hyundai instead. Is that a “sign”?

The very next day or so I get a letter in the mail saying I am approved to buy a Hyundai at a local dealership. Is that a “sign”?!

Then a man from a Hyundai dealership calls me this morning. AND I notice this morning that a guy who spent the night at the same place I am staying is driving the same Hyundai model that I was thinking of buying. This must be a “sign”, right?!

Well, the old Sarah certainly would have thought so. The new Sarah was certainly tempted to think so. But, with the sting of following so many failed “signs” still fresh in memory, coupled with God’s unrelenting pursuit of my total freedom in His unending love for me, my mind finally had space and room to slow down this morning.

I did not ignore the signs out of desperation. This might sound like ABC 123 common sense, but for me and those who have been where I have been, this is revolutionary! Courageous, audacious, and full of bravery. To be fully present and think, “Yeah, it would be nice on many levels to have a new car. But do I really need one? No, this car I have will last a little longer and it is not my identity. I have as much value driving a beat up car as I do driving a new car. This car is a tool and it does the main job I need it to do. My priority of paying off my debts is more important to ME than buying a new car and more than doubling the debt I am trying to get out of. This isn’t about what God wants or what is “bad”. Either choice is ok to make, but I will most likely incur the natural results of whatever choice I choose. I know better now. Buying a new car does not meet my financial goals right now. So I will wait. And I have enough trust in God that if He wants me to have a new car then He will make it clear to me by providing the money. I know He can. I know it doesn’t depend on me proving anything through taking ‘crazy’ leaps of ‘faith'”.

And all of heaven rejoiced! Finally, Sarah is starting to get it. Actually They saw progress in this area in me YEARS before I ever had a clue. Many of my most “rebellious” acts have been gut responses to lies about God that I was being pressured by others to accept.

Love give you wings. Love gives you some fight in your heart. Love LIFTS YOU UP!! Real love doesn’t kick you down or when you are down. Real love isn’t scary.

First we see people teach us this. Then we experience God for ourselves. Don’t let them talk you out of what Holy Spirit has done and is doing. Tricky to balance this without falling back into the other extreme. Just trust God’s heart for you; Jesus is Their real SIGN that this is absolutely true! With an exclamation point! You can truly embrace the process. This is not a test. This is learning who and Whose you ALREADY are. More like learning to hear see what already is versus jumping back on the performance hamster/torture wheel. Relax.

This is my new manifesto: I am ready for easy love! I have done enough time. I have tried to restring myself up on the tree; I sang “Hard Love” loud and proud with the rest of them. “You can depend on me, Lord. All the others might turn away, but I’ll never give up.” No more. I am done. And it is finished. I am ready for easy love.

Lord, I believe. Thank you for continuing to help my unbelief. You are not satisfied for even one wounded lamb to think they are lost and outside of your safe embrace. I love You and You love me. You love every one of us. You love us like we never knew love before. Thank You for continuing to show us; to help us see and hear and enjoy! You do not give us the spirit of fear; but rather of power and love and a SOUND MIND!

Already Included #25 – Thunder

By Sarah Nyhan

I used to be terrified. Of everything. Including thunder.

You grow up hearing stories about The Flood and Jonah. And as a kid there is a tendency to make a literal connection to weather and God’s “wrath”. I.e. if there is bad weather then God must be mad at me. So if there were huge thunderstorms that were shaking the windows on the house, then sometimes I would literally jump out of bed and lay prostrate face on the floor and start praying for mercy.

Perfect love casts out fear. This morning we had a storm that was so loud that it woke me up out of a dead sleep. And I just laid there and enjoyed it! I thought, “God, you like to pour out your blessings just like this rain is being poured out so much that it feels like the house might be swept away.”

And in the Spirit of Paul Young, “Yes, Lord; please wash away this shack on the inside that others have helped me build.” He is. I am loved. I am beloved.

And I give up. I let go of holding onto even this life, onto all my dreams: of a career, a house, a loving marriage, a big warm close family of friends and otherwise, better health, etc. I let it all go. Even the dreams that are so dear that I dare not speak them here.

Because I am safe. It’s God’s great love to deliver me. Maybe mostly from my messed up thinking before anything else. So I won’t go hitting the floor every time He wants to soothe my broken heart with a beautiful thunderstorm that reminds me His love is bigger than anything this life can bring.

Just like the ocean. I prayed those lyrics also: [lead] me out upon the waters. My soul will rest in Your embrace. Letting go of all anxiety. I will continue to do my best, but without the pressure of the gun of the unnecessary self-imposed stress of proving myself to God or anyone else.

I have not arrived; I will continue to grow and get better. Love does that because love is safe. Love lets you land. I have my forever home and family in Your heart, Lord. And You need me to know this first and above all. Not in my mind, but throughout every bit of my being.

Bless me with Your best because I am Your child and it is Your good pleasure. You love the hell out of me.