If I Die Then I Die

To start, I love living and am in no way interested in dying. Read more for the explanation of the title of this post.

Today I was reminded of the story of Esther. I was reminded that Esther started out as an orphan. Raised by someone else. Then chosen to be Queen. But in some ways probably feeling abandoned all over again. The story reminds us that Esther noted that her husband hadn’t called on her for I think over 30 days. And so she is Queen but probably still feeling like that little girl that is alone in the world. After so much excitement. Probably hope also. Maybe this is my deliverance. Maybe this is my forever story. Being chosen. Not just another season of disappointment. “God, I thought we were going a certain direction?” It must have felt like such a let down. Then fear on top of fear. Being asked to lay her life down in order to attempt to protect others. She gets to the point where she decides to act in accordance with letting all of her dreams go. She says something to the effect of, “If I die then I die.”

I think now of Abraham. Told that he and Sarah would have a child. Years and years go by. No child. Then he finally has the child and is asked to sacrifice the child. Not literally. That isn’t the point of the story. But while he was going through it, that is what he saw. Here you give me this promise God, and then I have to let it go. God prevailed in a powerful way, but the theme is similar to Esther.

I think of Moses. Same thing. Promised he would lead his people out. Then off to the desert until he was an old man. Tending sheep. No hope in sight. He gets to the point where he doesn’t even want the call anymore. In a way. He tells God to send someone else who he thinks would be more qualified.

David. Told he would be king. Then he has to deal with Saul trying to kill him over and over. Running and hiding in caves. Not living the life he probably associated with being a king.

Joseph. Given a dream. Then shipped off for years and years. Enduring so much unfair treatment.

All of them having to get to the point where they know they were given a promise, but having to accept their current circumstances as is. Having to let go and trust the timing to God. Trust the way to God.

I can relate. I don’t feel like I see the full picture yet. There are probably so many things happening right now that will only make sense later. Right now the suffering blinds me to the bigger picture. Blinds me to anything other than wanting relief. I empathize with those who sought solutions and resolutions. Who fight against the pressure.

I feel like I can continue to wear myself out. I can continue to cry and carry on. I can panic. Or I can let go and trust God. I can seek Him inside my heart.

Silence is torturous for me. I don’t want to hear all my fears. But tonight for a few minutes I ran out of things to distract me.

I tried to sit with God. I told Him I was angry at Him and disappointed. He already knew. I felt like He assured me that He wasn’t angry or disappointed with me.

I felt a brief settling. More like a child who is too exhausted to fight anymore. Not giving up the battle for control. But too tired to take up arms.

I felt again like I have so many times before, absolute assurance of being loved by God. And the kind encouragement to trust. That I am not alone, that there is more going on than meets the eye, that good things are in the future, and that this is not the end.

I rely on the testimonies of those we read about to give me any hope that these things are true.

My new motto is to lessen the self-imposed stress I put on myself. I don’t yet understand why, but a big part of that is letting go. Of the compulsion to be “great” or do “great” things. Of the pressure to be “successful” as society defines success. Of the need to do anything other than try to be the best person I can be to myself and others. Starting with mastering the basics first.

It is both sad and ok. Sad in that I have spent so many years driven by this need to perform, be perfect, and excel. The ego part of me mourns letting myself down in that respect. But on the other hand, it is also ok. Suddenly I can enjoy a day, I can genuinely enjoy a rest. I can take the time to appreciate a meal for simply being appealing and delicious. Versus analyzing the macros that will tilt the balance of my plans for world domination. I speak facetiously to the extreme to prove a point.

This letting go feels like a good thing in the long run. As completely uncomfortable as I feel even in releasing so little at a time. It feels like I am finally handing the wheel over to God and saying, “Will you drive?” Not in a legalistic sense. But rather like when you finally are getting to know someone and letting them in. My heart. Not just my mind.

I anticipate more adventures are ahead. Now that I don’t have my checkboxes to manage, I can better enjoy the ride.

“Free” Ride

Another true story. I used to drive a taxi years ago. Once a lady called for a taxi, but when I showed up she told me she didn’t have any money and asked for a free ride?!?!

Don’t ever make this a practice! Taxi drivers pay for their own gas and are not hourly. They only get paid from the money you give them. I was so irritated! Not only did she waste my time and gas, but now she wanted a free trip?!?! The gall!

But something IN me told me she was desperate and this wasn’t about me. One of the few times I put my ego aside; I asked her what was going on. I don’t remember any details now except I was worried enough about her mental health to wonder if she was suicidal.

But I didn’t baby her. I wanted to respect her without feeding energy into her hopelessness. And I still needed to maintain control of my space. So… I sternly told her that I would give her a free ride ONLY if she told me the WHOLE time we drove what she was thankful for.

I think she reacted by indicating that was going to be impossible. I nonchalantly called her bluff and said something to the effect of ok, well you’re turning down a free ride. She was desperate enough; she decided she could figure out a few things to be thankful for. So I let her in the taxi and we started driving. I had to help her by giving her a few ideas, but she stuck to the plan and started listing things she was thankful for, one after the other, for several miles.

I remember we were on Interstate 10 between downtown and 410 when she told me she couldn’t think of ANYTHING else to be thankful for. I said something like, “Are you sure?” And she assured me. So I said something like, “Well ok, but that means I’ll have to pull over at this next exit and let you out.” Called her bluff and started switching lanes to exit. “No, no, no, no, no!!! Ok. Ok. Ok.” And she found a few more things to be thankful for until we made it to her desired destination. 😊 I let her out and thought that was that.

BUT fast-forward to my birthday probably a few months later. One of my friends had made me strawberry cupcakes with strawberry icing and rainbow colored sprinkles (my birthday favorite, btw). I brought them in the taxi with me and decided to share them with people as I saw fit. Gave a few to some young soldiers.

But then I’m downtown rolling through the packed tourist district around the Riverwalk. With my window down. And this lady runs up to my vehicle in the middle of hundreds of people and dozens of cars on the street, in the dark. She tells her friend with her: “This is the lady I was telling you about! This is the taxi driver!”

It was the same lady I gave the free ride to. Out of so many things going on, somehow she noticed me, and she ran over to show me to her friend. She looked happy. I felt such a full heart from that. She looked so much better.

Sometimes you never know what happens, but it felt like a birthday present from Above to be able to see that she made it. Sometimes the encouragers need encouragement also. 🙂

I shared my cupcakes with her and her friend right there in the street while waiting for the light to turn from red. Pretty surreal moment. Pretty cool experience. Felt so alive. Like life turned up to the maximum volume.

Already Included #10 – A Spiritual Evolution Forward

I will be attending a group study of John MacMurray’s new book A Spiritual Evolution. I thought I’d share my thoughts as I go through the book. I will not be summarizing or explaining what is being said in the book. I will only offer my own reflections. In other words, this won’t be a substitute for actually reading the book.

I met John MacMurray last year at his School of Theology event in Oregon. My own story has echoed parts of his that he has shared, so I am looking forward to reading his book.

If you run across this page and are interested in meeting John or hearing more from him, he will be speaking in Texas in March. Please let me know if you want more information on that.

So, let’s get started on my reflections after reading the forward in John’s book. The forward was written by William Paul Young, the author of “The Shack”. Paul Young is another man whose story also resonates with my own. I think he writes beautifully and this forward was no exception. So much packed into only a few pages. This is my reflection after reading what he wrote:

When relationships disintegrate that we didn’t think we could live without, that were part of our forever story, sometimes we think God has abandoned us and doesn’t care. But God does not bring us out into the desert to die.

We can be like the Israelites – only ever known slavery to a certain level of being. Maybe God wants more for us.

I bet some of those Israelites dreamed about winning the lottery and being able to walk away from their brick-making jobs forever. But when freedom came, they panicked. They wanted to run back to the few relative comforts in Egypt that held them over.

They saw God working on the outside, but they didn’t trust Him because they didn’t know Him. He invited them in, He invited them close, but past experiences with authority contributed to them being content to keep God at a distance. “Give us our daily bread and then kindly leave us alone, please.”

I don’t think 40 years in the desert was punishment. I think it was a picture first. But then also preparation and even protection (like when Adam was kept from Eden).

Just like us all, the Israelites were actually free. They just didn’t realize all that entailed. It took them a few days to physically get out of Egypt, but it took 40 years to get the Egypt out of them.

This Promised Land was brand new. Not a place to replicate the old.

God makes beautiful things out of ashes, out of dust, out of us. He never leaves us. If circumstances scream the worst, hope is holding onto Him holding onto us. This life is not the end. I think much like with the Israelites, this is only a beginning.

Literally let go and let God.

“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.” (Isaiah 30)

Should I?

There is such a change and an exploration when I go from “should” thinking to freedom thinking. So to speak. Nothing ever was really settled before. There was no real peace. But things have been completely turned upside down now. In a good way, but still reeling. With no rules, so much more thought goes into every decision. I have a choice now. I am empowered. In His image. Not a god in the common sense, but definitely a creator of sorts.

The weight of it all. Every little choice. In the butterfly effect sense. My actions matter. I matter. No longer barrelling through life detached from the heart of matters. Now love I think in the Jesus sense of meaning it.

Where I can’t objectify you. Where this superficial stuff is blown through in an instance. Are you really my brother and sister IN Christ? Not with words alone. So sick of words. Learning to shut up. Learning to really be. Not accepting your excuses. Risking facing myself in the mirror first. So far to go. But any step in the right direction is worth every effort.

We are not alone. We look IN to do this. Too ignorant and unequipped on our own. This happens organically. I know God and am filled up in time with Him. Then what is in me pours forth. Actually always pours forth whether good or bad. Where am I striving without God? What have I not asked for help with? We never have been, never will be, and never are alone. We only look away and don’t see.

This spending time isn’t like before. Not just in a book, although that might happen also. Not just in a building. Not just in formal traditions. But anywhere, everywhere. When we seek His heart for us. Nothing to prove. Be welcomed as a child by our Good Father. Run to Him, run to mother Holy Spirit like before. Hiding not in the good/bad tree from shame. But under the wings that long for us to run home.

Outcome

It is interesting how shifts can be so subtle. Learning to let go of outcomes. Painfully learning. There is such a stubbornness to hold onto my expectations. Over time I see that God always loves me.

If I look at the negative things, my eyes fall from Jesus to the waves and I start sinking. If I remember, probably thanks to Holy Spirit, all the times God has provided supernaturally then my mind relaxes and I can let go of the outcomes that I expect.

Even when everything looks bad. Even when I don’t understand. Even… You get the point. It is real trust. Not knowing how the dance will end and still getting out on the floor. Not needing to be in any moment other than this one. Easier said than done.

How is it working for you the other way? When have you ever had control? I think we have a lot of choice. Not a paradox. Just another side of the same prism. Learning how it all fits together. Haven’t arrived yet. Living. Actually living. For once. Not from or in just my mind. But the whole me engaging. Waking up. From years and years of sleep. Of blindness.

How great Thou art. This little sheep needs a Good Shepherd. More than anything. More than the need to know. Peace is letting go to a certain extent. Is not pulling on the leash. Is reopening our hearts.

Speak to us, God. Rather, help us to hear. Even then in Your good time. You do not quench the smoking flax or break the broken reed. You restore. You heal. You mend us. You make everything beautiful in good time.

You, who paints magnificent sunsets, You who holds us dearly in the cocoon of unfathomable galaxies, You who can hold millenniums of scientists captivated by the depth of the smallest elements we can find, You who knows doors to far greater things than our imaginations can spin out – You love us. You know us by name. You care about even the little things that nobody else knows.

We are so blind. I pray for eyes to see and ears to hear. I pray real comfort and real peace for our weary hearts. You are always here. All along. Inside. All around. May we be still and know You.

Comparing Pain

I don’t know yet why this is still a thing, but I often hear people say that because one person has it bad, that means all those with problems to a “lesser” degree do not have it bad. That is not good logic. Just because you have two amputated limbs and I only have one amputated limb does not mean that you have pain and I do not have pain. Pain is pain. Just because you think you have it worse than me does not mean that I don’t have it bad also.

I was thinking yesterday that anger must be a lot easier to sit with than sadness. I see people with great anger and then beneath there is this deep sadness just waiting to burst forth. Anger must feel more empowering. There must be a sense of control and power with anger versus maybe a helplessness associated with sadness. These people, sometimes myself included, experience anger that seems disproportionate to the situation at times. May we explore in those times and ask ourselves what sadness we have not allowed ourselves to feel? What disappointments? What fears?

I am learning recently that there is a difference between living from your mind and living from your heart. Decisions sometimes seem more difficult to make when processed through the mind without the heart. I’m not talking about being reckless; hurting people is not ok. I’m saying on a bigger more general level we are out of touch with our hearts. Only with deep love do we have wings to risk being vulnerable and hoping for more than what our brain can reason.

It is a poverty mentality that thinks I have to take from you to get some of my own. Versus there being enough for both of us out there. Not realizing how rich and safe we are.

Already Included #9 – Lazarus

Several people have asked me about my thoughts on the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man in regards to this already included gospel. This is my response for now:

In Luke 16, Jesus references a man named Lazarus. The only other mention of a Lazarus in the Bible is a man named Lazarus from Bethany. We do not know for sure, but I imagine those in the area would be very familiar with the real life experience of Jesus raising this Lazarus of Bethany from the dead. That story must have spread like wildfire and surely made it to the ears of the religious leaders. So if the religious leaders knew Jesus was friends with this Lazarus of Bethany, when Jesus started this story by referencing a “Lazarus” then I’d guess Lazarus of Bethany came to their mind. Which is important.

Everyone who heard this story would know it would be very ironic that Jesus would be saying that Lazarus was dead. That in itself would lead them and us to know it wasn’t meant to be a literal story about real people. Meaning it wasn’t a literal story meant to tell us something about a literal experience about a literal hell. There must be some other point to this parable. I think Jesus using the name Lazarus, to refer to a dead person, would probably have purposely caught their attention and helped them dig for a deeper meaning. In real life, the real Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus after being physically ill. By contrast, it was the religious leaders who shunned the sick and needy on the premise that outward manifestations of such a degree were indicators of internal sin and not being right with God.

We struggle with the same issue today: “But God, I know all of the right answers. Why is evil so-and-so being ‘blessed’ and I am not?” I think Jesus was saying to the religious leaders then what He would still say to us now: do not live by physical sight. There is more out there than what you see in front of you. Than what your religious traditions are telling you. There is so much more going on. God is way bigger than the boxes we try to put Him in.

If we applied our own logic about the blessings/righteousness correlation to Jesus, then how could we ever believe in Him? He led by example. He did not come like an earthly king or the mythical gods in our minds. He started out appearing as a bastard child. He started out being covered by humans in shame. Born not as a celebrated Savior by those who postured authority. We had no room for this God. We stuck Him in a barn with the animals. We treated Him as such His whole life. This Creator of every glorious beauty we can find and imagine. We whooped Him. We treated Him worse than we would treat an animal. He had no earthly home. All abandoned Him. Yet He was God. Was He separated from His Father because of sin? Of course not. John 8:29.

Jesus promised us tribulation, but He said He overcame the world. Whatever circumstances we find in these present times is not a reflection of any degree of being better than anyone else. The religious leaders knew this in their hearts. Surely their consciences were pricked. Not just to be irritated; I think with love The Lord is shaking their flimsy pedestals. His passionate wrath is always FOR them – also. For those that He knows will deal with their fear in the only way they see how: by destroying what threatens their thin sense of security.

The rich young ruler knew it. Nicodemus knew it. Something just wasn’t quite right and settled in them. They had everything they were supposed to have and yet there still was unrest and a lack of peace. But they were the ones who were supposed to know everything. So Jesus meets them wherever they are and He uses their own logic to shake them awake. Always loving them. Not being repulsed by their blindness or their sin. It is we who hide in trees of fig leaves. Seeking all sorts of emperors’ clothes to cover the shame we feel. God asks us where we are hiding. Not to punish us. But to turn our eyes back to Him. To see who He really is. The gates of our hell are always open. We are always welcome to return home to the Father’s heart.

These religious leaders know there is something different about Jesus. They are drawn to Him even as their house of cards is threatened by the highest authority of actual Truth. His passionate wrath for their freedom and full restoration means He can’t leave them unchallenged. He can’t stand by quietly as they persist in what is killing them. Knowing full well that He can take all they throw at Him. Like a dad correcting the toddler. Knowing the toddler doesn’t get it, but it will be better for the child in the long run. Knowing the child will throw a tantrum. Not threatened by it in the least. Even better than the best human dad. No ego. Completely unthreatened by whatever we can imagine to throw back at Him. We are and always have been safe. Not some theological exercise. He proved this in the flesh, His flesh. He cried tears and sweat blood for us. Fully God, fully Father, fully Jesus. Again, for us. For His great love for us. Not accepting that any should perish.

I think Jesus is pushing their and our logic to its ultimate end. Not to leave them alone and abandoned. Just the opposite. To show them they can’t and don’t need to do it all alone. More importantly, they never were meant to do it alone. Even more specifically: they have never been alone. Never separated. Just because they turned away and couldn’t see does not mean their perspective is reality. It was never about money, works, or knowledge.

Nicodemus: be born again. Rich young ruler: be perfect. Rich men: be Lazarus. It’s impossible. THEIR logic pushed to its limits. So their hearts can be open and ready to see and listen for something other than empty rhetoric. Ready for another way of looking at themselves, this life, and God.

For more on my thoughts about the rich young ruler, please see https://sarahnyhan.com/2017/11/16/asceticism/