Already Included #24 – Time Well Spent

By Sarah Nyhan

I had an amazing thought today: I have time to food prep this weekend for my work week next week. Do you know why this is an amazing thought? I never had time before. I mean, I had time, I just didn’t realize it.

This might seem like a little thing to those who are used to freedom. But this is huge for me. When I was thinking about this today, I realized that I spent so much time before doing religious activities that the activities of living were put to the side except maybe the most necessary.

At the peak, I was attending a church where I could go to:

-a prayer breakfast once a month on Monday morning hosted by the pastor’s wife

-a Bible study for women on Monday night

-a mandatory “Family Night” Bible study for a “ministry” I first volunteered at and then worked for

-a church service on Wednesday nights

-another Bible study on Thursday mornings for women

-a church service on Friday nights

-a prayer meeting on Saturday mornings

-a class every other Saturday morning at the church

-a prayer group once a month on a Saturday night

-three available church services on Sunday mornings. I’d usually attend one and “serve” during another. This was encouraged from the pulpit.

-a class on Sunday nights at the church

-once a year retreats for the women

-once a year luncheon for the women

-once a year off-site baptism

-holiday and other special gatherings

-and then to the extreme, when I volunteered/worked at the “ministry”, I was supposed to lead a Bible study every morning except Sunday

Not to meantion my own private time of study I was supposed to be doing. And the innumberable social gatherings that usually incorporated times of Bible study and prayer.

Do you see now?

For the most part, I enjoyed spending a lot of time with that church family. The great majority of whom do not initiate contact with me anymore after I “walked away”. But there was a measure of pressure from the pulpit and the community at large to spend a lot of time at the church or doing church things. Some might even call it an excessive amount of time.

The insidiousness of this was that it was somewhat implied that the time you spent doing these things was time you were spending for Jesus. And while that may be true for specific individuals, I don’t think there was enough encouragement to go out and actually live in the real world. I rather experienced a lot of pressure to pull people into spending more time in and with the church doing church things.

And where that might be fine for some people, I felt condemnation from some people as if going “out into the world” to pursue non-church related things indicated I wasn’t really that serious about Jesus. Or if I wanted to spend time away from the church and church people doing God-forbid, fun social activities or even doing nothing, not even talking about God, then I was kinda not “living for the kingdom” if I at least didn’t have the agenda of trying to convert these people I’d be spending time with. As if simply enjoying the company of another is not enough. Is not love.

Eventually I broke. I was near suicidal. I was sooo tired. There was always someone else asking me to sign up for one more thing. I was into the business of saving souls and I should be taking every opportunity to do so. For the most part well-intentioned, I have no doubt. But my issue to this day is that even though it was preached over and over again to “just be with Jesus”, it seemed that there was non-stop pressure in regards to that not being enough. Real Christians were supposed to “work for Jesus”.

Oh my gosh, I express to you how tired I was. Even now, as I’ve spent the last five years detoxing from all that activity, I still struggle on a daily basis to be ok with “it is finished”. Paul Young refers to it as an addiction to basically “doing something great for God”. What a new perspective to let God do the great things and me just learn how to live loved?!

It’s felt so different that I’ve struggled with guilt as I learn to do simple things like watch a movie that isn’t about God. Or go to a restaurant simply because I enjoy the food. Only this month did Is spend an hour or so making some art just because I wanted to – without an agenda.

Sometimes I would sit in that church and feel like I couldn’t breathe. It was like every last cell of survival, of fight or flight, was SCREAMING at me to get out of there. Instead of listening to my gut, I’d spend a significant part of the time during the service rationalizing in my mind why I was there.

I remember one time I had a brazen act of rebellion a few years ago after I had already started “walking away”. I was driving to that church and either when I arrived or shortly before I arrived, I just kept driving! I decided Jesus wouldn’t be mad at me if I went on a drive and enjoyed the nice weather and His Creation with Holy Spirit. I just drove and listened to music and enjoyed the scenery. Christian worship music, by the way; I wasn’t yet free inside my mind enough to even consider that God might appreciate Hall & Oates, some rap music, a Led Zeppelin riff, or my favorite EDM jams. On a Sunday morning at that?! The audacity of me.

It really was a huge deal for me. I remember how proud I was of myself that I finally got the courage to do that. That I finally realized a drive in the country was as much worship as sitting in a church service singing hymns and being preached at for two hours.

Even only a few months ago, I gave myself permission to not go to church so I could go down to the water and enjoy the sun on a Sunday. Again, another huge victory in my mind.

Not hosting a Bible study at my house or attending one, not having any agenda to convert people, not going to a church service at least once a week (preferably on Sunday) – all these things would have been cause for concern for my salvation years ago. Maybe not actually spoken, but surely suspected.

I had a friend tell me a few months ago that I have changed. She told me that I used to stop and have everyone pray all the time. She told me that I used to quote Bible verses all the time. She said that I don’t do that anymore.

She even said that when I did all of that before, it used to really turn her off. But she said now she sees that it was the right thing to do. And basically that I am wrong for not doing those things anymore. She said that having me in her home now is like letting someone do cocaine at her dining room table!! I kid you not.

My response to her was that I “pray” all the time now. But it’s private 99% of the time. I don’t feel the need to “bless the food” officially out loud. I don’t feel the need to stop everyone and force them to pray with me. I actually prefer to wait for consent. So that it’s two coming together versus one being dragged.

I don’t feel the need to quote the Bible all the time anymore. If you haven’t noticed, God is still my favorite subject to talk about. But I now try again to wait for the consent of the other person before I go there in conversation. And I save the rest of the words dying to get out of me for this blog. 🙂 I told my friend that I prefer for my actions to speak louder than my words as I travel through my day to day life now. This is revolutionary from where we came from. But total freedom for me now as I realize I am only participating in Holy Spirit revealing God to everyone all the time. God’s got this. Really. I can just be a nice, decent human being with a personality and interests (GASP!) and God is right there in the middle of it all. Weaving people together when they need each other. Sometimes with words, many times not. A smile, a helping hand without making the person a project, even letting someone cut in front of you in traffic sometimes – all of these things are love. All of these things matter. All of these things feel more worthwhile than most of the “ministry” I did before.

There is a time and place for study. I’ve been blessed with like-minded individuals who meet to basically share our adventures in Christ. This feels so refreshing. Pretty much how I’m deciding it is supposed to be. More a sharing than a show. Where everyone is important. Not just those “in ministry”.

My friend who said I wasn’t praying and quoting Bible scriptures enough – we have only talked once in the past five months because I initiated. This grieves me terribly. I wish I could lift the veil and chains off all those I love. Believe me, I’ve tried. That’s what I would have busied myself with in the old way.

After being rejected over and over and over again, I’ve come to the place where it has to be God or nothing. Like with anything else that seems to matter so much. It’s revolutionary for me to trust my loved ones with Him. To let go. To go live my life. To spend time on a Sunday doing meal prep. To even have the time on a Sunday to do meal prep.

I write this for those that understand. I get it. The hard part is sometimes not being able to share how huge these shifts in the mind are with people who understand. So I do this for me and I do this for you.

As someone I love, value, and respect very much often reminds me: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” There’s a Bible verse for you. 🙂 Galations 5:1

Already Included #23 – Values

By Sarah Nyhan

I’m learning recently that just because I have the same spiritual beliefs as someone, that doesn’t mean we have the same values. I think many times in the past, I’ve excused people’s behaviors because they were in the same group of “believers” as me.

Often that group was disproportionately smaller than the general population. There is more to lose in many senses when your community is small. You might accept behavior that you would not otherwise accept if your community were larger.

This can lead to people protecting and defending perpetrators of abuse. I mean, really; let’s call it what it sometimes can be. You hate to think that some people relish the opportunity to exploit the desperation of a smaller group of passionate people. But we see this time and time again across history. Sometimes with lethal or other devastating results by the time those in control have run their course or those in the rank and file finally gather the courage to start anew.

I think one of the most important things I’ve learned with this “already included” message is that no one has the market cornered on spirituality. There are no gurus or prophets in the exclusive sense.

There are gifts, for sure. There is experience also. But without love and true communion with God, I’ve observed people holding onto yesterday’s manna (i.e. revelations) – which then leads to an ugliness taking over, usually with ego at the helm.

We should have our relationship with God as our first and maybe only authority? And then allow others to supplement that relationship when appropriate? We are each able to go to God anytime every day and get a whole new batch of manna, a whole new spiritual refueling, whole new insight. This is relationship. Versus the detachment of abdicating that role to another as intermediary.

I find most often those people who actually speak into my life, do so unknowingly. Those experiences do not feel heavy and conflicted like when another struts around with self-imposed authority, well-meaning or not.

So what does this mean pratically? A few things.

First, unfortunately I’ve had to accept the fact that just because someone believes in this new-to-me “already included” message, that does not mean they have been changed by it in the ways of heart matters. And for me to excuse their hurtful behaviors because of their beliefs is something I do not want to do anymore. This takes courage as the physical “already included” community I am aware of numbers less than several dozens of people. Much less locally.

There is also grief. Especially for someone like myself who has spent so many years operating out of a different paradigm that left me so weighted down for so many years. To understand this “already included” message is literally the best thing I’ve ever known in my life. The first real freedom. Every.single.thing has changed almost. Always for the better.

So to see another from maybe a less oppressive paradigm claim the “already included” message but not value it practically as lived out in relationship – feels like such a loss! It’s as if I discovered a stash of gold and shared it with others. They then took it from me but just stored it in their houses and did nothing with it. Maybe they even put it away for safe-keeping, but it means nothing in the experiential sense. For all practical purposes.

I find it takes longer than I’d like to accept this reality in those I’d like to behave otherwise. And yet, I’d be remiss if I focused on everyone else and neglected analyzing my own behavior in this regard.

The interesting thing is that I am finding plenty of people that don’t have any interest in this “already included” message or Christianity or any spiritual discussion for that matter. And yet, they share my same values even if our beliefs differ. This is so challenging for me to wrap my head around practically even as this makes total sense intellectually.

If all are included, then we each have varying degrees of connectedness with our Creator and manifest that in different ways. What others may lack in the more easly-recognizable spiritual stances and practices, they may make up for implicitly in their authentic actions. Motivated by a heart not numbed by theological addictions. Then are they not behaving with actual spirituality? Possibly even more so than those who would spend hours and years pressuring them to convert and say the “right” things and join the “right” groups, sing the “right” songs, etc. Oh man, this stuff gets messy.

I ask myself as a single person, what matters more? To the extreme – the man who actually values me but has no interest in talking about God? Or the man who can say and even knows all the “right” things, but only values me for what I can do versus who I am?

I am hopeful that the best of both worlds exists out there somewhere for me. The thought of being with someone who values me but is uninterested in God is very sad to me; yet I’d probably choose that option over the alternative described above if I had to make that choice,

But I face this issue not only in terms of a spouse. Suddenly I realize those in the organized corporate church might actually not be the friends I elevated them to be merely by association. There may be others “outside” that actually value me more. Actually treat me better.

I’m almost sick of words these days. For all our talking, I think we could use a lot more doing. Not to condemn others. But just to say, c’mon fam – we can do better. And maybe holding each other to higher standards is part of that.

As always, I have more than enough of my own work to do and keep me busy.

God help us.

Already Included #17 – John MacMurray: March 2nd

Today I attended the event in Belton, Texas where John MacMurray was speaking with a focus on the material in his latest book, A Spiritual Evolution. As God always does, I went expecting certain outcomes and was completely surprised by what God seemed to have in store for me personally. I also met some new friends and enjoyed talking with so many people. Community is always my favorite part of these events.

But how RICH we were to have John travel all the way from Oregon to speak with us for over four hours! A spiritual buffet if you will. And we were stuffed with so much goodness. Here are my highlights from thirteen pages of notes taken in my new journal gifted to me by the beautiful Clarice:

  • People are not going to look for other answers or be open to new information that challenges their current paradigm until life brings them to a point where they consider that their current way of thinking may be incorrect.
  • Relationship takes a long time. Life is about relationship. Information is not the end goal.
  • Love is not something God does. Love is who God is. The deepest, truest thing about God is NOT that He is a narcissist.
  • God is always better than whatever metaphors we try our best to use to explain Him.
  • The way I used to think said God’s highest aim was to create us for His glory. It is different and totally beautiful if rather God creates to share the relationship experienced by The Trinity.
  • In The Trinity there is now humanity through Jesus.
  • We cannot control others. We can only influence others. And we influence through love.
  • It is a holy privilege to have children.
  • We can live out of already being embraced by God versus living to be embraced by God.
  • God is interested in destroying the sin that comes between Lover and beloved. This is versus loving rules over relationship and being focused on punishing sin.
  • In this way we also should think of sin in relational terms versus moral or legal terms.
  • No one wants to get into our mess to clean it up. God not only gets into our mess, but He jumps in to heal us – not just clean us.
  • Jesus comes to give us His knowledge of OUR Father. Our problem is we don’t know our Father.
  • Eternal life is also relational.
  • God is completely invested IN and committed to us. To you. To me.
  • The truth of my being is different than the way of my being. And obviously we aim for the way to eventually match the truth. This is at least a lifelong process. Without a pass/fail final exam.
  • Reconciliation is a different conversation than forgiveness. You can’t have reconciliation without trust.
  • Beauty shortcircuits intellect. Beauty gets behind our watchful dragons.

Huddle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diligent

One time several years ago I went to The Alamo to street witness with a group of people from my church. A friend named Tusi was my witnessing partner that day. We arrived at Alamo Plaza and started talking to people. Tusi saw a snow cone stand and said she wanted to go get a snow cone. My attitude was like, “Tusi, we are here to save people from hell. Not to eat snow cones.”

She stayed with me and we “witnessed” to a few more people. But whenever we weren’t talking to people, she kept talking to me about snow cones. Finally I was like, “Fine! Since your ‘flesh’ is getting in the way of ‘witnessing’, go get your stupid snow cone.” I didn’t say it like that, but it was my attitude.

She left me and went over to the snow cone stand and was taking a long time. I went over to bring her back to “work” and there she was praying with the snow cone people for their business. God, as only God can do, gave me a funny wakeup call that day. Been learning a lot since then.

God participates with us just as we are. Not in spite of who we are. The pressure is off. Holy Spirit does the heavy lifting. There is no competition or condemnation.

“There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest…” Hebrews 4

How Can You?

There is this line that I walk a lot where I try to figure out whether speaking on issues is important or not. How do we know whether it is Holy Spirit prompting us or just our own efforts? Does it even matter? Meaning, is there benefit to be gained either way?

In the past, I was a little more hot-headed. But then you live a little. You realize you’ve done or are as prone to doing the same errors that you observe everyone else making. It’s humbling.

People are in different places in their lives. Someone with a lot of wisdom told me, “Eat the meat, spit out the bones”.

I am learning to separate the position from the person. It’s not my job to change anyone’s mind. I write more for those who read something that resonates.

This season in my life I’ve been struggling with surrendering the need to know. Learning to go with the flow. Every day a new adventure. Living in the present. Hopeful for tomorrow. But not as married to a particular outcome as I was in the past.

I truly believe we shouldn’t guilt or scare people into choosing to follow God. The analogy that came to mind this morning was that of a child that has been taken away from an abusive home and put into foster care. It is my opinion that it would be very wrong of the foster parents to tell the abused child, “You better love us because we saved you from bad treatment. If you don’t love us, we will send you away.” What?!?! The absurdity!

We wouldn’t do that as humans. (Or at least, I hope we wouldn’t.) Why would we then ascribe that attitude to the God who Created us? Who said He so LOVED the world that He sent His Son to prove it to our blind minds. That’s why it is so offensive to me when people think they are speaking for Jesus when they are guilting or scaring people into making forced confessions of faith.

What would Jesus do? Maybe Jesus who said to run to Him as a child, and maybe Jesus who said He longs to gather us as a mother hen gathers her chicks, and maybe Jesus who said a millstone should be hung around the neck of those who hurt children (in the faith or otherwise), maybe that Jesus would take the abused child and care for the child without demanding anything in return. Knowing that the child cannot love what the child doesn’t know. Cannot trust without experiencing trustworthiness.

How can a person love a God that they don’t yet know? Especially coming from a place where they need healing first. They need an example of what love is.

I wish speakers would stop preaching behavioral modification and instead preach Jesus. I wish I could go to a meeting house on a Sunday or any other given day of the week and learn more about this God we say we believe is only LOVE.

I wish you would tell me more abput this God. How great He is. How you experienced Him this week. Not years ago, although I want to hear that also. But today! Tell me so I can know. So I can believe. So I want a relationship with God for myself.

Not religion. We have had more than enough religion.

We need a God that is bigger than us. Bigger than our resistance. Bigger than our hurt and pain. Bigger than our doubts. Tell me about that God! And I guarantee I’ll love Him more and more.

For all of you that don’t have anyone speaking life to you. For all you seekers. Ask. Seek. Knock. With all that you are now. As you are. Just put it out there from your heart. Even your anger. Even your rage. Even your cursing and your doubts. Take a risk. If you don’t believe anyway, what do you have to lose? Ask God to help you see Him as He really is.

I have experienced things that make me pretty confident in saying it will be worth it.