Already Included #32 – Greatness

By Sarah Nyhan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Already Included #31 – You

By Sarah Nyhan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God doesn’t destroy us.

Already Included #21 – Will It Be?

By Sarah Nyhan

A few weeks ago I was driving down the road and wondering whether I should go live in Corpus Christi. Right after I had the thought, I passed by a street sign with the words “Corpus Christi”. The old me would have seen that as a “sign” to move.

The new me saw it a little differently; saw it as a friendly challenge. As in, “Do you really need to go down this literal road again? How many times do you have to bang your head against a wall before you turn around and go a different way? Cause we can keep doing this as long as it takes. The wall ain’t going anywhere.”

Out of all these years, this has been the one thing that seems the hardest to let go of. I’m sure this has some deep-root in needing to feel safe. And in control. Whew!

We only need control when we don’t trust. Think about it. Think about a lover, fictional if need be. If you implicitly trusted that person’s heart for you, you would be ok letting go of control. But not so much if you have doubts.

And there I am with God. Still unsure after all these years. Light years beyond where I started, but still not all the way there yet. Maybe never will be. But I’d like to continue growing.

And so these signs. It’s about being able to predict the future. Which rationally is impossible. Yet our culture is so obsessed with the illusion of being able to control and predict the future that we take it for granted. We hold each other accountable for things we are really unable to promise.

I’m learning to live in the grace of each moment. Borrowed primarily from Paul Young. Like he also says, letting go of outcomes. This makes me seem like I don’t care. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. But those still on the “other side” have become very upset with me; even to the point of not speaking with me.

Because I am learning to use different language. I am not so certain anymore. Learning not to over-promise and under-deliver. Still a long way to go, but making good progress.

All to say I’ve slowly, painfully been coming around to the concept of “writing my own story”. This is completely opposite of the deterministic god I was taught in previous religious circles. That god has a plan and I was along for the ride. Hence, the signs.

This new-to-me God I think is different. Maybe not totally hands-off; I’m not buying that yet. But whenever I ask what to do, mostly all I ever get back now is, “What do you want to do?”

What do I want? I never asked those questions in the old way. That was blasphemous talk in the old way. Literally and seriously. In the old way god didn’t care about me; I had a job to do and good soldiers were rewarded.

Ironically it is the study of the history of science that is clearing things up for me. Whole worlds. These scientists were not special guys in many senses. We make them larger than life and they certainly had gifts. But in a way I think some of their non-religious focus contributed to their freedom to abandon themselves to the pursuit of the wonder of Creation they saw and experienced. To me now, science in good measure is one of the highest most beautiful forms of worship.

I imagine God not looking down on Mr./Ms. Scientist and being disappointed that they are in the lab versus going to church. Rather I now picture Holy Spirit right there across the lab table giddy with excitement as one of Their kids starts to unravel a mystery that will change the world. Totally unthreatened by the questions and debates that will ensue. All a part of the process of inviting us to draw closer. Even in our anger and disbelief. Not a puppet master; rather able to handle anything and everything we come at Him with.

And here is where my mind strains at current capacity. What might we do if we really got it? If we really understood how Creation yearns for our full release into all we were designed to be. Not in a plan so much as possibilities.

This is where the ceiling blows off all my previous boxes. From the INside out. Instead of figuring out one storyline, now the entire cosmos is a possibility. Do you know what this means?! We get to write our own stories! As in, what would your life look like if you started over with no signs, no plan. Just a pen. What would the next line be?

This means you can pursue that dream. To borrow a bit from my brother, this means it is almost a sin NOT to pursue the dream inside of you.

Now don’t get carried away; as with anything – my words can be incorrectly extrapolated to unhealthy extremes. Remember, if our choices will impact others in ways that look a lot different than love then I’d say tread so lightly and do a lot more considering and talking to God about that.

But the point remains. You could have been created as a dog or a donkey. Instead you were given the highest place on this earth and in the known cosmos. You were given life in Their Image. You are not God, you do not exist on your own. But you are definitely given so much power to create. Anything. For better or for worse.

Have you really embraced that ability and power? Is your story going to be coming home and watching TV until you go to bed? For the rest of this life? I mean, I get it; the world is really sad – sometimes you just want to get away. All I am saying is maybe don’t blame that life on God.

It hurts to dream. It hurts to pick up the pen and try again. Fact is we’ve lost a lot; we’ve been sold a bag of bad goods for a long, long time. That’s hard to take. There is anger and deep deep grief. And time to mourn. But at least for now, also another tomorrow.

They already took enough; don’t let them give us a life sentence. Take today back. Take YOUR life back a moment at a time. What does writing your own story look like in this minute?

I don’t think God is a tricky God. I don’t now think He has some magical plan that He hides from me and leaves breadcrumbs in signs for me to find. That would be too tricky, in a bad way.

Now I see it differently. I see it as He opens in my mind windows of possibilities; gives me insights into avenues for exploring. And any are mine for the pursuing. Knowing the participating is more the point than the outcomes.

This means I can dream bigger. This means I can ask for more. This means even a simple life is worth as much as solving the latest planetary crisis. We dance with this God. We are not being dragged.

I used to pray as a little girl that I wanted to walk with God like Enoch. I used to pray as a little girl that God would help me not to be deceived. That He would never leave me to myself. I see so much how those prayers have been answered over and over. To the point where I was shown I can stop praying them out of fear and relax in God’s total love and acceptance. He hears, He knows, He sees. I don’t have to beg Him for things He already is happy to give us.

I’m still not really settled or sure what prayer is anymore after all I’ve been through after the past almost two years. But what I know for sure is that there is so much more out there for us to experience and embrace. Our God is not the icon on a throne with scepter in hand as subjects prostrate themselves around on the floor. Now that is blasphemy!

Our God embraces the little children who run to Him. Children who instinctively knew He was safe to run to. Our God puts on astounding displays in new sunsets and new sunrises every day. Our God sings to us from night skies and northern lights. Everything saying there is more, there is more, there is more! More beauty in us and for us. More love. More of Him to explore.

I wonder how far we can take it? How far can we take “you have not because you ask not”. I know this is NOT name it and claim it. But unanswered questions are invitations that continue to beckon.

Whether you do much or do little, whether you do big or you do small – today you write a story. What will it be?