Already Included #19 – Biggest

By Sarah Nyhan

I’ve noticed a phenomena in myself and many others where we choose to align ourselves with whoever is “biggest” versus best. We tell ourselves that biggest equals best, but that is more a lazy convenient argument than actual truth.

I’m sure many of us have gone to a new city and chosen to eat fast food instead of exploring the local fare. The best restaurant we’ve never tried could be located around the corner, but instead we’ll choose the bigger fast food chain rather than do a little investigative work. We tell ourselves we’re making the right decision because the fast food chain is bigger and “safer”, even though in more familiar surroundings it would be our last choice. All to avoid venturing into the unknown.

The great majority of us who are U.S. citizens exclaim that America is the greatest country on earth without having travelled enough outside of our bubble to say that as an experiential truth. We’re one of the biggest countries, but does that automatically make us the best? How different are we than the homeless person who chooses to sleep on the streets of an over-priced city with few realistic prospects rather than venture out to a more affordable smaller city only miles down or up the road?

We do this with employers, universities, and even churches. Yet bigger doesn’t always mean better. As a mentor told me, more isn’t better – better is better.

Yet it’s not easy to do the work of finding out what is actually best. Maybe more to the point for some, it’s also not easy to do the very difficult work of facing the disappointment and mourning of having invested so much into something we hoped would turn out differently. To the extreme, people have literally lost loved ones to wars fought by this big country – the ultimate sacrifice. How can they even start to consider that loss might have been in vain or unnecessary? (I’m not saying this is true in all cases; only that thinking it could be even in one case is close to unbearable.)

It can even be difficult to accept that we’ve invested more time than was warranted with a big church or a big employer. We end up playing on tilt; hoping one day our investment will pay off if we keep pouring all we have into it. Especially insidious when those in command misapply good spiritual principles to guilt those looking up to them to not hold them accountable.

Then there is the hard work of facing the rejection of others. Less of an issue when you try to buck the system with your friends in a new town. If they all reject your attempts to try a new local restaurant instead of a bigger fast food chain then you’ll probably choose not to die on that hill. What’s a few less-than-optimal meals?

But if we’re talking about leaving a big country or even an big employer, there will be a measure of pretty fierce rejection by many of our comrades. My personal experience has been that leaving a big church or a big theological way of thinking is not much different.

I never initially considered that even jealousy could be a reason for rejection versus outright disagreement with my new viewpoints. Sometimes there are people who don’t even feel free enough to even admit to themselves that they long for something different and better. When someone else speaks their truth or has the audacity to act on it and then experience undeniable freedom and joy – that threatens their entire house of cards. Your courage can be offensive in that sense. And their reaction might be anger towards you. It’s too much for them to face – until the pain of staying the same becomes unbearable.

Just because a theological belief system is the biggest, doesn’t mean it is completely true. Over and over we have proof of this not only in general history, but also in our own Bibles. People have paid with their lives and livelihoods in order to leave these systems and speak and live out truth as was revealed to and embraced by them.

What motivated David, Daniel, and Esther to stand against the great big human powers of their time? They knew how much bigger and better their God is compared to the greatest displays of human power.

“…our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”

Even Jesus showed us that all of man’s worst is not to be feared. Being with God is the true majority no matter if all of Creation turns against you. As I’ve said before, I’d rather be in the desert with Jesus than in a “promised land” without Him.

And yet that isn’t the end of the story. Human nature says stick your tongue out at the other side and clob them over the head when you get the chance. For all your troubles and to give them something to think about. But is that the example of our Saviour? He certainly didn’t subject Himself without purpose or in all cases, but His attitude and being was humble service versus ego.

In that regard, when rejected we can fully trust Holy Spirit with our comrades and loved ones. We are free to go live our lives without having to devalue them or anything positive we obtained through our time with them. To every thing there is a season. Just because it is time to go different directions doesn’t mean there was never anything good.

And likewise, just because I love you doesn’t mean I can never disagree with you or that you are never wrong. This is the beautifully big business of navigating relationship in the context of God’s perfect and complete love.

Although I cannot turn back and join you just because you won’t leave, and although I will not stop seeking the destruction of every lie that destroys us or destroys the connection between us, my growth doesn’t have to mean your annihilation. And vice versa.

Wish each other well.

Already Included #15: A Spiritual Evolution – Justice

Whew! I’ve been meaning to write on John MacMurray’s new book “A Spiritual Evolution” as I am reading it. However, life has been so busy that I haven’t been able to do more than read it. However, I had to take time out tonight to comment on Chapter 7. The theme of the chapter is justice. Without spoiling how John masterfully articulates the old view with the new-to-us view, I’ll share a few thoughts.

There is so much to take away from Chapter 7, however the biggest practical application for me was considering whether I truly want restoration or vengeance towards those who have harmed me? I think back and I realize more often than not I want others to hurt as badly as they’ve hurt me.

Understandable some might say. But I have dressed up my desire for them to hurt by cloaking it in the illusion of religious piety. I’ve made God out to be their punisher instead of me.

That’s helped me move on in the face of such great pain and suffering. That has helped me put one foot in front of the other. And should we tell the victim fresh out of tragedy that they should desire the offender’s restoration? I wouldn’t dare! Even God says be angry. And do not sin.

This is the messy, messy business of real life and relationship versus religion.

Maybe this is the reason the theme of forgiveness keeps coming up in my life. I’ve run the gamut from repeatedly exposing myself to people who have hurt me because I incorrectly thought God wanted me to do that. All the way through to allowing myself to be angry, then learning how to protect myself, and now this. Now this. Like a ton of bricks.

Maybe forgiveness doesn’t just mean we only choose not to punish them. Maybe forgiveness also means at some point, organically through the Love of the Trinity being poured into us and the power of Holy Spirit, eventually we can actually want the offender to be restored in the sense of regaining their health. Not in the sense of necessarily letting them back into our lives.

I hope John continues to explore this in his book. This is not a book to rush through if you can relate to John’s journey. The implications of what he is saying are many and warrant time spent in contemplation. And action.

How many relationships has this desire for vengeance impacted in my life?! Moving on requires substantial efforts in letting go of ego. But then also dealing with past hurts. These modern day frustrations do not often warrant the responses I give them. There is still that sting of being wronged years ago that is so easily hit upon as I am still waiting for my version of justice to be served all this time later. I am still waiting for the news that they feel some level of pain that makes them understand what they have done and feel sorry enough to humble themselves and make amends.

And probably the latter part of that is necessary to restore relationship. But do I actually want to see them recover from their fall and be happy and successful? How “fair” do I feel it is for me to be imprisoned by this pain for so many years and then see them successful and doing well without going through at least the same amount of pain? I do not want this on my own. And yet I do not want to face my own version of justice for my own failures. Aye, the quandary!

Thank God that He is faithful to complete the work He starts in us. Easier said on paper than put into practice. But He doesn’t leave us for one second. We are not abandoned. We are not punching bags. We are not doormats. Somehow all this works out on a supernatural level.

For now we ask Holy Spirit for comfort, direction, understanding, and strength. One step at a time. Trinity has always been and always will be for us more than we are for ourselves. And to that we can rest and say “amen”.