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 #20 – Self-Control

By Sarah Nyhan

I’d apologize for not writing as often, but my priorities have shifted to something even better than writing: living real life! I’ve been re-engaging with the world. After years of being stuck on the same hamster wheel in my mind. Over and over, furiously pedaling away – but getting nowhere. My joy and life is returning in bits and pieces and I’m loving it! Parts of me that I used to enjoy and haven’t seen in years and years are returning. Hope and love are very good things!

On that note, for all my efforts before accepting God’s unconditional love, certain fruits of the Spirit seemed to always elude me. I felt so much guilt about this. How could even non-Christians have more “fruit” than me? I was slaving away for the church and reading my Bible every day, going to multiple services a week, etc. It was an embarrassment and a quandary.

Well, I think the reason is that I misinterpreted fruit of the Spirit as fruit of my efforts. It’s interesting in contrast now how effortless the real changes in me have been.

Before I’d wonder why someone in the Bible said we’d throw our crowns at Jesus’ feet. My attitude before was well-intentioned posturing of humility. In that I truly tried to be humble, but I saw all my effort and intellectually I knew I shouldn’t take credit and should give all the “glory” to God, but deep inside it felt more like my work than His. And that is probably a red flag for what mode I am operating in.

Now I understand the picture of throwing our crowns at His feet. Now I get it. True change comes from being loved and accepting that love. It comes from the inside out. Not through effort. Not an intellectual exercise of the mind. But from the heart that has been saturated in Spirit goodness and feels safe.

You may have forgotten what this feels like. Remember a time when you were so deeply in love with someone? You didn’t think twice. Doing the right things was effortless and even a joy!

The gauge in my own life has always been my health. Or as most would probably perceive it – my battle with losing weight. Whenever I have been “in love”, eating the healthy things and exercising has been a joy. But the minute I don’t feel safe, my body “protects” me by packing on the pounds to shield me from whatever threat is present – most commonly a person or people.

But I didn’t have that clarity or insight for almost my whole life. Only in the past two years has this become clear to me. Have I given myself a break. Have I been kind and nice to myself.

Before, I went so far as starving myself for 11 days on two occasions, and another time for 18 days. Only water. No food. My electrolytes so out of whack that I could barely walk. Every other week I would put myself on a restriction diet of some sort. If only I’d try harder. In vain I would try to force myself to care more. It never worked. It only led to alarming levels of despondency.

Compare that nightmare to my experience for almost the last year. After my 18 day starvation stint last year and feeling closer to death than I admitted to anyone, I vowed never to do that to myself again. I vowed to always be grateful for food and enjoy food. I told myself that I would not do anymore restriction DIEts ever again!

But Sarah, you don’t drink caffeine and you try not to eat chocolate or processed and fried foods? Ah, yes! But let me explain the difference. And hang in there with me – there is something so spiritual even in the physical.

There is a WORLD of difference now! First of all, I don’t tell myself that I am not allowed to drink caffeine or eat chocolate or processed/fried foods. I give myself FULL freedom to eat those things – if I truly want them. But the catch is now that I don’t have any rules, my decisions come from a better place. Now I evaluate foods not on whether I should have them or not – as if there is some rule book out there from God or anyone else. But now I rather make decisions on how the foods make me feel.

Now without some law hanging over my head like a guillotine, I instead am starting to become aware of how foods make me feel for the first time in so long. I am totally free to drink caffeine – but it causes me to have massive headaches and it is an annoying diuretic for me. So out of finally feeling love for myself because I am embracing being already 100% loved and accepted and included by my Creator, my Father – only now am I able to be nice to myself and choose to not have caffeine because it doesn’t make me feel like I want to feel. This is total internal locus of control versus being motivated by shame or guilt.

Another example: my allergies flare up when I eat most processed wheat products. I feel like I can’t think clearly and I don’t have hardly any energy. Yet now I give myself complete freedom to eat as much processed wheat products – IF I want to. But now that I feel fully loved and accepted by God, I am becoming aware of how badly I feel when I eat processed foods. So the choice is so much easier.

There is an element of physical addiction to some foods, elements of finding new habits to replace old habits, and still working through ways to face emotions without emotional eating. But all in the context of complete and absolute freedom to do what I want now.

This actually leads to more personal responsibility rather than mayhem. Now I only have myself to blame if I feel bad. Because in most cases the choice was mine to put what I put in my body.

This fruit of the Spirit’s love and total acceptance is true and almost effortless self-control. Certainly no relation to the grin and bear it posturing I did before.

I mention this because whenever people hear that I believe everyone is “already included”, the religious types’ first response tends to be – “But then that means you’re telling people they can do whatever they want?!” Followed up by something akin to, “How will people do good things if they aren’t scared of God or hell?”

My experience has been the exact opposite. Even Paul said the purpose of the law wasn’t to keep it. It is only when I stopped making decisions from a legal context and switched to living relating in relationship, did I start having true respect for and valuing myself, God, and others.

I’ve heard people argue things such as, well then you’re giving people permission to cheat on their spouses? I guess you could extrapolate my words to that extreme, BUT then the real and bigger problem exposes itself. Not that the person cheats, but that the person WANTS to cheat. Why? The behavior is only a symptom. There is probably a cesspool of ignored feelings and issues at the core of that desire. Unlimited invitations to deeper intimacy within each spouse and their relationship with God and each other. But that is much harder work than just laying down a law that says don’t cheat.

I’ve heard someone say something to the effect of, “Well if there is no law then you’re saying I can go out and get high on drugs.” Again, I guess you could take it to the extreme. But again, the issue is not the behavior. When you have unlimited freedom then you alone are responsible for your choices. And my questions would then be not “is it legal” but rather: “Are you prepared to pay the cost required by society for violating any laws against possessing illegal drugs?” “Will getting high have any negative impact on your life or those you come in contact with?” “Is that the best use for the money you will spend on getting high?” “Are you comfortable with the example you are setting for those who look up to you?” And probably so many more questions to the same.

Do you see the difference? This is only the slightest touch on the topic of self-control. Books could be written about the ways I now see true manifestations of the other fruits of the Spirit in my life: peace, patience, gentleness.

Obviously it’s not good to allow stronger people to exploit those who need protection, but as a mental exercise for your own exploration – I invite you to ask yourself deeper questions. Just take a look inside and identify a situation where you have been gritting your teeth and making decisions based on “shoulds” rather than “wants”. Ask yourself what your behavior, your choices, your decisions would look like if those “shoulds” were eliminated. And then identify your true motivations behind your desires. Not just the surface stuff.

For instance, if you are only not cheating on your spouse because you “shouldn’t”, then ask yourself what your motivation would be to cheat on your spouse if the “should” of being sexually and emotionally monogamous was lifted. Why do you feel like you can’t get what you want from your spouse? Is this sudden or has this been a building problem for some time? Do you desire to desire your spouse again? If not, why? How does God speak into this situation to you? Etc etc etc.

You don’t have to act just because you have freedom. Even Paul says not everything that he is able to do is good for him to do. The point is to start thinking things through. To explore what is really true in your relationships with yourself, God, and others. And then live.

This takes courage. It sometimes seems easier to disconnect and deflect to a legal paradigm that doesn’t ask me to engage my heart. However, in the long run that weight proved unbearable for me. How’s it working for you?

If you don’t know where to start, I suggest first asking God to help you see how He sees you. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised and relieved.