By Sarah Nyhan
I signed up for a social media site recently and every time I logged in it would ask me to specify my hometown. I literally couldn’t. As a child, I never lived in any city for more than four years. Many times, only for two years. Sometimes I even attended more than one school in a school year.
Since this is how I grew up, I didn’t know any different really. I was mostly around other people who were living the same way. The first time I can remember feeling out of place was when I was moved to a town where the majority of people had lived there their whole life. I wasn’t aware enough to articulate it at the time, but I instantly felt lost and unhappy. But God – in His absolutely amazing greatness – gave me a friend who was also new to town. That made all the difference.
I heard of people who identify as third-culture kids. Initially I thought it only applied to missionaries or something. And categorizations being as they are, the label is not an end in itself. But the means it provides is much like a buoy for navigating certain times. I find it helpful that way.
For me the conepts related to identifying with third-culture kids, helps me start to unravel why this “already included” message has me flat on my back versus up and running. I realize now that unconsciously I adopted a way of surviving that consisted of evaluating every new situation to find out what was required of me by others. Then I did my best to acclimate accordingly. For four decades! I operated as if the only option was to have an external locus of control.
In addition, it wasn’t just being living the life of never being with the same groups, but also certain relationships required surviving by supressing myself and operating defensively. I.e. accommodating others.
Then we get to the spiritual side of the house. Never in all my time would I have considered anything other than making decisions based off what the Bible said. Even if I went against what the Bible said, I still used it as my point of reference for decision making.
None of this really worked for me. But it was all I consciously knew. After many decades this would look like agonizing for weeks on end trying to figure out if God wanted me to go into real estate or teaching. This would look even as sitting at a restaurant and asking myself what the other person would want me to order before I made my decision. I could go on and on. Almost every decision was predicated by evaluating what others expected from me.
This way of being kept me alive for a long time. It served many purposes. There is no condemnation. But I absolutely was completely blind-sided by how this “already included” way started and continues to rip away that old way of making decisions and thankfully replace it with a new way of operating.
But this has taken at least two years. I say that all to say hang on for the ride and forgive yourself if you can relate and feel lost. As much as this already included way has freed me, I have been as an Israelite seeking something of old to grab onto for some sense or normalcy. Even if what I am reaching back for was what was killing me.
I love how God doesn’t give into me as I have been absolutely blind in my determined reaching. It has felt like a dying or falling even as this already included way tethered me eternally. I felt the peace IN me even as my mind was reeling.
I didn’t understand why every time I asked God for direction I felt like He replied, “What do you want?” Nobody ever asked me what I wanted. Nobody in the pulpit ever asked what I wanted. All I ever heard or felt was “do this” or “do that”. What do I want? I haven’t really thought about that in forever.
I was mad at God. I felt abandoned. So I looked for expectations from others to pick up. But His wrath FOR me blocked every turn in that direction. It took a long, long time – years – to figure out He wasn’t blessing anymore what I used to survive certain times before. I wanted structure for the sake of structure. In a way, my chains felt like the only home I ever knew. So much that freedom felt more terrifying than the underlying misery I always knew.
“I know the plans I have for you.” To give me a real future and a real hope.
What do I want?
The most terrifying and beautiful question for me right now. This means I have power I never knew I had. This means the entire universe is open to me. Unlimited possibilities. This means I cannot blame others once I know better. This means I will have regrets. But this also means love exists. In and for me.
Overwhelming. When I can even switch my mind to this mentality. Right now I only really consciously switch out of my old way to this new internal locus of control maybe once every few weeks. I am confident God will keep drawing me until I get it. For now even accepting the idea, the freedom is monumental!
I feel for my friends in the old faith. I absolutely know they mean well. I did when I was there. I think of the things people would say to me. I know understand why it sounds cultish. And yet God is always with us. Leading us to the next step we can handle.
As much as I want to break them free, I can’t. There are so many things we need to learn along the way. I always remember what John MacMurray taught; in my own words as it applies to me and my situation: God doesn’t just want me free – He always wants me to want to be free.
This freedom, this asking what I want, is surprisingly not leading to narcissism or unbridled selfishness. I see Christ IN me, of no doing of my own, as love is given space to grow when this already included way takes law out of the equation. I have been so pleased to watch this. It is completely new to me. To ask myself what I want and I feel depths of compassion for myself others that was always there but never allowed to flow free. The way of my being is starting to match the essence of my being. As a child of God. Not a cog in some machine. Well-meaning or otherwise.
I mourn, I grieve all that could have been before. But I try to give myself grace. Even in allowing myself this time to grieve. Not holding myself to some impossible standard. Just honoring God, myself, and others as best as I can in the next step, in this present moment.
All a fantastic journey even as I don’t understand what is happening or where to go most of the time. Never felt so incompetent and yet so loved and safe. We have a good, good Father.
Living loved. All the colors. The world comes alive! What do I want?