(This content is also available at https://youtu.be/eU2HdUwnmyc)
By Sarah Nyhan
Good morning. Another Sunday here on Planet Earth. I haven’t really had time to plan where I want to go with this too far into the future. However, that seems to be the theme of life lately: living in the grace of each moment. So I’m going to leave the “shoulds” behind and roll with it.
I used to host a Bible study at my place. I liked to give people some context the first time they joined me to study. So that seems like the next best step here right now.
Please keep in mind that this in an incomplete super high-level fly-by. There is no way I could touch on everything in the little time I have right now. I’m hoping one day to be able to have the time to put something more substantial together in at least book format at first. But again, living in the grace of just this moment. So let’s get to it:
My family background as much as I know it is Catholic and Protestant. One side of my family has Catholic priests. The other side has Protestant preachers. I’m no preacher’s daughter per se, but I come from a line of people who are both religious and spiritually-minded.
In my experience that translated practically into a lot of rules, a lot of guilt, being hyper-judgemental, and being hyper-focused on behaviors and appearances. In short: oppressive.
My parents came from the Catholic and Presbyterian traditions. I was raised Baptist in the beginning. The kind of Baptist where people we associated with didn’t believe in women wearing pants or swimming with men. Where people were not to be associated with if they were divorced. Where I thought I was going to hell because I watched Dirty Dancing at a neighbor’s house and looked at a teen magazine with pictures of pop culture hearthrobs and Tina Turner. I also hated dressing up in costume for the nativity play at church. Maybe that meant I didn’t love Jesus enough?
I remember it was my dad who walked me through the “sinner’s prayer” and “accepting Jesus”. At the time it seemed like an easy logical choice even as young as I was. I can’t ever think of a time that I didn’t know of God. To me it was obvious that you’d want to choose Him.
Thoughts of Him didn’t permeate my young child’s mind at that time. It just was. I was just living life. But if someone told me I had to say a prayer in order to be, well ok, not a problem. It was like an afterthought. I already was even then. Maybe even deeper inside than I know now.
The older I got, the more I transitioned from the Sunday school “Jesus loves me, this I know” to adult church where it was all “sinners in the hands of an angry god”. I don’t know if everyone is like this, but I feel like I took a logical mathematical approach. I listened and weighed everything. It seemed like they were saying there was a formula to God and to life. And if you could just figure it out and do all the right steps then that was the key.
Enter reality. When I was a kid, the formula was simple: say a prayer and mean it. Then do good things. But as I got older, there were so many other things added to the formula. I spent years and years and years trying to figure it out. Just as soon as I thought I had it, a new thing would throw off my mix.
No assurance. Absolutely no security or peace. I was that rich young ruler: “Just tell me what to do, God”. And I want to go into that story more in-depth another time, but basically God was like, “Ok, you haven’t figured it out yet that it doesn’t depend on you, so let’s pile on as many more rules as you want until you get the point.” Obviously with a lot more love and not those words, but I am trying to prove a point.
And so I pedalled my little heart out on the religious hamster wheel. In fits and starts. The longer story takes many twists and turns. But it climaxed with me basically walking away from the incorporated church, as in the denomination that was almost my entire community and life. I was completely burned out.
I was afraid I was also walking away from God. I was afraid I was blaspheming the Holy Spirit. I was afraid I was Esau trading temporarily relief for heaven.
And that is where God met me. When I gave up. Actually He had been there all along. But that’s where I saw Him loud and clear. And it’s been a fantastic journey ever since.
But also a dying. A painful dying. And that is where my heart is right now. God has blessed me with community along my way. After being rejected by people who used to at least tell me I was ok. My different current community now may be much smaller in numbers that I am aware of, but the quality is deep and rich. I feel spoiled in fact. And I want to give back. Not out of guilt, thankfully. But because I know how difficult it is. Going from one side to the other and the messy in-between. If I can be there for others like a special few have been there for me – then the joy is mine over and over.
Also, I need you. I don’t have anyone in my physical space like I did before. I can’t go to a meeting house this Sunday and talk about the real great news I think God has led me to see. I deeply miss that and hope one day I can say differently. I think it is really important. But for now I feel like this is my path. To share what I have experienced. To extend an invitation to others to participate in conversation. And see where this goes.
I don’t want to even say this because I wish it went without saying, but because I know where the heads of people go that are still in or have come out of what I have been through:
This is not me taking a spiritually authoritative stance over anyone. Yet real truth carries its own authority. And this is not me wanting to be what many commonly think of as a preacher in the posturing of authority sense. Yet, I do want to share and will do my best to stand up for truth. As best I know how. Yet resting in Holy Spirit doing the heavy lifting. This is way bigger than me. Way above my pay grade. Taking a tip from Baxter Kruger: if I didn’t believe God was already totally for you, in you, and at work all the time – I’d never open my mouth.
Just because I speak, that also does not mean I am claiming perfect knowledge. Again, this is about participating in conversation and community more than establishing dogma.
You are already included. Amen and enjoy.