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.

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 #18 – Beeee Still

By Sarah Nyhan

This afternoon I am sitting in the living room when I start to hear furious buzzing! I look to the window and see a bee flying up and down trying to get out. He doesn’t seem calm, rather his buzzing indicates anger.

I wanted to help but I was afraid he wouldn’t see my interference as help and would instead attack me. So I opened the front door which was less than a foot away. And waited.

I hoped Mr. Bee would realize that I had opened the door, but he was so focused on his own way that he didn’t realize me or the gigantic opening available to him if only he’d be open to another way.

I sat there wondering how long this might take. I couldn’t go back to my work. I needed to make sure he was out so I could close the door. I decided to pray. “Lord, please help the bee find the door and fly out.”

Nothing. Buzz, buzz, buzz. Up and down he went over and over literally banging his head trying to get where he wanted to go when there was a huge open door just a little step away.

So then I wondered if I could somehow mentally communicate with the bee and tell him to move. Not really expecting it to work, but happy if it did. “Bee, move to the right, move to the right.”

Nothing. He’s as lost as ever. So I’m standing there staring at the bee and wondering what to do next.

Soon these people start walking outside and talking. Then a big truck drives by. Then a hawk calls. Then birds start chirping. And the breeze is whipping in. Surely the bee could hear and feel how close his freedom was just a foot away?

No change. Finally I realize this is a metaphor for me. God knows I need pictures like this.

The bee represents those people that I want to experience the same freedom that I now experience. We are both looking at God, but they are separated from the experience that I get to enjoy by such a small but important difference.

I want them so badly to stop banging their heads and just take one extra step over and consider another way that will help them see God to be greater than they already know.

Yet, in my previous attempts these past two years of trying to intervene and “help” people get to freedom, I have not been well-received because they don’t think I am helping.

Now I’ve learned to step back, but I admit I get impatient. I still try to pray them in or send them thoughts hoping something will get through.

Finally with the bee today, I started to pray for myself. “What should I do, God?” I felt like He gave me the sense that I should do nothing other than to share this story. After I started writing, the bee changed course and flew through the open door and out into freedom.

The lesson for me was to stop focusing on changing other people. Holy Spirit was fully invested and completely able to get me where I needed to be. In the same manner, God is also revealing Himself to everyone else.

In the meantime, I feel like the most I can do is embrace what I experience and simply share my story. Just beeee still and know that He is God.

A well-lived life, marked by genuine love for others, and the genuine fruits of love that grow as we experience our Creator’s unending passion for us, will speak volumes more than the most carefully-crafted theological defenses.

A sure change from times past. Where it all depended on us. Now I begin to actually live and truly love.

God’s got us.

Already Included #17 – John MacMurray: March 2nd

Today I attended the event in Belton, Texas where John MacMurray was speaking with a focus on the material in his latest book, A Spiritual Evolution. As God always does, I went expecting certain outcomes and was completely surprised by what God seemed to have in store for me personally. I also met some new friends and enjoyed talking with so many people. Community is always my favorite part of these events.

But how RICH we were to have John travel all the way from Oregon to speak with us for over four hours! A spiritual buffet if you will. And we were stuffed with so much goodness. Here are my highlights from thirteen pages of notes taken in my new journal gifted to me by the beautiful Clarice:

  • People are not going to look for other answers or be open to new information that challenges their current paradigm until life brings them to a point where they consider that their current way of thinking may be incorrect.
  • Relationship takes a long time. Life is about relationship. Information is not the end goal.
  • Love is not something God does. Love is who God is. The deepest, truest thing about God is NOT that He is a narcissist.
  • God is always better than whatever metaphors we try our best to use to explain Him.
  • The way I used to think said God’s highest aim was to create us for His glory. It is different and totally beautiful if rather God creates to share the relationship experienced by The Trinity.
  • In The Trinity there is now humanity through Jesus.
  • We cannot control others. We can only influence others. And we influence through love.
  • It is a holy privilege to have children.
  • We can live out of already being embraced by God versus living to be embraced by God.
  • God is interested in destroying the sin that comes between Lover and beloved. This is versus loving rules over relationship and being focused on punishing sin.
  • In this way we also should think of sin in relational terms versus moral or legal terms.
  • No one wants to get into our mess to clean it up. God not only gets into our mess, but He jumps in to heal us – not just clean us.
  • Jesus comes to give us His knowledge of OUR Father. Our problem is we don’t know our Father.
  • Eternal life is also relational.
  • God is completely invested IN and committed to us. To you. To me.
  • The truth of my being is different than the way of my being. And obviously we aim for the way to eventually match the truth. This is at least a lifelong process. Without a pass/fail final exam.
  • Reconciliation is a different conversation than forgiveness. You can’t have reconciliation without trust.
  • Beauty shortcircuits intellect. Beauty gets behind our watchful dragons.