Already Included #24 – Time Well Spent

By Sarah Nyhan

I had an amazing thought today: I have time to food prep this weekend for my work week next week. Do you know why this is an amazing thought? I never had time before. I mean, I had time, I just didn’t realize it.

This might seem like a little thing to those who are used to freedom. But this is huge for me. When I was thinking about this today, I realized that I spent so much time before doing religious activities that the activities of living were put to the side except maybe the most necessary.

At the peak, I was attending a church where I could go to:

-a prayer breakfast once a month on Monday morning hosted by the pastor’s wife

-a Bible study for women on Monday night

-a mandatory “Family Night” Bible study for a “ministry” I first volunteered at and then worked for

-a church service on Wednesday nights

-another Bible study on Thursday mornings for women

-a church service on Friday nights

-a prayer meeting on Saturday mornings

-a class every other Saturday morning at the church

-a prayer group once a month on a Saturday night

-three available church services on Sunday mornings. I’d usually attend one and “serve” during another. This was encouraged from the pulpit.

-a class on Sunday nights at the church

-once a year retreats for the women

-once a year luncheon for the women

-once a year off-site baptism

-holiday and other special gatherings

-and then to the extreme, when I volunteered/worked at the “ministry”, I was supposed to lead a Bible study every morning except Sunday

Not to meantion my own private time of study I was supposed to be doing. And the innumberable social gatherings that usually incorporated times of Bible study and prayer.

Do you see now?

For the most part, I enjoyed spending a lot of time with that church family. The great majority of whom do not initiate contact with me anymore after I “walked away”. But there was a measure of pressure from the pulpit and the community at large to spend a lot of time at the church or doing church things. Some might even call it an excessive amount of time.

The insidiousness of this was that it was somewhat implied that the time you spent doing these things was time you were spending for Jesus. And while that may be true for specific individuals, I don’t think there was enough encouragement to go out and actually live in the real world. I rather experienced a lot of pressure to pull people into spending more time in and with the church doing church things.

And where that might be fine for some people, I felt condemnation from some people as if going “out into the world” to pursue non-church related things indicated I wasn’t really that serious about Jesus. Or if I wanted to spend time away from the church and church people doing God-forbid, fun social activities or even doing nothing, not even talking about God, then I was kinda not “living for the kingdom” if I at least didn’t have the agenda of trying to convert these people I’d be spending time with. As if simply enjoying the company of another is not enough. Is not love.

Eventually I broke. I was near suicidal. I was sooo tired. There was always someone else asking me to sign up for one more thing. I was into the business of saving souls and I should be taking every opportunity to do so. For the most part well-intentioned, I have no doubt. But my issue to this day is that even though it was preached over and over again to “just be with Jesus”, it seemed that there was non-stop pressure in regards to that not being enough. Real Christians were supposed to “work for Jesus”.

Oh my gosh, I express to you how tired I was. Even now, as I’ve spent the last five years detoxing from all that activity, I still struggle on a daily basis to be ok with “it is finished”. Paul Young refers to it as an addiction to basically “doing something great for God”. What a new perspective to let God do the great things and me just learn how to live loved?!

It’s felt so different that I’ve struggled with guilt as I learn to do simple things like watch a movie that isn’t about God. Or go to a restaurant simply because I enjoy the food. Only this month did Is spend an hour or so making some art just because I wanted to – without an agenda.

Sometimes I would sit in that church and feel like I couldn’t breathe. It was like every last cell of survival, of fight or flight, was SCREAMING at me to get out of there. Instead of listening to my gut, I’d spend a significant part of the time during the service rationalizing in my mind why I was there.

I remember one time I had a brazen act of rebellion a few years ago after I had already started “walking away”. I was driving to that church and either when I arrived or shortly before I arrived, I just kept driving! I decided Jesus wouldn’t be mad at me if I went on a drive and enjoyed the nice weather and His Creation with Holy Spirit. I just drove and listened to music and enjoyed the scenery. Christian worship music, by the way; I wasn’t yet free inside my mind enough to even consider that God might appreciate Hall & Oates, some rap music, a Led Zeppelin riff, or my favorite EDM jams. On a Sunday morning at that?! The audacity of me.

It really was a huge deal for me. I remember how proud I was of myself that I finally got the courage to do that. That I finally realized a drive in the country was as much worship as sitting in a church service singing hymns and being preached at for two hours.

Even only a few months ago, I gave myself permission to not go to church so I could go down to the water and enjoy the sun on a Sunday. Again, another huge victory in my mind.

Not hosting a Bible study at my house or attending one, not having any agenda to convert people, not going to a church service at least once a week (preferably on Sunday) – all these things would have been cause for concern for my salvation years ago. Maybe not actually spoken, but surely suspected.

I had a friend tell me a few months ago that I have changed. She told me that I used to stop and have everyone pray all the time. She told me that I used to quote Bible verses all the time. She said that I don’t do that anymore.

She even said that when I did all of that before, it used to really turn her off. But she said now she sees that it was the right thing to do. And basically that I am wrong for not doing those things anymore. She said that having me in her home now is like letting someone do cocaine at her dining room table!! I kid you not.

My response to her was that I “pray” all the time now. But it’s private 99% of the time. I don’t feel the need to “bless the food” officially out loud. I don’t feel the need to stop everyone and force them to pray with me. I actually prefer to wait for consent. So that it’s two coming together versus one being dragged.

I don’t feel the need to quote the Bible all the time anymore. If you haven’t noticed, God is still my favorite subject to talk about. But I now try again to wait for the consent of the other person before I go there in conversation. And I save the rest of the words dying to get out of me for this blog. 🙂 I told my friend that I prefer for my actions to speak louder than my words as I travel through my day to day life now. This is revolutionary from where we came from. But total freedom for me now as I realize I am only participating in Holy Spirit revealing God to everyone all the time. God’s got this. Really. I can just be a nice, decent human being with a personality and interests (GASP!) and God is right there in the middle of it all. Weaving people together when they need each other. Sometimes with words, many times not. A smile, a helping hand without making the person a project, even letting someone cut in front of you in traffic sometimes – all of these things are love. All of these things matter. All of these things feel more worthwhile than most of the “ministry” I did before.

There is a time and place for study. I’ve been blessed with like-minded individuals who meet to basically share our adventures in Christ. This feels so refreshing. Pretty much how I’m deciding it is supposed to be. More a sharing than a show. Where everyone is important. Not just those “in ministry”.

My friend who said I wasn’t praying and quoting Bible scriptures enough – we have only talked once in the past five months because I initiated. This grieves me terribly. I wish I could lift the veil and chains off all those I love. Believe me, I’ve tried. That’s what I would have busied myself with in the old way.

After being rejected over and over and over again, I’ve come to the place where it has to be God or nothing. Like with anything else that seems to matter so much. It’s revolutionary for me to trust my loved ones with Him. To let go. To go live my life. To spend time on a Sunday doing meal prep. To even have the time on a Sunday to do meal prep.

I write this for those that understand. I get it. The hard part is sometimes not being able to share how huge these shifts in the mind are with people who understand. So I do this for me and I do this for you.

As someone I love, value, and respect very much often reminds me: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” There’s a Bible verse for you. 🙂 Galations 5:1

Already Included #23 – Values

By Sarah Nyhan

I’m learning recently that just because I have the same spiritual beliefs as someone, that doesn’t mean we have the same values. I think many times in the past, I’ve excused people’s behaviors because they were in the same group of “believers” as me.

Often that group was disproportionately smaller than the general population. There is more to lose in many senses when your community is small. You might accept behavior that you would not otherwise accept if your community were larger.

This can lead to people protecting and defending perpetrators of abuse. I mean, really; let’s call it what it sometimes can be. You hate to think that some people relish the opportunity to exploit the desperation of a smaller group of passionate people. But we see this time and time again across history. Sometimes with lethal or other devastating results by the time those in control have run their course or those in the rank and file finally gather the courage to start anew.

I think one of the most important things I’ve learned with this “already included” message is that no one has the market cornered on spirituality. There are no gurus or prophets in the exclusive sense.

There are gifts, for sure. There is experience also. But without love and true communion with God, I’ve observed people holding onto yesterday’s manna (i.e. revelations) – which then leads to an ugliness taking over, usually with ego at the helm.

We should have our relationship with God as our first and maybe only authority? And then allow others to supplement that relationship when appropriate? We are each able to go to God anytime every day and get a whole new batch of manna, a whole new spiritual refueling, whole new insight. This is relationship. Versus the detachment of abdicating that role to another as intermediary.

I find most often those people who actually speak into my life, do so unknowingly. Those experiences do not feel heavy and conflicted like when another struts around with self-imposed authority, well-meaning or not.

So what does this mean pratically? A few things.

First, unfortunately I’ve had to accept the fact that just because someone believes in this new-to-me “already included” message, that does not mean they have been changed by it in the ways of heart matters. And for me to excuse their hurtful behaviors because of their beliefs is something I do not want to do anymore. This takes courage as the physical “already included” community I am aware of numbers less than several dozens of people. Much less locally.

There is also grief. Especially for someone like myself who has spent so many years operating out of a different paradigm that left me so weighted down for so many years. To understand this “already included” message is literally the best thing I’ve ever known in my life. The first real freedom. Every.single.thing has changed almost. Always for the better.

So to see another from maybe a less oppressive paradigm claim the “already included” message but not value it practically as lived out in relationship – feels like such a loss! It’s as if I discovered a stash of gold and shared it with others. They then took it from me but just stored it in their houses and did nothing with it. Maybe they even put it away for safe-keeping, but it means nothing in the experiential sense. For all practical purposes.

I find it takes longer than I’d like to accept this reality in those I’d like to behave otherwise. And yet, I’d be remiss if I focused on everyone else and neglected analyzing my own behavior in this regard.

The interesting thing is that I am finding plenty of people that don’t have any interest in this “already included” message or Christianity or any spiritual discussion for that matter. And yet, they share my same values even if our beliefs differ. This is so challenging for me to wrap my head around practically even as this makes total sense intellectually.

If all are included, then we each have varying degrees of connectedness with our Creator and manifest that in different ways. What others may lack in the more easly-recognizable spiritual stances and practices, they may make up for implicitly in their authentic actions. Motivated by a heart not numbed by theological addictions. Then are they not behaving with actual spirituality? Possibly even more so than those who would spend hours and years pressuring them to convert and say the “right” things and join the “right” groups, sing the “right” songs, etc. Oh man, this stuff gets messy.

I ask myself as a single person, what matters more? To the extreme – the man who actually values me but has no interest in talking about God? Or the man who can say and even knows all the “right” things, but only values me for what I can do versus who I am?

I am hopeful that the best of both worlds exists out there somewhere for me. The thought of being with someone who values me but is uninterested in God is very sad to me; yet I’d probably choose that option over the alternative described above if I had to make that choice,

But I face this issue not only in terms of a spouse. Suddenly I realize those in the organized corporate church might actually not be the friends I elevated them to be merely by association. There may be others “outside” that actually value me more. Actually treat me better.

I’m almost sick of words these days. For all our talking, I think we could use a lot more doing. Not to condemn others. But just to say, c’mon fam – we can do better. And maybe holding each other to higher standards is part of that.

As always, I have more than enough of my own work to do and keep me busy.

God help us.

Already Included #22 – Anger

By Sarah Nyhan

I’ve been thinking a lot about anger recently. Specifically about how anger seems to be highly discouraged or not encouraged in many religious circles I’ve been in. Even with this new-to-me message of everyone already being included by God in Christ.

There are several things I’ve been thinking about in regards to anger.

The first thing I was thinking about in regards to anger is wondering whether feeling safe enough to be angry at a loved one is indicative of the existence of real trust? We can pay all kinds of lip service, but do you really trust that person enough to be angry with them?

I see this in cults of personality a lot – where there is this inability to get angry with the person who is carrying the show. Then sometimes a monster continues to grow and does nobody any favors. I’m getting better at seeing it, some improvement in accepting it, and starting to give myself permission to be angry and walk away if needed.

There is such grief. We put our hope in people. Probably mostly unconsciously. Maybe there is a level of shame that keeps us from grieving when we start to see that someone is failing us. I’m not saying the shame is warranted, but there’s this feeling of loss, maybe great loss. Like if I can’t count on my mind to protect me from falling for these kind of people then how will I ever feel safe?

It’s this very hard business of learning to trust ourselves. And then what? Sometimes one more disappointment feels like it will be the break. Sometimes we just go along to get along. Something is better than nothing? Maybe for a time. I have a feeling the Life in us won’t let us get too comfortable even as we might keep things at bay by keeping our minds busy, busy.

More on anger; switching gears. Is it ok to express anger to God? To say, “God, I am angry at you? If you are so about relationship, why did you let so and so go away? I know you can do such and such, God? Why don’t you?” Etc etc etc. Do we feel safe enough with God to express our anger to Him?

I was thinking about Job. How many chapters did Job go on and on and on? It’s interesting to me that God doesn’t show up when Job is keeping busy intellectually. It’s when Job’s emotions take the wheel and he unleashes his anger, in a sense, that he finally hears God speak. Not when Job had his church clothes on with all the palatable pretty “right” answers. It feels like when Job got real and angry, that’s when God showed off for him.

In my own life, there was a time where I told God no; I was so angry with God. And just like Job, that’s where I feel like I heard and saw and experienced God the most at least for the first time in years.

I was thinking about the little children running to Jesus and Him admonishing the adults to approach Him as a child. Have you seen a little child lately? They haven’t had the fight knocked out of them. When they are angry, they express it without regard for social/culture manners.

Does Jesus mean for us to give Him even those cries in our hearts? What does that even look like? To hold us as we rage? I don’t like the opposite argument that says, “Don’t be mad at God or He’ll get you and let you have it.”

Switching gears again, I was thinking about how it is hard to get angry at the people that you value the most. Especially if those people have been maybe the only good in your world.

Again, we go back to is there the illusion of relationship or real actual trust? This scares us. Even as life is rarely yes or no and black or white, it’s too scary for me to think about getting angry with the people I love and then risk their rejection.

Avoiding the questions doesn’t make the sick feelings go away. My experience in expressing my anger has revealed even more assurance versus no hope. Understanding and deeper levels of maturity also seem to result. It’s almost as if anger is an invitation and a gift in this respect. A bridge to more intimacy if treated as such.

And finally, switching gears again. Somewhat related but maybe the different side of the coin for religious folks: anger towards those who are “getting away with” things maybe we’d like to do. Which creates quite the internal dilemma for those exiting a legal paradigm. There is a strong resistence to letting go of “rules”.

I sometimes see others experiencing anger when they see others getting away with their judgement of “sin” or scandalous freedom. Yet the anger seems to be rooted in jealousy more than in “righteousness”. And yet to live in that legal paradig is to miss the point. Let’s use an example:

Say you are married and see someone else engaging in physical relations with people they are not married to. The initial reaction might be, “This is wrong!” But maybe deeper you wish you had the freedom to act on your impulses.

Please hear me that my point is not that having premarital sex is “good” or “bad”. I’m not going to go there. That’s not the point.

The point is that it’s easier to be in a legal paradigm of telling yourself, “It’s wrong and against God for me to have sexual contact or emotional relationships with another person outside of my marriage.”

And then on the flip side, it’s almost easier to cheat on your spouse if you operate under that same legal paradigm. Because then you can objectify your spouse and consider the act of cheating as only being offensive to God. Then you don’t have to open your heart to your spouse and ask the harder questions.

However when you switch to operating through the example of The Trinity, then cheating ceases to be a legal question and then becomes relational. Without operating under law – now you have to consider your spouse’s heart. Now this person is not an object. Now love is the standard. Now it’s not about seeing what you can get away with.

Now the bigger questions come up for the brave who will go there: “Why do you want to cheat on your spouse? How would their hearts break with your cheating? How would your other relationships be impacted by the cheating? Is cheating an act of love towards everyone who would be impacted? And if I don’t care, then why not and what does that say about the current state of affairs of my relationships?” Etc etc. A goldmine for the courageous who embrace the questions.

That’s all for now.