Already Included #32 – Greatness

By Sarah Nyhan

I’m still so amazed at how much my thinking has changed since encountering this “already included” gospel. Looking back I realize I have lived decades from my mind, in a religious fog. I was content to bulldoze forward in the same way even after believing this “already included” message. You know, start setting up metaphorical tents of worship to God and allow myself to be consumed with theological navel-gazing per se.

I was caught off guard and frankly a bit disappointed when in contrast I felt Holy Spirit leading me toward first re-entering real life and real relationships. I am slowly becoming more at peace with this shift.

God knows my passions and desires, I am confident that a time will come when doors are opened again for deep-diving into a theological buffet. But for now I feel like I am leaving the religious bunker I’ve been buried in for at least the past two decades and am literally learning how to be human again. First things first. Living what I now know versus accumulating more knowledge for knowledge’s sake.

This can feel overwhelming some days. It feels like the bottom has fallen out from under me. Suddenly my road map for life has all but completely disintegrated. What is left is very good, but there is a lot of work in rebuilding everything else.

At times it feels like I am a newborn relearning everything. Or a traveler to a brand new world. Mostly exciting, but there are also times of grief and fear. It seems like there will never be enough time to get everything back in balance. Sometimes even there is the temptation to just shut up and go back to the old way in order to feel some sense of normalcy.

Most of my decision-making process has completely changed. The more you hang on for this ride, the deeper the healing. I am amazed every day at realizing how much our spiritual beliefs filter down to our decision-making processes in even the seemingly most mundane daily choices. I don’t want to get side-tracked on that subject by providing a slew of examples. My point is only that without realizing it, I had built an entire destructive way of being based on a lot of lies.

Again, it was all I knew. There is deep mourning for all that has been lost along the way. But I have to be patient with myself. I have to forgive myself. God is not upset with me. He is only ever for me and my healing. For my benefit and enjoyment! Not for His ego. All I can do is in this moment and moving forward.

As I’ve mentioned before, the redefinition of my values has been a huge part of this journey. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that as an American, we generally place a high value on “greatness”. And yet I have found myself redefining greatness in much less superficial terms than before.

I don’t know if he did, but is Jeff Bezos great if he cheated on his wife? Is Steve Jobs great if he treated his first daughter as if she was second-class? My point is that I think we as Americans have gradually shifted to confuse fame, wealth, genius, attractiveness, and productivity for greatness. Even in Christian circles.

I am learning a new definition of greatness. Quite frankly it has been an extremely painful process as everything I used to define myself by has been stripped away from me, much to my chagrin. But now I can see that greatness is first and foremost relational.

I am not being great if I am not treating myself well. I am not being great if I am not taking responsibility for my life, as much as I am able.

I am not being great if I am not treating others well. This goes way beyond our inner circle. And this again is a measured by what we have to give, not by what we don’t have to give.

Frankly, I gave of myself to others for so long that I had nothing much left to give anymore. I was so depleted after several decades that I feel like I am still in a state of triage; mainly because for more than two years I have been fighting the call to rest. Remember, we labor in vain unless the Lord is building. He gives His children rest.

I used to think greatness was all the things I could “do for God”. Now I see it differently. If God sees to involve me in participating with Him as He does something really cool, I’m still up for the adventure. However, now I see greatness as rather the degree of excellence of love and heart that I bring into each moment and each interaction.

As much as I like writing, words fail me to adequately capture all that I mean, but you know it in your heart and in your gut when you haven’t been great or haven’t experienced greatness from another.

I’ll be the first to say that I am not a “good person”, to use our previous terminology. I am ashamed of so many decisions and choices I made while operating under my previous value system. The weight of it all overwhelms me at times. Only God’s love and absolute lack of condemnation fuels me forward a significant amount of the time. Making each new moment more of a gift and opportunity to be better.

Excellence of love and heart will look different in each moment for each person. As an example, sometimes love might look like making time for someone; other times it may look like having to lovingly tell them that there are other things that require your time. This is a blessing in that noone posturing authority for ego or financial gain can trump Holy Spirit’s leading in your life. Yet, this is also challenging because there is no formula.

Excellence of love and heart requires you to be present and not check out of life and/or go in auto-pilot mode. This can feel painful as awareness of positive and negative feelings and desires surface and feel sharp like fire to a mind/heart/spirit that maybe has been numbed or pacified by distractions for decades.

Excellence of love and heart requires relationship with God and others. Constant relationship. Not just boxes to be checked on a to-do list. This isn’t an obligatory annual Christmas card to a distant relative.

But this also isn’t some weird call to join a cult. Or a condemning guilt-trip. This isn’t spending hours kneeling in prayer.

Only a reminder that God is not the Sunday service duty that some have reduced Him to. God is way more than that. Christ is IN you. We’re talking every breath of our being. Relationship is embracing our eternal adoption and not trying to do or figure daily life out on our own. Relationship is running to a welcoming Papa who never tires of our tears and celebrates all of our joys. God is personal. And when we realize that, we begin to stop objectifying people. We start speaking life and the love that organically overflows from us brings healing to others.

This isn’t complicated most of the time. This is a smile to the tired cashier. This is a hello to a friend. This is even enjoying a moment of nature in Creation. Being silly with a kid. Being diligent and honest in your dealing. Giving people freedom versus imprisioning them in our expectations/fantasies. This is paying our bills. This is making sure we eat foods that nourish our bodies. This is picking up our trash versus leaving it to be someone else’s problem.

What if the measure of how great we were was not how “right” our beliefs are, but how excellent our love and heart is? Not just knowing all the “right” things, but actually being a decent human being. Christians, this is the non-believers’ main complaint with us. I’m not advocating tolerance to the exclusion of truth. I’m just saying mainly to my fellow theology enthusiasts: people don’t care what we know until they know that we care.

Already Included #31 – You

By Sarah Nyhan

I think I know what Saul/Paul was doing for those first few years after his conversion. I think he had to go off and be by himself while everything he thought he knew fell away and was replaced by truth. Less of an intellectual exercise. More of a rebirth in the sense of so thouroughly experienced that every single cell is saturated with this new real life. Actually lived and alive versus simply conceptualized.

This is what has been happening with me. To use Paul Young’s analogy, I didn’t realize I had constructed and others had helped me build such a monstrosity of a facade. My entire identity was totally tied to what I did, what I had, and what I thought I knew. Versus truth. All of the facade is now being burned away.

I was ready to jump in and repeat the same old formula with this new-to-me “already included” knowledge. But I feel like God is saying, “No, baby girl. We’re going to do things totally different this time. I appreciate so much your heart and enthusiasm, but I have everyone else. What I want us to focus on for now, for this time, is YOU. You are important also. Your healing and wholeness is the priority right now. What eventually overflows will organically be shared with others in due time.”

This is TOTALLY different than the experience modeled for me by the church as an incorporated entity in society. What do most churches do that I have experienced? They have not been hospitals for the soul, even though they claim such. Instead they have been like labor camps. Oh sure, there is initial love-bombing if you are considered an outsider. But once you’ve converted then it’s all about what you can do for them, dressed up as what you can do for “god”. And then the only acceptable answer is: always more. To them, Jesus’ sacrifice was not enough; you also must die.

This is my new litmus test for truth: are you offering me anything? Are you invested in me as a person? Is relationship with me a priority? Or are you just doing the same ol’ dance with new clothes? You know the one. In its extreme form it looks like what we think of most televangelists. Although more subtle and maybe more insidious forms are likely manifesting in most local church entities. In my experience.

And although the damage is the same no matter the motivation, I suspect the great majority of pastors and preachers start out with absolutely fabulous intentions. I really believe that. Maybe even some seasoned folks still think this is the right way. I mean, it’s all they have ever known. Like me, it’s all that was ever modeled for them from the pulpit.

Though I suspect at some point, as I experienced, you encounter a crisis. If you pursue truth hard and long enough then you must eventually, even in short time, face a crisis. Where the religious machine fails and your heart has a choice to make. I can’t tell you what to do. That is between God and you. But eventually you’ll have a decision to make. Is your trust in the religious machine or is your trust truly in God?

And really, to be even more specific, is your trust in yourself or in God? Again, I never saw it that clearly in the beginning. But over and over and over, it’s been made clear to me that is the core problem. Religion says I am responsible. That I can’t really trust God all the way.

Let me tell you a story. A true story. The other day some people from the city came out to the property I manage. They wanted to cut some trees near the powerlines. Caught off guard, in the heat of the moment, I was convinced by the city workers to approve them completely removing the trees versus only trimming them. Later when I was not under their influence, I looked at the trees and regretted my approval. But I thought that it was too late to change my mind.

As I stressed about this, one day they entered the property while I was gone. However, the property owners just “happened” to also show up at the same time for a rare site visit. The property owners were able to speak with the city workers and save the trees. All without any help from me.

This is our God. Who knows that I mess up. And knows that I don’t know how to fix my mess up. And He cares for me. So He somehow makes the property owners show up at the last minute and save the trees. This is a God I can trust. To be way bigger than me.

This is the God that is interested in me. Not just what I can do. Not just what I can give. Whose priority is relationship with me. As long as it takes. Not so that I can do anything for Him.

I was reminded this week of the verse in the Bible where it talks about a good man leaving an inheritance for his family. Not the other way around. Who among us has even ever experienced that? With our biological or church parents?

And again, I don’t think most know any better. Just passing on what was passed to them.

But how different would it look if we cared more about healing the person and being in relationship with the person versus setting them up to be another cog in the religious machine? Versus stripping them of everything they can possibly give? Fleecing them. Until they can’t take it anymore and run away out of desperation. For their lives.

All I am saying is there is another way. All things work for good. We get there one way or another. If not in this life, then I am sure we will see clearly during whatever comes after. But why wait that long? We can choose life now. Jesus came not to build another religious machine. He came to give us life, and life more abundant!!! Right now. The kingdom of heaven is at hand – right now. Jesus came and showed us what we have been missing all along. What is available to us right now. Without having to jump through hoops of performance or poverty in all its various forms.

You absolutely will encounter loads and loads and loads and loads of trouble. But it will be different trouble. It will break your heart versus breaking your back. In that sense, there will be some dying. Of your ego mainly. As everything that is false is burned up. That is a dying without counting Jesus’ sacrifice as incomplete or insufficient.

In case you’ve never read anything I’ve written before, I am not talking about a legal or accounting transaction. Merely that WE needed to kill Jesus, the Son of God. So we would finally have proof that no matter what we can think of or do, God is always and forever for us. The resurrection proved that God is not the least bit intimidated by or ever against us. As individuals. Even as He drives out ever last bit of hell that we hold onto in our blindness.

God doesn’t destroy us.

Already Included #29 – Works versus Work

By Sarah Nyhan

Life is so funny and God is so much bigger than the boxes I try to nail Him into. When I first started these “Already Included” posts, I had such a different idea of what I’d be talking about. My desire was and still is to be able to explain and expound on all the purely intellectual theological aspects of this already included message.

Much to my surprise, it was rather revealed to me that I spent the overwhelming majority of my life in my mind and now I was going to learn how to really rejoin the human race and learn how to live again. To really live. Something that I had forgotten how to do after so many years spent just reading the Bible and listening to preachers. Hours and hours every week.

I am confident that once I learn to live again, once I really am living then God will open my mind again to allow me to be able to fulfill these pressing desires I have, these heavy burdens I have to be able to first share what has happened for and to me. And then be able to explain this new-to-me way in terms that will be understood by those that are still where I was.

But first things first. Jesus didn’t say the number one law was to learn the Bible. Jesus said to love God and love others as you love yourself. All of those I’ve had to learn from a totally new angle. Start from the beginning. Back to basics, almost like a newborn. Hmmm. 😉

All to say my ideas of how I wanted to post were in short time thrown out of the window. Instead real life took and is still taking priority. This is a very good thing. But it took me a long while to come around to accepting it and seeing the good in it. To be able to let go of my plans. To let go of my ego also.

If there is one thing I hate, it’s being so sure of something and then having to eat humble pie with those I’d like acceptance from when things turn out differently. So frustrating. Sometimes I feel so humiliated. But even that is helping me let go and not tie my value to the acceptance or lack thereof from others. Kinda needed in this business of going against the grain. Not that I aspire for that life; just how it played out. My Ezekiel experiences, as I call them. Funny from my perspective because most of the time I am clueless to the bull I can be in people’s china shops. A former pastor called me a pitbull more than once. Apropos in terms of my pursuit of truth, for sure. It’s taken me many years to realize others have a limit for truth. I’m sure on some level I also initially resist difficult truths, but at the end of every day there is something so innocent in me that is truly relentless in determining what is real and what is not. In every situation. Realizing lately that the journeys I take in those efforts are not wasted time even if they take longer than others.

After the first decade of so of my life, after I saw hypocrisy in adults I previously took at face value, I have always needed to make everything add up. It wasn’t enough to just tell me. I needed to see it for myself. I needed to know how A led to B. I needed to know the why. I would pray nightly: “Lord, please help me not to be deceived.” Be careful what you pray for. Truth is a blessing that sometimes feels like a curse. There is a certain appeal to ignorant bliss. As much as I needed to know, this left absolutely no room for mystery. No room for God to be God and surprise us. Trusting Him has been the hardest thing in my life. Letting go and trusting His heart for me.

All the reading in the world won’t move your foot to step out into the water. I wish it worked that way. Real life takes God out of your head and makes all of this come alive. Just like a baby cries when leaving the womb – every cell, every feeling in me aches as I stretch into this person I am fully intended to be. Not just a brain. But a heart, a soul, a body, a spirit. I feel set on fire sometimes. Every step out of my mind and into the moment like leaving a completely dark cave for high noon on a hot summer day. Often I collapse in the real physical exhaustion of it all. But I sleep better these days. Especially as I learn to talk to God more versus allowing anxieties to paralyze me. Because there is so much to learn and do. So easy to get discouraged if you don’t stay in the moment and if you forget you are in God’s eternal embrace.

And these are the things I still wrestle with still: prayer and work.

I think for the majority of my life, my view of prayer was really wrong. I saw it more like a way to manipulate God into doing something. I still don’t know and haven’t had the time to dive into the old texts with this new-to-me lens. Maybe I’ll see things more clearly one day. But so far I’ve surmised that prayer, if we want to keep calling it that, is merely conversation. And primarily for the purpose of changing MY mind.

I used to do the whole prayer and fasting bit. But with what I now believe is the wrong way of going about it. I used to fast and pray for specific things to happen. Now I hardly fast like I used to. Now fasting is more for me just a concept of isolating myself from distractions. And then for me now the prayer aspect is just asking for God to help me see things His way, to see the truth. To clear my mind from all my own ideas and make room to see things as they really are. I have had such powerful experiences and successes in approaching prayer this way. It has been an absolute joy.

If only all of me would catch up and on. After so many years of doing things the wrong way, I find I still miss now more than I hit. But the times I hit are becoming more frequent. That is very encouraging. I am so blessed to have sojourners who have come alongside me and paved the way by their examples. We give each other grace, eh?

And so this work business. I don’t think I have this mastered yet. At all. But I certainly have come a long way from where I started. Thank You, Holy Spirit and those who have been patient with me. I really want to talk about what I think is such an incredible and important distinction that I personally feel was not adequately communicated in previous churches I attended. Actually, their rhetoric may have contributed greatly to how confused I became.

Because I remember I was not raised the way I turned out. I was raised to always work hard and take care of business. At least those that claim to follow Christ never approved of any kind of “crazy faith” or “prosperity gospel”. I have no idea how I fell into that. I imagine it was just little changes in language that eventually added up so that I was gradually led over a period of decades to where I ended up. And yet you can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Which is this super difficult line for me to figure out.

As an example, I recently met with a former youth pastor of mine from the church I attended with my parents decades ago. He tried to tell me that any experience or feeling I have is basically inadmissible in the court of truth. Yet I’m sure out the other side of their mouths they tell people to have a relationship with Christ. How exactly am I supposed to have a relationship with Christ if I never experience God?! Ohhhh, do you mean I am supposed to have a relationship with the Bible instead? Or that only those in power have the authority to say that their experiences are valid but others’ experiences are conveniently not valid?

That is probably the kind of treatment that initially led me to be more and more open to other lines of thought. But I think I went to the extreme opposite end of the spectrum in my pursuit of truth. I ended up in a group where they preached basically that if I was good enough then God would provide everything I needed in the physical. Note, it wasn’t said exactly that way. Of course. But that’s basically what it boiled down to. If I had enough “faith”, if I “believed” enough, if I “followed Christ” enough, if I “died to myself” enough then God would provide for all my physical needs. And the real evil in that was there was this unspoken but understood condemnation that was communicated when your physical needs were not met: it meant you were doing something wrong or not doing enough. So the answer was easy: just do more, just be better. Because there is no end, eh?

I spent YEARS on that horrible rollercoaster. Fear consumed me because there was no love in that god we created through our own projections. It literally drove me to feeling suicidal and then eventually giving up instead of killing myself. Because even at my worst I didn’t kill myself for fear that would send me to hell before I had a chance to figure out the “right” way, how to get back to heaven. Little did I know my blindness was hell enough; no more hell was needed.

And in giving up, the pendulum swung again. I let go of thinking that I had to do anything for God to give me anything. And that was a good start. I finally realized, through Holy Spirit, that God’s perfect love casts out all fear. I accepted it like a thirsty man accepts water after walking through and almost dying in the desert. BUT… I only solved half the equation. I laid down works but I didn’t know yet how to value work. Only one letter difference but worlds apart.

If I could tell my former self what I know now, I’d say: start everything from the position of refusing to compromise on the fact that God is anything besides absolutely good! That has to be the beginning of any conversation we have. And so…

If God is always good, then it’s my perspective and understanding that is wrong if I’m doubting His goodness. This is where prayer comes in. Do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, go to God. And He will help you. Maybe not by providing you with the explanation you want, but always with the step you need to take next. Trusting His heart and thereby His timing and ways. I realize this sometimes seems like a trite statement in the faces of very real significant losses and pain. But I am sharing what has worked thus far for me.

So that’s what I did after I felt so disillusioned when God did not provide for all of my worldly needs in the ways that I expected after I accepted this already included message and rested from all my “works”. I was angry. I thought I had been given something really important. I didn’t understand why my desires to focus on sharing it were not rewarded in the physical in the ways that I thought were reasonable. This was an extremely difficult time.

Finally I stopped praying for God to do specific things and instead I started to quiet down and ask Him to show me what I was missing. Every time I felt abandoned in the physical, I would feel Him so strongly in the spiritual. There was no denying it. Even if I tried. What gives, God?

Slowly my mind started to shift. I started to understand that work is very different than works. Work is not “bad” in general. But “works” tend to not be great when commonly misused. Work is what you do to pay your bills and put food on the table. Works are things you maybe only unconsciously do in order to manipulate God into doing something for you.

Works can look like a form of religious superstition. Like I have to give the church 10% of my income in order for God to bless my business to make more money. We could go down a rabbit hole on this one, but to keep the focus, in practical matters – ONLY giving 10% to the church will not make your business successful if you sit at home on your laurels and wait for money to fly into your bank account. Work is also required. And work in this context is good.

I hate to go here because I still believe God does miracles, but I think it is cruel to preach from the pulpit that paritioners should ONLY pray away certain health conditions. I’ve heard some churches get crazy with this and attribute every negative thing to a “spirit”. To the extreme this can look like people praying away the “spirit of diabetes” or “the spirit of lung cancer”, etc. Unfortunately some of that thinking got into my head and I think it is wrong and kills people. Literally.

The alternative is to explain to people that it is ok to pray for miracles, but in the meantime we live in a physical world where if you jump off the edge of a skyscraper, probably 99.99% of the time you are going to die. Not great odds. And similarly if you don’t put in the WORK of stopping smoking and getting your diabetes under control then your chances of dying from those things are very high. All the Bible reading, serving at church, praying, tithing, etc probably ain’t gonna save your lungs if you keep smoking.

I’m one of the last to give up on a miracle, but I’m also starting to become one of the first to get to work doing what I can do in the meantime.

Does that make sense? Once you start to accept this, I’ve found you can experience a lot of anger. You can feel cheated out of sooo much by all these pastors that were more concerned about you helping build up their kingdoms while appearing completely unconcerned about how your life was being neglected and destroyed in the process. Countless people have burnt out physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. Others have experienced their families and marriages falling completely apart. Even suicides and worse. Now you know why I am so passionate about seeing people freed from wrong thinking!

They are afraid the pendulum will swing all the way back again. That we will give up on God totally. I admit some or my actions might lead outsiders to wonder. I haven’t picked up a Bible in a long time. I don’t have a church I attend. But these desires are slowly coming back in better measure. I’ve learned to look to God first.

I turned a really hard corner this week: I realized the feeling of love is not enough. It might sound unrelated, but it’s not. It’s easy to feel love for someone. It’s a lot more rare to find someone who does the hard work of being a loving person. To find a person who loves because that is their character whatever the weather. Versus a person who feels love but only behaves in like kind so much as serves their purposes. Then they jump ship and leave you high and dry.

Too long I have confused the two. Works and work. And those that feel love versus those that truly are loving.

As I accept this knowledge and move forward, I have enough work to do in minding my own business. But I share for any on the same journey.

Already Included #27 – I Believe

By Sarah Nyhan

I still believe in miracles. I just don’t believe I am a fortune teller.

I still believe God can do the impossible and nothing is too difficult for Him. I just don’t believe that He always does what WE, in our limited vision and understanding, think is best.

I don’t think I have to believe enough or have enough faith to make miraculous things happen. I don’t think I have to fast enough or pray enough to make miraculous things happen.

It sounds rather harsh, but I now think that thinking there is a formula to manipulate God into doing something I want Him to do sounds a lot like witchcraft. The Bible is not a book I use to cook up spells as I stand over a boiling brew.

I now think it’s quite the opposite. I think letting go of all of that “magical” thinking is maybe more the catalyst for God being free to pour out supernatural stuff into my life as it won’t now be reinforcing any stinking thinking that would otherwise be the death of life in me.

This comes down to trust. If I think God is always and forever for me then I can relax completely. I know He wants more for me than I want for myself. I know He is not satisfied with any death or sickness in me that I am willing to settle for.

I don’t have to try to predict or control the future. I can just be. I am free to choose and make my own decisions. At the same time that I hold my dreams, desires, plans and goals very loosely. Not that I don’t aim for anything, but I now make a lot more room for God to surprise me.

I don’t think God is tricky. I now think of “signs” as more to catch my attention than literal direction. To get me thinking or to get me to the next step. Versus a literal end in themselves.

In my last post I shared an example of “signs” being used to challenge my thinking. Not in a destructive sense, but in the way where you let a kid struggle to learn something new because you know they are capable and ready.

Now let me give an example of signs being used to get me to the next step versus signs meant to be taken literally.

Back in 2009 I was living with my girlfriend. I had a dream one night where I dreamt that it was “The Rapture” and all these bodies were being lifted up into the sky, but I wasn’t. In my dream, I looked over at my girlfriend and I heard God say, “So she’s worth it?”

I woke up and shot up in bed. The dream was so realistic that I wondered if what I dreamt really happened. I called my mother and figured if she answered then “The Rapture” didn’t happen. She answered and I asked her to pray for me.

My girlfriend at this point had woken up and came to see what was going on. I told her I had to leave. In less than five or so hours later, I was moved out and living two hours away. Two years cut off just like that.

My best friend. Everything. I cried and cried and cried. I was so mad at God! But if He was that serious then I had to do what I had to do.

Flash forward ten years and I’m learning about this “already included” message. I’m realizing I was wrong about a lot of things. So my mind is more open to revisiting everything I thought I always knew. But this gay thing, that is too painful and too much to rip open right now.

Until it’s forced upon me over and over. Three specific times. The last was an encounter with a leader of a local gay Christian group. I can’t run from facing this anymore. But my “signs”?

So I followed Brad Jersak’s example of asking God what He thinks. I said, “God, what about those ‘signs’? I thought for sure you told me homosexuality was wrong? I don’t believe anymore like I did before that homosexuality is cause for someone to be separated from You. But some things are still ‘wrong’, right?”

And as God often does, the answer I received back delivered truth with surgical precision versus the hack job I was attempting: “That was the only way you would have left her before she broke your heart.”

Literally, stunned silence! I did not expect or anticipate that response at all!

When truth hits you so hard and deep that to explain it is to do it an injustice. But for the sake of my point, I’ll try to continue to communicate:

God works within our logic. He masterfully blows it up from the inside out. As Paul Young says in The Shack, not all roads lead to God but God will find us on whatever road we are on. Something to that effect. And so every moment He asks me, “What road would you like to take?”

I’m amazed that even in our brokenness, God allows us to cross paths with each other for times. So the good in us can bless each other. So the not-so-great parts in us can keep being worked out. Iron sharpening iron.

And this is the case. We needed each other for a bit. And enjoyed each other for a bit. But in retrospect I can see the time was probably coming to an end.

But back then and even until recently, I didn’t have enough self-esteem to walk away from people who weren’t all the way for me. I would have stayed until the bitter end.

God knows me better than I know myself. God knows I would never let go. God knows my heart couldn’t have taken a hit from her that would have broken my heart anymore than it was already broken. It would have knocked me down further than leaving the way I did tore me apart. Maybe the way it worked out was easier for both of us compared to the alternative.

And so He worked within my logic. He worked within what I now believe was my very false fear of eternal damnation. Because that was the only thing big enough to get me out before my heart was broken. Even to save her from having to live with breaking my heart. Wow! God is an amazing genius like that!

I wasn’t ready then to see what I see now. A lot of junk and fear had to be worked out of me before this “already included” message could be received. I need to remember this when I am so impatient for others to understand.

And the gay thing? Still being worked out. Maybe I already have the answer but I’m not ready for it. I don’t know. And honestly that’s ok right now.

God is powerful enough to make the answers obvious if that was the point of this human experience. If we’re all here just preparing for some final exam.

The process is obviously much more important than just having the right answer. The depths we explore in our working things out are beyond rich in opportunity for growth – in terms of our relationships with God, our relationships with ourselves and each other, and otherwise.

This Bible I used to love to live and die on is in my new opinion now an invitation to relationship more than the religious equivalent of a Ouija board.

It sounds like I’m being crass and bordering on blasphemy, but I’m really not. I still hold the Bible in high regard for what it actually is and what it can really do. I think it is masterfully used to achieve its intended ends – which to me is absolutely NOT to take everything in it literally.

Any rational person already picks and chooses how they interpret it. Even the most orthodox people don’t go around stoning each other in today’s society. So to consider what else may not be exactly as we have always interpreted it is not such a stretch.

But I think the Christian church at large, at least the circles I’ve been exposed to, still leans a bit more on superstition than God’s heart. And in this context, I am learning to let go of fortune-telling. I am learning to let go of trying to figure out the future. I am learning how to make a concerted effort to stop future-tripping, as I’ve heard Paul Young refer to it.

Yet I still believe God can and probably will do the impossible. Whether that looks like moving mountains in my heart and mind, or showing off for the world to see in more concrete ways – I now trust Him to decide. And I stop trying to figure it out. Common sense and experience says God being God and me being so very human, the likelihood of me accurately foreseeing how the future will play out is really low anyway.

This involves a lot of mystery. A lot of letting go. A lot of being present in the moment. A lot of trust! That only grows through experience, but not the kind of crazy “leaps of faith” we thought we needed before. True rest is risky and revolutionary for the super-religious.

“Your salvation requires you to turn back to Me and stop your silly efforts to save yourselves. Your strength will come from settling down in complete dependence on Me – the very thing you’ve been unwilling to do.”

Already Included #25 – Thunder

By Sarah Nyhan

I used to be terrified. Of everything. Including thunder.

You grow up hearing stories about The Flood and Jonah. And as a kid there is a tendency to make a literal connection to weather and God’s “wrath”. I.e. if there is bad weather then God must be mad at me. So if there were huge thunderstorms that were shaking the windows on the house, then sometimes I would literally jump out of bed and lay prostrate face on the floor and start praying for mercy.

Perfect love casts out fear. This morning we had a storm that was so loud that it woke me up out of a dead sleep. And I just laid there and enjoyed it! I thought, “God, you like to pour out your blessings just like this rain is being poured out so much that it feels like the house might be swept away.”

And in the Spirit of Paul Young, “Yes, Lord; please wash away this shack on the inside that others have helped me build.” He is. I am loved. I am beloved.

And I give up. I let go of holding onto even this life, onto all my dreams: of a career, a house, a loving marriage, a big warm close family of friends and otherwise, better health, etc. I let it all go. Even the dreams that are so dear that I dare not speak them here.

Because I am safe. It’s God’s great love to deliver me. Maybe mostly from my messed up thinking before anything else. So I won’t go hitting the floor every time He wants to soothe my broken heart with a beautiful thunderstorm that reminds me His love is bigger than anything this life can bring.

Just like the ocean. I prayed those lyrics also: [lead] me out upon the waters. My soul will rest in Your embrace. Letting go of all anxiety. I will continue to do my best, but without the pressure of the gun of the unnecessary self-imposed stress of proving myself to God or anyone else.

I have not arrived; I will continue to grow and get better. Love does that because love is safe. Love lets you land. I have my forever home and family in Your heart, Lord. And You need me to know this first and above all. Not in my mind, but throughout every bit of my being.

Bless me with Your best because I am Your child and it is Your good pleasure. You love the hell out of me.

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.