The Relational Spirituality Podcast

The Relational Spirituality Podcast

Living from the Unwavering Smile of Heaven | Ep. 08

March 14, 2023

Show Notes: Are you riddled with anxiety and overwhelmed by the pressure to perform? Have you every truly experienced the abounding unconditional love of God? Join Karlene and her oldest son, Nick, as they talk about how he discovered the freedom of living from the love of God instead of for the love of God. The prepositions matter. Living for something reduces you to the product of your performance, but living from the source of love and grace, that unwavering smile of Heaven, yields a life of beauty, rest, and freedom.

Nick’s Talk at Furman FCA: 

Nick Cannon’s Bio: 

Growing up obliged to have conversations that matter around the dinner table, after arguments with siblings, and every Sunday with a larger community of families, Nick Cannon has reluctantly come to appreciate knowing how to deeply engage with others in any circumstance or condition of soul. Nick is the son of Karlene Cannon, Director of Content and Product Development for Larger Story. He is a junior business major at Furman University and plays football there. He is also a photographer and filmmaker and will be releasing his first documentary film at the end of March. You can find his portfolio on Instagram @nickcann0n. 


[00:00:09] Karlene Cannon: Welcome Larger Story family to the Relational Spirituality Podcast, where we talk about what it means to Belong to God, and how that’s the only thing that enables us to become who he created us to be, so that we can be truly known. I’m Karlene Cannon. I am your host today and joining me today is one of my very favorite people, my son Nick Cannon. I am going to tell you a little bit about him, then we are just going to jump right in because he has places to go and things to do.  

Nick is a student at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, where he plays football. He is also an up-and-coming photographer and filmmaker. 

He just spent a few days in Yellowstone, Wyoming doing some marketing videos for an adventure retailer there. And he is about to release his very first documentary, that premieres in a couple of weeks. We are really excited about that. Nick is also a great friend and brother, but I think the thing that I love the most is that he’s truly becoming a man after God’s own heart. You will hear that today as we talk about what it’s been like for him in this last year to Belong to God, to become who he’s created to be, and to be known by those of us who love him and by his creator.  Thank you, Nick, for joining us. Anything you would like to say before we jump in? 

Nick Cannon: No, I’m excited to be here. Thank you.  

Karlene Cannon: It’s a big deal to come on something of a podcast like this and talk to your mom in front of whoever’s listening. I really appreciate your willingness to do that. I wanted to just ask a couple of questions about what it was like for you growing up in our house where we had taken some of the things we had learned from Larry Crabb and his ministry and what it meant to talk deeply to have these conversations that matter, that go below the surface with intentionality.  How did you experience that? The good, the bad, the ugly? What was it like to grow up in that environment?  

[00:02:41] Nick Cannon: I think looking back on it, I’m much more grateful for it than I was in the moment during a lot of it.  Sometimes, being a kid, being asked these deep questions about your feelings when you’re 13 and angry at your brother, isn’t the best thing ever. 

But looking back on it, I now do feel like I have a much better, or a deeper understanding of myself and my ability to know what I’m feeling and then how to articulate that. And how to deal with that. But then also I feel like I have a much better ability to talk to other people and much like you Mom, notice little things. 

The ability to ask questions, the ability to be intentional, the ability to get deeper with another person. I think now looking back is a very valuable skill, and something I just am surprisingly good at because it was such a part of my growing up. 

[00:03:52] Karlene Cannon:  I’m glad to hear that. 

I think there’s certainly a confidence that comes in feeling like you have some skill or capacity to engage deeply with another person, but also, I wonder if there’s something beyond just the skill. There is some courage or a sense of the importance and necessity, the purpose of those kinds of deeper conversations that make it something that you have chosen to do with your peers and your friends, even in really difficult situations. What is it that gives you the willingness to step into something that is hard?  

[00:04:39] Nick Cannon: I think you see the value in it. I think you realize that a lot of people are, often confused on how they’re feeling. 

I think they’re believing lies. They’re overwhelmed by the way of the world. And a few questions, a deep conversation can really, first off, show them that you care about them and that you’re invested in their being, but also can often open them up to a new way of thinking that reveals to them the lies that they’re believing or things that they’re falling into when they don’t even know they are. 

You’re not discovering it for them, but helping them discover it for themselves, I like that.  

[00:05:38] Karlene Cannon: I like that. What is the power of helping someone discover something like that for themselves as opposed to just being told.  

[00:05:49] Nick Cannon: I think then it sticks. I think then they have internalized and processed it for themself rather than you just preaching at them. You know? Like you might have somebody that is dealing with anger, or something is obvious, but until they realize for themselves that it’s a problem, it doesn’t matter how much you tell them it’s a problem. They have to kind of conclude that it’s a problem and want to fix it. And then you can help them on that path, I guess. 

[00:06:20] Karlene Cannon: As you talk to people who are in your season of life and doing life with you there at Furman, what are some of the things that you and your peers are really struggling with and grappling with just in the day-to-day life of being a student, being an athlete, and trying to get to graduation. 

[00:06:47] Nick Cannon: There are lots of different things. There is a full range of things you deal with in college. A lot of people often feel burnt out, overwhelmed, at the end of themselves, tired, busy beyond what they can handle. I feel that’s the most common. And then you have all the things in between people who deal with loss or heartbreak or whatever else that comes in this season of life. 

As you’re really on your own, almost an adult, I do think anxiety and mental health and all of that stuff is so prevalent in our generation now.  You see that in just people being tired, busy, overwhelmed, as you know. I think that’s definitely quite common. 

[00:07:38] Karlene Cannon: Well, that is one of the things I wanted to talk to you about today. I found it really kind of God, we were scheduled to have this conversation several weeks ago, and one of the things I wanted to talk to you about was we are in a season at Larger Story, where we are talking about Larry Crabb’s book, The Pressure’s Off. 

I knew some of what you had been dealing with over the last year and wanted to chat with you a little bit about what the pressure has been like and how you’ve experienced God in that time?  And then we were scheduled to talk and then you had an opportunity to speak at FCA.  I just found it intriguing that the things you chose to talk about at FCA when you were on stage and sharing with your peers were very much aligned with the things I wanted to talk to you about on this podcast. 

It was great for me to get to hear what was on your heart and to hear you express that.  I just wanted to follow up on some of the things that you said in that talk, and we’ll be linking that talk in the show notes, so those of you who are listening want to go here and hear what Nick shared with his with his F C A group at Furman. 

You can do that, but you did talk a lot about anxiety and a lot of our feelings as some sort of signal that tells us there’s something wrong. There is something going wrong inside.  Larry talks about in his book that there’s pressure that we all live with- a pressure that leads to death, the death of your soul, your internal world. 

 I know you’ve experienced a difficult year of pressure and pain and you shared some of that in your talk. I was just wondering if you could share a little bit with us about how that realization that anxiety is a signal was pointed out to you and how you responded to it. 

[00:09:52] Nick Cannon: I often accepted anxiety as a part of life, a day-to-day thing that just is a consequence of being in college. A consequence of being an athlete. I’ve never struggled intensely with anxiety, or mental health, to a level of needing medication or anything like that. I think it’s a common, social anxiety. But for me it was more of a performance anxiety, especially related to sports. It’s less about the social being around people, it’s more about what my coach thinks about me. Like doing well at practice or performing well in school, something like that. 

 I think it was just like accepted. People would say, if you are not nervous, you do not care. Which I think has some validity to it, but often then you’re just like, I’m supposed to be nervous, or I’m supposed to have a pit in my stomach every time, or whatever. I think there’s a healthy level of nervousness, but then there’s the crippling level where now your performance anxiety has affected your ability to relate to people. Your ability to be a good teammate is affected because you are so worried about yourself that you’re hoping your teammate does badly. You’re almost celebrating their failures because it makes you look better and stuff like that. 

Then you start to realize something’s wrong. And the anxiety is different, right? Because it’s one thing to have a pit in your stomach right before a game, but it’s like you’re sitting in class and practice is six hours away and you’re nervous about it, now this is affecting my daily life. 

To realize that is your soul’s way of telling you something’s wrong in a way. That is not just something to be lived with, it’s something that can be changed, and affected. I think that was an important realization- don’t just live with it, but let those feelings tell you something. 

That’s your body or your soul communicating with you. Some type of message, that there’s fixes too, things that you can go about that will change the way that you are experiencing that feeling.  That was an important understanding and realization for me. It also sucks to live that way. . .  

[00:12:39] Karlene Cannon:  It’s like your, internal world saying, “hey, I need an intervention here.” And you can just keep ignoring it, but it doesn’t really resolve the things that are going on. And then that pressure becomes an energy that continues to drive you, but it does not really result in good relationships or even often a good performance. It’s crippling, I think it is the word you used. It’s harmful when you’re not able to overcome it. I think one of the things you said that struck me in your talk the other night was about the pressure to perform and how it impacts your identity. And you made the quip, you are what you put on tape and I know that’s a particular expression for an athlete, but I think we all, especially in this age of social media, you are very concerned about the image we’re projecting or kind of what we’re putting on tape, if you will. 

How did that pressure, and that experience, impact your identity? The core of who Nick is…? How is it making you think about yourself? 

[00:14:00] Nick Cannon: I think it’s a reduction of identity. It reduces you down to your result. Your product and your product is practice. 

Your product is what you do in a game. It really reduces you down to the result of your performance. And so that could be a job, that could be in school, that could be obviously as an athlete. That could be anything. I mean, that could be in a relationship, that could be a mom or dad, whatever the result is. 

Whatever we do, a result is produced. And if your identity is in that, then you’re reducing yourself down to that. And then therefore, if it’s either bad or good, it’s telling you like what you’re worth. And that’s just like an impossible thing because so many situations and things are out of our control. 

It’s supposed to be important. We’re supposed to run the race. Once you put your identity in it and it becomes your worth, or who you are is the result of your work or your performance, I just feel like then not only do you miss what God has for you, not only do you miss the beauty that comes with relationship with him, but you also just miss the fullness of who you could be, right? 

So now you feel harmed.  You feel bad and whatever. You’re not going to perform to the highest capability that you have because you’re so caught up in the result. So you’re not free to live to a full experience because fear, anxiety, all these things are crippling you. Honestly making you hold back in a lot of ways. 

[00:16:10] Karlene Cannon:  I think that’s an astute observation that the obsession with our performance, the hyper focus on our performance is actually reducing us. I think that is an important thought.  I appreciate the way you articulated how that happens and what that feels like.  

One of the things I love about this conversation is it dovetails so nicely with the book we’ve been talking about.  Larry says we have these A strategies to produce these B in outcomes. And when we are so focused on that equation of A, you know, leads to B,  we’re actually in bondage to that, we then become in bondage to our performance. 

And I think that’s what you are saying so well is that the bondage then just reduces us and makes us so much less than who God created us to be, calls us to be, or invites us to be. One of the things you talked about the other night was what you called the most important discovery we can make. 

And you said that was knowing the unconditional love of God.  And we touched on that, or you touched on that in what you just talked about, but can you unpack that a little more? Like not only what that means, but what that was like for you this year to discover God’s love in the middle of your difficulties.  

[00:17:46] Nick Cannon: I think the idea of love for me- often there were lies that I would believe about God that I think in a lot of times, in a lot of ways, almost came from a biblical understanding of the detrimental cost of sin.  

I think for me, there was  a little bit of the lies I believed in, I felt were almost backed by truth. And I think in a way they’re backed by half a truth in the sense that what we do does matter. Our moral responsibility is a real thing. How we live our lives as Christians is of the utmost importance, but it does not change your identity.  

It doesn’t change how God looks at you. It doesn’t change the love of God. And I think that’s an important obstacle that a lot of people get affected by because I knew a lot of the love of God. I heard the word unconditional a million times. 

I could have given you a great five sentence paragraph on what God’s love was, but I didn’t believe it fully because there were other things that were masking that. And so often  believing the lie that my obedience strengthens and weakens the love of God, or that God is just disappointed all the time in me. Or  his love is infected with disappointment.   

Realizing like Romans 8:1 “therefore there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ” that is not like hyperbole. It’s not something where they’re exaggerating. No condemnation. It’s not less condemnation or a little bit of condemnation. 

The idea that Christ’s holiness is imparted onto us through the Holy Spirit. The theology of what happens when we become a Christian. What happens when we become a new creation? And with that love God can look at us in a new way that wasn’t possible before. 

That’s through the power of the cross. And then to discover, to fully believe that the love of God is true, faith is going to be powerful. You first have the trust in the character of the God that you are praying to. 

 You know, it’s like in 1st John where he talks about we love because he first loved us and our only capability, our only ability to love or to have peace or joy or any of these things are first anchored in a relationship, and an intimacy with that love of God. 

I think that’s why that discovery has to be first. And it’s a discovery that you almost have to do it over and over again. You have to fight yourself because everything’s telling you that God doesn’t love you or that you’re not lovable or that you don’t need him. 

It’s putting him back on the throne every day. Remembering that his greatest love is always poured out even in our, most miserable times. I think it’s just realizing that God found a way. God made a way to make us holy, to raise us to the standard that has absolutely nothing to do with our performance. 

That’s the beauty of grace. That’s the beauty of the gospel. It has nothing to do with our capability, our identity cannot change based on what we do. It must start there.  

[00:21:45] Karlene Cannon:  I know in my spiritual walk, there have been times where the things that I knew in my head finally worked themselves in and permeated down into a knowing in my heart, like a knowing in my being. I think when I hear you say, the most important discovery you can make, that conveys to me that there’s a different type of knowing than just the cognitive understanding of the theology. 

What was that “new knowing” experience like for you this year? How did that actually come and start to absorb in, you know, deeper down?  

[00:22:38] Nick Cannon: I think practice is the first step. And for me, practice was prayer. 

Learning what prayer meant. Learning the power of prayer. And for me, I am very analytical, I am very factual. I first honestly must start with the theology and prove it to myself before I can step into practice, because then I have to defeat the lies on the front end before I can step into the practice. 

 Because then I’m just never going to fully believe it because in the back of my mind, I’ve got four arguments as to why it’s not true. You need to fight that. And, sometimes those lies are subconscious. It takes time to kind of figure out, what is it that I’m believing? 

And for me it was like writing things down and then arguing with myself, arguing with those things. Then being able to put that into practice. Okay, now those lies, you’ve brought it to the light. Those lies, now don’t have a hold on me the same way they did before and now you can step into a practice. 

I think the practice that I realized was missing in my life, at least, that I didn’t understand it was something I’ve always done, but  didn’t fully understand the power of it or why prayer matters. Why it was necessary if God is sovereign? Why does he care what I pray for? 

Those are some of the lies. Just things that you must fight theologically first of why does prayer matter? Why does God want to listen to us? And most of that has to do with what we talked about earlier of like, our standing before God is what is Jesus is now. 

When we pray, I don’t remember his New Testament theologian. I’d have to find his name, but he says something along the lines of when we pray in Jesus’ name, we have the same authority and status before God that he did when he was on Earth. 

Stories in Exodus where Moses changed God’s mind with prayer, with pleading before the Lord. And in theory, we have a higher status than Moses did. You know, you start to realize this is why prayer matters. 

This is why it’s important. It’s really the consistency of it, of realizing that, if you look at Jesus’ lifestyle- one of the things that I talked about was in Luke’s gospel as Jesus gets increased notoriety and busier, then higher demand- He goes off to those places to pray increasingly often. 

The busier he gets, the more he needs it, the more we need that source. Realizing that in the times where the anxiety is the heaviest, where the busyness is the heaviest, where the stress is the highest, that’s the times we need the alone time with God, we need the intimacy with the Lord the most. 

 I feel that’s where you put that love into practice and that intimacy into practice and like it’s a two-way relationship where, just like in a marriage, if you just only talk to your spouse five minutes a day before bed, like they’re probably not going to think too highly of you. 

It’s like that with God. It’s like there’s more time, sacrificial time that you have to give to God that changes the way you experience daily life, developing rhythms of prayer and, consistency with prayer, and honestly using guided prayers like the Psalms or The Lord’s Prayer. You have to learn to read sheet music before you can just pray spontaneously. You know, like jazz music, you must learn to read sheet music before you can play proper jazz, like completely spontaneously. 

I think we often in the conservative evangelical world have learned only to pray spontaneously. And you miss the beauty of the Psalms and, the things Jesus gave us, such as the Lord’s prayer.  

[00:26:53] Karlene Cannon:  I love what you are talking about in this regular, sort of rhythmic everyday communion with God. And one thing I remember last fall, when you were really struggling- Wait- let me just back up a little bit. One of the things about you, Nick, from the minute you could walk, you were running, you know, running has been your jam and it’s been part of your identity. 

You have always been a runner. You’ve been fast, and I have always thought of that scene in Chariots of Fire where Eric Liddell tells his sister, “God made me fast, and when I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” And I’ve watched you run for 20, almost 21 years now, and I can see the pleasure and it’s been something I’ve hoped for and prayed for that as you’re doing something like that, that God’s created you to do, that you feel his pleasure. 

But the last two years running has become a source of pain and injury, maybe even fear. Last season when you were injured but still playing and were constantly concerned that one wrong step would result in a season ending injury again. What was that like where this thing that you had been created by God to do and you’ve kind of done with him, now created so much anxiety around the need to perform. 

And that pressure to perform just exacerbated the- I don’t want to put too many words in your mouth, but just the concern about running. How did you experience that whole thing with God and how was that sort of an everyday part of your life and kind of absorbed into your spiritual life? 

[00:29:10] Nick Cannon: I think it’s like a similar thing to like the thorn in the flesh for Paul in the sense that I realized that in my weakness I was strong or there was strength in the weakness. When you have a constant nagging pain or something that is bothering you or that it feels like you are on the verge of injury, it really does keep you connected with God because you’re praying through every route that I’m running. Every play is, Lord I hope I make it through it. I hope the hamstring makes it through it. I hope you keep it, hold it together because you’re the only one that can at this point. 

 And it does not feel like it wants to. I think it does become, at least for me, it became a trust thing and a reliance and a dependence on God and that pain. And also, being smart.  

But when you experience the freedom and when it’s healed and when  you overcome it, then the heart of gratitude is way stronger because God got you through the first part, and so then therefore God is the one that provided the healing and it had nothing to do with you, and you’re not upset that it took so long. 

You’re stoked about it, you know, because of the posture that you’ve had to take through the whole thing.   It’s not like, oh, finally. Instead it is thank you! I didn’t deserve that, but you gave it to me. And now I can pray and play much freer. I can fully use the physical gifts that you’ve given me and the speed and all of that to the full extent and push my body and not worry about it. 

So, I think it just depends on how you walk through those things. Because then the healing process or when you experience the healing, when you get to the other side of it, yeah, then your heart is much better anchored than if you complained or had just super negative mindset or whatever the whole way through it and if I had been  angry with the Lord the whole time rather than believing He was doing this for some reason and I’m going to just rely on him. And if it gets so bad that I do get an injury, like that’s also in his control. I’ll praise you in the storm even if I don’t want to. I think that the mindset is so helpful, but then at least from my story, when I walked and got to the other side of it and experienced the healing a little bit, I had so much gratitude and then I’m free to play to my full capability and  God put me here for a reason, If you didn’t want me to be here, you could have easily made it happen. 

And so now I know I’m on the field for a purpose or I’m being able to do whatever I do. And so, it just like changes the way you think about it, I guess.  

[00:32:33] Karlene Cannon: I love that. One of the things you said that I think may come out of this experience, or at least it’s connected to it, you used this powerful set of prepositions, which- kudos to you on the grammar. 

I was impressed. But you made the statement, “what does it mean to feel the difference of moving from the unwavering smile of heaven instead of for the unwavering smile of heaven. Can you talk a little bit about that? Because I thought that was profound and you used a series of things like obedience from the union with Christ instead of for union with Christ. 

So, can you tell me a little bit about that and how it’s connected to the past year and how you have experienced God? 

[00:33:28] Nick Cannon: I think it comes back a little bit to what we talked about at the beginning, about how our feelings tell us something about our soul. 

I think that’s the distinction that I realized that often those feelings are telling you is when you’re operating for not from. And so, the idea is like obedience from the love of God, not for it or from the smile of heaven, not for it, or from union with Christ. Not for it. From the love of God, not for the love of God. 

It just changes that small little, contrast between, from not for and, you’re trying to decipher when you’re operating out of either, because I think it’s so easy for us to flip back and forth constantly. More often to the bad side of doing things for it. 

I think what I learned is, if I’m feeling constant anxiety or the pressure is super high, the stress, or you just feel overwhelmed or you feel perpetually behind or you just feel busy or like all these things. You don’t feel rest, you know and the promises of God are not true of your life. 

 Often that means we’re living for it, not from it. And so that’s the whole beauty of the gospel. That’s the whole beauty of what Jesus says. Come to me and I’ll give you rest. And so, we can live a busy life, a stressful life, and feel less drained all the time. 

I think that’s only possible though when you’re living from the source, not for the source. You’re living, your obedience and your desire to be obedient is from the love of God, not for it. Because if you’re striving for it, you’re just going to be drained. Because you’re giving, you’re pouring out all the time versus being filled up. 

If you’re just doing things off your willpower, that can get you farther than we might give ourselves credit for. You can get a long way with willpower, but you’re going to be dead after, you’re going to be exhausted. It’s from the source and that’s where, like we talked about earlier, to live from the source. 

There’s sacrificial time, there’s giving time to God. You do have to change your life. To live the life of Jesus. You must live the lifestyle of Jesus. And so therefore you must take a step back. And realize it is better for my soul to spend an hour going on a walk and talking to God than to catch up on the Netflix show. 

Often, we don’t have time for that. But then you look at your phone and you have got four hours of screen time and you say, “Well, I’ve got four hours every day to look at Instagram. I think I do have more time than I think. I’m convincing myself I am busy when I’m actually not.” 

I think that’s what Satan does. It’s like that CS Lewis quote that I referred to in my talk. Their (the demons in The Screwtape Letters) plan is to make the world so busy and so loud and so noisy that it drowns out the voice of God. And so you must slow down intentionally and change your lifestyle to experience God. 

I think that’s why I realized you can’t just be a Christian, your lifestyle must be different. Obviously I feel like people know that, but it must be different. Like you can change your whole life by an hour a day or, or like giving God a Sabbath. 

I know that’s not a thing that people do anymore, but change the way you experience life to live fully. 

[00:37:28] Karlene Cannon: What I hear you saying is that comparison of your performance versus your identity. 

That living for the smile is my performance requiring me to do certain things in certain ways so that I can get something, whereas living from my identity in Christ, my identity as a daughter, or son of God is living from the smile. Because that identity has been conferred on me. I can’t change it. 

God’s already done it and there’s so much freedom in that. I think what I hear you saying then is that we tend to make our investments in our performance, right? We spend time on our performance and yet, while nothing can take away the identity that we have in Jesus, and nothing can change the reality that we are children of God, putting some investment into my own sort of ownership of that identity, and living out of that identity is a critical shift. A change in thinking, and it produces some radical transformational results is what I’m hearing you say. I really like that idea. 

 I’m so proud of you and I’m so grateful that you took the time. I mean, you’re on spring break right now, and you gave me an hour of your time. We did have some technical difficulties, which are my fault. I do appreciate you hanging with me and, just sharing your heart and, thank you so much for giving us a little window into what God’s doing in your life. Hopefully, we’ll get to do this again sometime. 

Everybody, thank you so much for joining us. I hope you enjoyed our conversation and we’ll just be with you again next week with another conversation on the Relational Spirituality Podcast. Thank you.