Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Do You Want to get Well?

February is eating disorder awareness month, so I decided to share a bit of my journey with you. Looking back, I can't remember a time in which food wasn't an issue for me. In my preschool years I developed a mild preoccupation with food and asked at the end of each meal what would be served at the next. By second grade, I had already begun to believe I was fat, ugly, and defective. I believed I needed to lose weight, even though my childhood pictures tell a different story. By junior high, I was trying one fad diet after another and soon developed a legalistic perspective about food, causing me to categorize all foods as either good foods or bad foods. Every new diet had it's own restrictions and when I put them all together, the list of acceptable foods became quite small.

The summer after eight grade, my family was in the process of moving and I stayed behind with my mom to finish my summer job as she finished her graduate classes. I didn't like the feelings of anxiety and grief that I was experiencing over the impending move and found relief by focusing on my weight and whatever diet I was currently on. After all, I didn't want to be rejected in a new school for being too "fat." During that summer I started fasting for weeks at a time and I exercised obsessively late into the night. It was easy to get away with the behaviors because I worked in the evenings and my mom assumed I ate at the restaurant I worked in and didn't know I was exercising after she was asleep. After the move, I spent a year overeating and then as I adjusted I began another cycle of rigid dieting.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I was growing increasingly uncomfortable in my maturing body and, as an introvert, I often felt inadequate navigating relationships. So, I hid behind by disorder. During that time I remember not wanting to grow up, while at the same time I took on many of the adult responsibilities so I was too busy to just hang out. At the end of tenth grade, we were involved in an accident in which a woman died and the trauma of that event threw me into a full-blown eating disorder. The rest of my high school years were plagued by stressful situations--three adults in our family having major surgeries in the same year, dysfunctional unhealthy relationships, having a boyfriend who nearly died after accidently shooting himself, and having a friend's mother die from suicide. I was spinning with emotions I couldn't process and to calm the internal chaos I took even more control over my diet and exercise program. When I was successful at keeping the food rules, I felt powerful and believed I was a good Christian for having such great self control. However, even one bite of something not on the good list would throw me into shame and self-contempt so deep that it was paralyzing at time. I often found myself confessing to God what I had labeled as my sin.

When I first entered counseling I thought all the painful emotions I experienced were only about the food I ate, but as I began to eat healthier, I realized those feelings of shame and self-contempt were also tied to other things not so easy to control. They were tied to the desire to be perfect, which I thought necessary to earn God's love and approval. They were tied to sin that I had confessed, but had had a hard time believing God had forgiven. And, they were tied to the sexual abuse for which I was wrongfully been blaming myself.

At one point in my recovery my counselor gently asked me, "Do you want to get well or am I the only one who wants that for you?" The question felt familiar as I processed it with her. Later that evening, I realized it was familiar because it essentially the same question Jesus had asked the man laying by the Bethesda Pool in Jerusalem. The paralyzed man had been laying there for thirty eight years, waiting to be healed. I knew Jesus healed that man on the Sabbath to draw attention to the ugly legalism of the religious leaders and soon realized the legalism Jesus was confronting was not all that different than the strict legalistic rules about food that I had created for myself. I think anyone who has struggled with any type of besetting sin, eating disorders, substance abuse, sexual addiction, or thought patterns that spiral them into despair can relate to the paralytic's struggle and to mine as well.

We try in our own power to stop doing something and then fail. That failure leads us to eventually give up, believing we are powerless to do anything about it. As believers we may even hide our sin and addictions for a season, but when we do that we live under a shroud of shame that God never meant us to live under. Sometimes, we even excuse our sin, saying boys will be boys, girls will be girls, or everybody does it. At other times we redefine sin as I did with my food rules and end up beating ourselves up for something God never said was wrong.

We don't need a list of rules to follow to defeat whatever it is that cripples us. We need Jesus. I know that sounds like a platitude, but hang with me for a few moments and let me explain what I mean. I needed Jesus with skin on in the form of other believers. I needed someone to hear my story and sit with me as I experienced the pain from my past that I buried deep for fear that if I felt it I would crumble into pieces that no one could put back together. These people were people who were willing to weep with me and rejoice with me. I needed them to enter the dark places of my mind to help me see that I had wrongfully defined eating food as sin and help me see that God intended it for both nourishment and pleasure. I needed them to help me realize that the traumatic events I had experienced weren't proof of God's displeasure with me. I needed them to help me recognize the lies I believed so that I could learn to replace them with God's truth. I needed people who could help me learn how to starve the monster called "Shame" by teaching me that I could worship God as I ate the food He provided with a thankful heart and that I had the power, as an adult, to give the shame of my abuse back to my abusers.

I needed Jesus in the form of His truth. That truth sometimes came in the form of the written Word that I digester during quiet times--truth that helped me to learn to walk with God through the recovery process. Sometimes His truth came in the form of sermons I heard in church, on the radio, or watched on the internet. Sometimes it came in the form of form of encouragement notes others graciously wrote to me. Sometimes it came in the form of music that other struggling saints had penned--music of people like Michael Card, Dennis Jernigan, Amy Grant, Natalie Grant, and many others. Sometimes it came in the form of processing verses through conversations I had with friends, allowing me to slow down and contemplate how Gods' truth impacts me daily.  

I needed Jesus in the form of accountability partners who were willing to take calls from me when I was struggling with eating-disorder behaviors. These were nonjudgmental people, who understood the process of overcoming strongholds is a battle that begins in the mind. One night I called one partner because I had struggled with the desire to binge and over-exercise all day and I was exhausted. I called her and listed the things I was tempted to do and told her I was choosing not to do them. I asked her, "If I don't do those things, what can I do?" She laughed, which made me laugh and the laughing broke the miserable feeling of angst with which I had been experiencing all day. She reminded me of a couple of healthy behaviors I could do to process my emotions and then we just visited a few minuets about our lives often dissolving in laughter. I realized later that the healthiest thing I did that day was to choose to connect with someone who loved Jesus and was willing to simply be there. She didn't shame me. She didn't have to hear all of my garbage. She didn't throw verses or platitudes at me. She didn't even try to fix me or scold me for being weak. She just simply reminded me she cared.

There were also times that accountability partners were unavailable and I simply needed to sit at the feet of Jesus, confessing to Him the struggle I was experiencing so that I would come to know that He would meet me there. During these times, I chose to be like Jacob wrestling with God by crying out to Him in radical transparency. As I cried out to Him, I also reminded myself of His truth and chose to meditate on verses that reminded me of His love and His power, and His faithfulness. I committed to staying in a constant state of prayer, holding on to Him for all that I was worth until He provided the relief I needed. It was in those times I came to understand that intimacy with God doesn't come out of denying myself of food, out of being a perfect Christian, or out of having a perfect recovery. It came out of minute by minute decisions to fully trust and obey God in the face of powerful urges that are a part of eating disorders. Intimacy with God became a reality in my struggles, not something I hoped might attain in the future. How cool is that? It came from hanging on to Him as hard as I had to, for as long as it took. God faithfully rode those waves of temptation and empowered me to stand firm when everything in me wanted to cave. It was freeing to come to grips with the truth that God never expected perfection, He simply desired me to trust Him enough to invite Him into the struggle.

I know from God's word that I am not alone in the struggle for there is no temptation that is not common to man. That means every reader reading this is struggling with temptation of some sort. Some may have even made a list of their own rules they think will help them overcome sin, only to be filled with shame again and again because they fail. Let me ask you the question Jesus asked the man and that my counselor friend asked me, "Do you want to get well?" I wonder what might happen if you give up the rules you have devised and let Jesus join you in your struggle. I wonder how your life might be different if in the middle of the struggle you reached out to a safe person who can help you get out of your own head and help you remember that your Jesus is near. I wonder what might happen if the next time temptation hits, you were to hold on to the Savior for dear life and let His love, His grace, and His strength wash over you. I believe that you, too, will find that Jesus will provide all you need to have the victory you desire. Starve the shame monster that tries to tells you different for the cross, itself, points to the faithfulness of our God in the face of our sin. Do you want to get well?

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!