The other day I was having a conversation with a friend about her struggles with body image and views on food and exercise. She felt the need to confess something to me, and I was there. A shoulder to lean on, an ear to listen, a non-judgemental space for confession. That is all I had anticipated being at least. She confessed to me that when her life had gotten really crazy and she wasn’t able to exercise every day she had begun to skip meals. I thanked her for her honesty of confession and talked through it with her for a little bit.
What happened next though, was not something I could have ever planned for. I guess in order for you to understand the greatness of God’s work in this moment, I have to share with you some of my story. When I was thirteen, I began to heavily restrict what I ate. When I did eat, I made myself purge to get rid of the food. I spent the next seven years living with strict guidelines on what I could and couldn’t eat, when I could eat, how much I could eat, when I had to exercise, ect. My life revolved around the set of rules I had created for myself. If I followed the rules, my life was great. If I didn’t, complete and utter chaos ensued. I was in complete control of everything.
I know now, it wasn’t a life at all. And I was not in control. Rather, I was living in complete slavery to sin. The enemy had tricked me into thinking that by creating this extremely rigid lifestyle, I was gaining power and control, when really I was completely weak and broken. I thought I could rest in myself to control the way I felt, and further, to manage everything else around me. What I actually needed was to rest in my Lord, Jesus Christ. Submitting myself to Him with the full knowledge that I could not be my own savior.
If you know me well, you know that this came in the form of my carefully curated life being completely upended. As a sophomore in college, I reached the worst point in my battle with my eating disorder. I finally told my parents what I had been struggling with for the past seven years. I don’t know what outcome I expected, but I definitely didn’t expect what happen next. Mere weeks into my fall semester, I withdrew from Furman University and traded my classes, and sorority involvement for a 9 hour daily program at a center for Eating Disorders in Greenville. The program I was in was called PHP (Partial Hospitalization Program) and it was anything but what I wanted. I spent the next three months there, breaking all the rules I had made for myself and lived by for the past seven years.
I won’t go into all the details of the program (like our daily nurse visits to have our vital signs checked, or weekly lab-work, or the number of awkward meals to last a lifetime). But by the end of the program, I knew it was what I needed. Up until very recently I still saw the same counselor that I saw while I was in the program, and can say that I have been in recovery for nearly a year.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have been struggling a lot with eating and body image. But, it is very different than my past struggles. The heart of it is still about control. That I know. I shared my story with my community group leader and how I’d been struggling recently. She suggested I go back to my old counselor. Maybe you guessed it, but this was the last thing I wanted to hear. I was done with this struggle. This was over. Door closed.
Because I love and respect my community group leader (and because I know she was right) I saw my old counselor. I told her what things I had been struggling with, but added that they were different. She didn’t think they were really that different at all but were the enemy disguising himself as something different for nothing other than my destruction. I knew she was right but left not wanting to change anything. And I didn’t. I still kept doing the same things and then like magic, God places me here, in my living room, having this very conversion.
I spoke to my friend a little bit about my past struggles and how her behaviors alarmed me a little. She politely told me she didn’t agree. Another friend was with us and agreed with me that she was worried too. The first friend began to defend herself and list reasons why her behaviors were normal. At some point during her speech, I found myself in tears. In everything, she said I heard some of my old self. I closed my eyes for a second, remembering what it was like to feel that control. How good it made me feel. In a moment of letting my guard down, Satan crept in and tried to pull me back into his clutches.
But oh, here comes the good part. The part where God shows up and saves me like he makes a habit of doing. All of a sudden, words began to flow from my mouth. “You don’t have to live this way. This is not what you were created for,” I said. “This will never satisfy you. It will never be enough. The creator of the Universe reaches down and says I want you! Our identity is in HIm, not what we eat, not how many calories we burn, not how much we weigh. Those things will never satisfy you. Believe me, I’ve tried.”
I said all of this between sobs, and am convinced of two things:
- This was God, our sovereign Creator speaking in this moment.
- Though I was speaking these words to her, they were mostly for me,
God’s presence filled the space that night an reminded me of this bold truth, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
I find my whole life in Him. When I was beginning to lose sight of this, he kindly but fiercely led me back to this truth.