He Will Fill You (Sep-Dec 2004)

By Matt Dabbs

by Paige Reynolds
September – December, 2004

The following article about the desperation of life with anorexia and bulimia is from a speech given during a chapel assembly at Abilene Christian University in October 2003.

Psalm 13
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, O Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me….

The words sent a shiver down my spine: “ALL YOU CAN EAT.” It was Cici’s Pizza night for the girls on my hall in Gardner dorm, a tradition I feared as much as everyone else enjoyed. It took days of mental preparation beforehand and days of emotional recovery afterward for me to join in one of these girls’ nights out. It took hours of meal planning and heavy-duty restriction for me to feel okay about going to a buffet of any sort—something about all the food laid out as if to test my self-control, those awful words—“All you can eat”—plastered on the windows and menus, as if to make me feel guilty for even being there. I sometimes would go, I would eat pizza, I would laugh and talk, and through every moment of it, I would know how dearly I would make myself pay for what I was doing. I had an eating disorder. Of course, I never would have called it that at the time.

I couldn’t possibly have known when I was fifteen years old that what I entered into with such innocence and naïveté would be the source of such destruction and heartache. I began losing weight that year. My friends all noticed my ever-slimming figure and praised me for it. Perfectionist that I am, I thrived on such approval and adulation from others, so I figured what I was doing was a good thing and I ought to keep doing it.

When I got to college, warnings of the “freshman fifteen” meant nothing to many of my friends, but they absolutely terrified me. I had a list of forbidden foods that never stopped growing. If I eat this now, I may have to eat it again. Then, I may like it and eat more of it. Then I may lose complete control. No—better to stay strong. Better to refuse it in the first place. So I refused more and more. This gave me an incredible sense of control in a world that had been out of control for several years of my childhood. In those days the words “fat-free” seemed to me like a get-out-of-jail-free card, a metaphorical passport to a world of food I was all but a stranger to by then. Anything “fat-free” seemed to me to be pardonable, and I felt semi-normal when I ate something that at least looked like “regular” food. If ever I slipped and ate something I wasn’t supposed to, I felt as if I had sinned—I was ashamed, embarrassed, and penitent—I would do whatever I could to make up for it later. Still, I felt constantly guilty. I weighed myself religiously, lay awake at night preoccupied with what I would eat for the rest of the week, avoided social situations that were centered on food (which is EVERYTHING, so I was constantly lying to get out of engagements, or lying so I could go and not have to eat).

I spent hours in the grocery store reading labels, hours in tears trying to decide what to have for dinner, hours lying awake carefully planning menus and counting calories. My weight loss was slow, but it was steady and invigorating to me. Each time I reached my new goal weight, somehow the goal had already been lowered a step, so that I never really reached my goal at all. This way I had a buffer, just in case I gained a little. With every new comment on my “tiny size,” I felt at once proud and petrified. . . the pressure to continue to live up to this standard I had created was intense. It was obvious to those around me that I was no longer controlling this, but it was controlling me.

By the time I was thirty pounds underweight, when I looked in the mirror I didn’t see hollow cheeks and protruding bones, but still fat. . . always fat. I was numb, irrational, tired, sick. I longed to be good—I have always wanted to be good—I longed to surrender to God, but I couldn’t. I was in counseling twice a week and had been for months, and my doctor was so concerned that he insisted on seeing me every two weeks. I was warned that I risked my ability to have children in the future and increased my chances of heart attack and kidney failure. I had been married less than a year to a wonderful man and already my marriage was in crisis. Even so, I knew of no other way to live by then. Somehow the only way I could cancel out the hunger in my soul was to starve my body.

My world collapsed in October of my junior year. My husband and I were walking to chapel together, as usual, but something strange started to happen as we got into the concourse. My head spun, sounds were muffled, my body slumped. The next thing I knew I was lying on the cold concrete, then I was in my doctor’s office, then I was walking into a treatment facility where I would spend the next six weeks. When my husband, my dear friend, and my mentor all left me there that day, I felt more alone and lost—and, strangely, relieved—than I had in years. It was the hardest six weeks I’ve yet experienced—I woke up every day thinking I must have been caught in some kind of bad dream. But, it was what I needed. It’s been a long road to recovery, and although I cried out for many years as David did—How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?—God has heard my pleas and he has truly been good to me.

Even so, there is something terribly wrong with a culture that upholds the body of a preadolescent girl as the ideal of femininity. There is something terribly wrong with a culture that produces a television show called Are you Hot? in which young men and women (all of them “hot” by our standards) place themselves upon a psychological scaffold to be either condemned to a life of “not hotness” or be liberated as one deemed sufficiently physically attractive by a panel of three celebrity “experts.” There is something terribly wrong with a culture that rewards us most for the things that are least in our control, like the physical beauty or natural intellect with which we are born. There is something terribly wrong with a culture that somehow convinces us that achieving a certain weight or shape or size is a goal worthy of our God-given energy and passion. There is something terribly wrong.

But, this should come as no surprise—we live in a terribly wrong world, a fallen world, in a society that doesn’t claim to be committed to the same things we claim to be committed to. This is not only a problem within our society but a problem with our souls. We must stop our perpetual discussions about weight and size. We must stop complimenting one another on size or physical beauty alone. We must have the courage to confront those we know who may be struggling with eating disorders (and even those who merely dabble with what has aptly been called “disordered eating”). While we can blame some of this problem on the culture in which we live, we—the children of God—are simply called to more than that. We are, in fact, made in his image, made like him to be creative, not destructive. I have learned, by the grace of God and the graciousness of friends and family, to put my stubbornness to work creating rather than destroying: through theatre, through ministry, through teaching and writing. This is, I feel, the ultimate way to see God’s image made manifest in us, his fingerprint on our souls. The most amazing creative experience I’ve ever had is happening to me right now—I am four months pregnant with my first baby—yet another reminder to me of God’s healing and his productive spirit, the same spirit he has stamped onto each of us. If God gives you an amazing brain, a miraculous body, a compassionate heart, a visionary spirit, a passion for creating art, singing, dancing, drawing, acting, and the only goal you ever achieve—or most desire to achieve—is wearing a size two, it is tragic, because being made in God’s image has little to do with how we look and much to do with who are and who we can become.

Are you spending your days destroying instead of creating? Being controlled instead of being in control? Finding your voice stifled when you want to cry out to God? If this struggle sounds familiar to you, I want you to hear me say that nobody is judging you for what you’re going through. I know that you don’t live your days in fear and anxiety, dizziness and exhaustion just because you are vain or competitive or you simply want to be skinny, but it’s probably because something inside of you is somehow broken, and this is the only way you know of to numb that pain.

Hear the words of our father as he says,

I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10).

I want you to know that there is a better way, that while nobody else can satisfy the hunger in your spirit, there is One who longs to and always will.

He will fill you.


RESOURCES
Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Holy Hunger: A Memoir of Desire (New York: A.A. Knopf, 1999).

Judi Hollis, Fat is a Family Affair: How Food Obsessions Affect Relationships 2nd ed. (Center City: Hazelden Publishing & Educational Services, 2003).

Joan M. Johnston, Feast of Famine (San Diego: RPI Publishing, Inc., 1993).

Abigail Natenshon, When Your Child Has An Eating Disorder (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999).

Lindsey Hall, Full Lives (Carlsbad: Gurze Books, 1993).

Cynthia Rowland Mclure, The Monster Within: Facing an Eating Disorder (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing, 2002).

Ira M. Sacker and Marc A. Zimmer, Dying To Be Thin: Understanding and Defeating Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia—A Practical, Lifesaving Guide(New York: Warner Books, 1987).

DISCUSSION
How can pursuit of perfection destroy rather than help us create?

Have you ever pressured yourself to maintain an unrealistic standard because of others’ comments (either critical or complimentary)?

Why might any obsessive thinking or behavior be a form of idolatry? Examples?

Do you compare yourself with others in unhealthy and ungodly ways? What has worked for you to combat it?

How do the ideals of physical beauty in our culture contribute to destructive thinking and practices?

How can we become critical viewers of culture in order to identify its destructive messages and offer productive alternatives?

What does it mean that humanity is created in the image of God?

How can we foster environments in which physical appearance is not privileged above other attributes and qualities?

In what ways can we participate in God’s creative, life-giving work and resist the destructive nature of such behaviors as disordered eating?

Study Psalm 13

Have you ever experienced the desperation of David as he cries “How long, O Lord?” Have you ever felt “forgotten” by God?

In what ways does God give “light to [our] eyes” during the darkness of our struggles? How have you experienced it personally?

In what ways have you experienced the goodness of God’s unfailing love, even in the midst of wrestling with your thoughts?

WEB RESOURCES
Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders (ANRED)

Caringonline

Empowered Parents

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD)

National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)

Mental Health Screening

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

Public Health Degree

Remuda RanchNew Wineskins

Paige ReynoldsPaige Reynolds is working on a Ph.D. in British Renaissance Drama from the University of North Texas. Paige and her husband, Bert, live in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she is pursuing acting opportunities and he is preaching minister for the Chenal Valley Church.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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