“O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go”
O cross that liftest up my head
I dare not ask to fly from thee
I lay in dust life’s glory dead
and from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.*
*George Matheson (1842-1906)
My Anorexic Nervosa was fully evident by the time I was 15. The worship of thinness and beauty in society presents an unrealistic ideal body image. I obsessively tried to maintain this through sports — mainly cross country running. I have learned in my recovery that the real problem is much deeper than this, and I can recall this struggle beginning as early as 8 or 9 years old. By the age of 22, I was both Anorexia and Bulimic.
“Eating disorders are among the most difficult mental illnesses to treat. Anorexia, in particular, has stymied many of psychiatry’s best treatment efforts. The illness has the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder, with patients dying from the medical complications of starvation or from suicide.” From the NY TIMES – 3/15/16
I grew up in a Christian home. I was baptized as an infant and I grew up attending Sunday school and church. I read my Bible and tried my best to live like I was a Christian. I struggled deeply with uncertainty and I carried this grief long before I began to lose weight and show signs of the emerging illness. I understood right from wrong and I felt tremendous guilt over anything I did that did that might not be right according to the God’s law. I prayed for healing and I journaled with prayer requests and scriptures relevant to the beauty of God’s creation and his design for the female being, but yet the disease continued to take control.
For me, an eating disorder was the impossible attempt to self-justify or to save myself, and because of this impossibility, it only offers death. I have heard it said in 12-step recovery meetings that having an addiction is no different than heading straight for the grave. It is this serious. I have been fully healed and although I had long been faithful in praying to be made well, the experience was unexpected and un-chosen. For me, healing was the valley of the shadow of death. Sorrow, sadness, and suffering were the merciless companions God used to strip me of the vanity I had created for myself in attempt to secure my well-being apart from Him. To my surprise, God intervened in my life with His cross, and I for a long time, I found it to be even more painful than the disease of eating disorders itself.
When the Great Physician reveals Himself to those in desperate need of His mercy, He is still wearing a thorny crown crushed on His head and He still has blood on his face – He is adorned in the full splendor and glory of His Passion. Jesus Christ finds such beauty in his wounds that even in heaven he still bears his scars. They are his glory and He wears them as ornaments, as trophies, and memorials of the fight. “By His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
I write this on my healing experience:
The life I strived for lies at my feet. I have not been reconstructed as I had hoped, but the beams and timbers of my own self-sufficiency continue to smolder. Broken glass from the rose colored windows of self-help promises make it dangerous so I must be careful where I step. The cross on my back has emptied me of my pride and my strength. I feel the realness of my sin. I feel the purifying fires of tribulation and my salvation has become tangible to me as never before. Bravely, I call this healing because Christ is saving me from myself.
Unbelief is the root behind sinful behavior and we are not capable of being reformed to a place we can handle ourselves in moderation. Healing is not about being made better, but it is about being made new. To speak of death for the sake of resurrection is to say that healing is the experience of the saving work of Christ where the sinful areas of our life are brought to an end so that we may be raised up in a new life of faith which rests in the provision of God alone. “For the righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)
Before I began to heal from eating disorders, I had a misunderstanding of the Gospel. I believed in works over faith - the law as a code of conduct to be met by my own efforts. This manifested itself brilliantly in my battle with food. Anorexia is a disease of measurement and precision and Bulimia is a disease of shame. An emaciated and malnourished body is starving for the life and nourishment of the Gospel.
“Then he said to me, prophesy to these dry bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord’.” (Ezekiel 37:4)
By way of a holy anguish, God has separated me from this sinful ailment. It is like a skilled surgeon has removed a dangerous cancer and I remain under his cure. God’s plan of change within us goes to the heart of the matter. He deals first with the cause, not the symptoms. I been given a complete freedom from eating disorders. I can also attest to a complete physical restoration, including restored bone density, a common condition that accompanies the disease.
I have come to understand my own efforts of strict obedience were nothing more than a dead end because I never could have offered God the obedience or righteousness he demands. The law does not nourish us. Rather, it works death, as I can now see in my past life of eating disorders. In healing, I have certainly experienced the freedom spoken of in regards to Christ’s mission proclaimed in Isaiah: “He was sent to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” (61:1)
The cross is the pinnacle of our inability to meet the law and proclaim our own righteousness. It is here that we are rescued from the sin we cannot control and where we receive the grace. God meets us at the cross and he wounds us. There is nothing to do. We must give up and to rely on Christ’s donated dignity. Make no mistake about it, healing comes with a huge cost. It comes with the cost of losing your old life in exchange with a new one. We are not made ‘better’, we are made NEW.