Easter: What Difference Does It Make?

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Easter came and went. I celebrated the Jesus’ resurrection by attending church, listening to the Hallelujah chorus, and dying Easter eggs with family. My social media was filled with people in flowery spring outfits, taking pictures in the sun. I saw smiles, Easter bunnies, and Christian graphics.

And yet the whole time, I was haunted by this question:

What difference does it make?

I heard this question posed by the minister at my church yesterday, and initially I didn’t give it much thought. Theologically, I know the range of interpretive rhetoric regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection. I know that the resurrection is supposed to change everything. It is *the* central Christian holiday, the holiday that shows that death has been overcome and Jesus lives.

Then I woke up this morning. Still sleepy, I scroll through social media and see smiling faces and phrases like, “He is risen.” Intellectually, I believe that with my whole heart. Intellectually and theologically, I agree that the cross and resurrection change everything about this life and about the next.

I look at the rising sun and hear my dog barking, ready for her walk. The weather has been abnormally warm for this time of year in Michigan, which is a scary omen of the state of worldwide climate change.

I also woke up early with a racing heart, which is a normal phenomenon given my cluster of anxiety symptoms, which never seem to give me rest, no matter what medication I’m on. There is more talk in the news about nuclear bombs and discord in the Middle East, reminding me that 80% of evangelical Christians, all of whom likely celebrated Easter yesterday, voted for a man who spent Holy Week on Twitter rampages and completed a missile attack while eating chocolate cake in his golf club.

In this moment, if I’m really, truly, being honest, it doesn’t feel like I’m living in the world of a resurrected Christ.

In the sermons I heard over the weekend, I listened to variants of this: If the resurrection is real, we need not have any worries about things going on in our lives or even death. We are freed up to be agents of the Kingdom of God in all aspects of our lives.

While I agree with this, it also misses a lot of the nuances of what it means to be an Easter people in a world that is anything but. Yes, God is in control, and the promise of future resurrection and the redemption of all things are things to which we can cling, but the world we live in is still so, so broken. How can we enforce religious platitudes when there is so much pain that glimmers on the news, in the sirens down the street, and in broken relationships or lives?

My questions are far from unique, and to gain some perspective, I’d like to take us back to that first Easter for a moment. The story of Holy Week is often diluted through our 21st century Western Christian/ post-Christian/ post-Enlightenment lens. The first Easter was anything but pretty floral dresses, church lilies, and spiritual platitudes. It was revolutionary, dangerous, inherently political, and life-changing.

Jesus’ death and resurrection is a whirlwind story of community, servant love and leadership, betrayal, torture, death, abandonment, waiting, pain, anticipation, joy, surprise, shock, worship, terror, and confusion.

Reading the disciples’ words throughout the Gospels, you can almost hear Jesus roll his eyes through the pages, like, “Why don’t you guys understand literally ANYTHING I’m telling you?”

Prevalent in Jewish ideology at the time was the Messianic expectation that when the Messiah would come, he (or she, who knows) would establish a political rule, and the Jewish people would once again have political control. This was enticing especially in light of the oppressive Romans. Jesus’ disciples comment about Jesus establishing an earthly kingdom at different points. Cue Jesus’ exasperation.

Jesus taught ideas that far departed from the religious ideas at the time. He talked about a Kingdom that was political and subversive. It would establish shalom, the peace and restoration of all things, but not in the way anybody believed. When Jesus talked about his death and resurrection, it was not something the disciples could even comprehend at the time.

In the face of opposition and pressure, Jesus chose the right thing, even when it was hardest of all. He was not afraid to speak up against injustice and rules of his time. When accused of heresy and sentenced to death, Jesus was silent. On the cross, Jesus forgave those who killed them and extended love to criminals dying next to him. His last words involved called God, “Abba,” that can be translated as the endearing term, “Daddy.”

Jesus was not the Messiah people expected, but he was the Messiah we needed.

Thinking back to that first Easter, the quiet mourning of women, the fear and surprise when met with angels at an empty tomb, the raw emotion of the disciples… It was not cliché nor did it have anything to do with eggs or bunnies. It was beautiful and mysterious. Too often we become desensitized to its depth and power because we have heard the story so many times. Too often do we resort to simple truisms rather than address how Easter inherently shifts perspective and changes lives for those who believe in a risen God.

In the days, and weeks, and centuries that have followed Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christians are forced to live in an uncomfortable tension: Jesus’ resurrection is complete. He is sitting at the right hand of the father, advocating for us, loving us. Yet, the resurrection of all things is not here. While Christians aren’t supposed to fear death, many of us do. Many of us worry about our sins being forgiven, and then there are the questions about hell. What about our loved ones who don’t believe? What about the broken earth? We say in church there is hope for us here on earth as well as the life to come, but do we believe it? Sometimes I don’t.

There is so much tangible, visible resurrection on this earth to point to as symbols of God’s life, death, resurrection, and promises. But there is also so much pain. Easter comes every year, but even there, I feel anticipation. I see rustles of resurrection to come, and I celebrate God’s resurrection every year, but there is not yet a final Easter. Meaning, the final Easter season when all is made whole that has been broken, and the Kingdom of God rules a new heaven and new earth.

I saw this so clearly the day I got engaged. It was the happiest day of my life, the day when I agreed to marry my best friend, a man God has placed so gracefully and lovingly in my life. The very next day, I woke up to hear that a girl whose cancer journey I followed on Facebook had died. She was 26. One of her last wishes was to get married to her loyal boyfriend who stuck with her through what was first believed to be treatable cancer, which then turned into uncontrollable cancer that had reached her bone marrow when she died. The girl’s mom said that a few days before her death, this girl was semi-conscious, and her boyfriend slipped a ring on her finger. They don’t know if she was aware enough to comprehend. I looked down at my own left ring finger, and tears came. It wasn’t fair, I whispered to God. Why did you deny her this?

So back to my question: What difference does it make?

The story of Easter makes no difference at all unless these things are true: That the God who defines and embodies love lived a perfect life only to die as a criminal and was raised on the third day; That this embodiment of God with holes in his hands is seated at the right hand of the father and intercedes constantly on our behalf.

Easter shows that nothing in all the world, not the future or past, neither angels nor demons, nor heaven nor hell can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). This story shifts our perspective. It’s a game-changer. Easter shows us that God is trustworthy and he keeps his promises, even though that can be hard to hold on to in a fractured world.

Just like the disciples misses Jesus’ words even when Jesus spent 24/7 with them, I am not able to comprehend God’s mysterious ways. I cannot understand why certain things are the way they are, but I know God is good, and if he says, “It is finished,” then it is.

Part of Revelation 21:5 kept popping into my head all Easter weekend, “See, I am making all things new!”

Honestly, my first instinct is to challenge it, “What about the state of American politics? What about Syria and North Korea? Why is the American church so consumed with abortion and homosexuality at the expense of the poor and vulnerable? Why isn’t everything new already? You came 2000+ years ago!”

I imagine God smiling at me with love. No words, just love. Just like my therapist smiles at me when I say something so ridiculous that she feels no need to respond, but she’ll still give me a symbol she still cares. My therapist never says, “Okay, we’ve been over this 1000 times and you don’t get it still.” She smiles, and she stays with me, knowing that I will figure it out in time.

God always reminds me, gently, that there is indeed a new order in this realm and the next. It is not up to me to figure out every nuance, nor should I play God and dictate what is and isn’t fair; it is up to me to further God’s kingdom as much as I can with the time I have. With the rustle of the wind, the smile of my loving fiancé, and laughing with friends, I see soft glimpses of the open tomb and hands with holes. On a good day, in a good moment, I feel in my bones that the Kingdom is here already, and it beckons my attention. God keeps his promises. He always has and always will.

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But You Hope

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*This is a poem I wrote several years ago as a theological and emotional reaction to Holy Week, pain and resurrection, and the tension of the now-and-not-yet Kingdom of God.

That moment of agony when you realize
that nothing in the world

no amount of numbing
or screaming
or hiding
can make it feel okay again.

you are left with a void,
an absence of what should be
and nothing can be done about it.

you are left there, dying
holding onto the faint hope of a Being much greater than yourself
that is able to make these dead, broken, dry bones come back to life again

you do not know, but you hope that God can cling onto you
when you are not able to cling onto anything at all

you do not know, but you hope.

How Do I Talk to a Friend or Family Member With An Eating Disorder? (Or You Suspect They Do)

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This is 2017’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and I’m excited to be writing a few posts based on requests.

My first post is how to talk to a friend or family member with an eating disorder or who might have one… from my perspective as someone in recovery. While I was struggling through the years, I heard from friends and family that they felt powerless. It was like watching a sinking ship and not knowing if they could do anything to stop its demise.

While it is impossible to cure another person, friends and family members are NOT powerless. I think about the camp counselor who talked about her own eating disorder openly without shame while I was symptomatic but not yet diagnosed; the friend who reached out to the school administration when she was concerned about me; my mom who spent countless hours trying to understand why I wouldn’t eat. I might have resented them at the time, but now I know that they planted seeds that would bear to fruition later. I didn’t enter recovery in their timing, but it did happen.

I will forever have memories of friends, family members, professors, and co-workers expressing their concern to me over the years. If you think that your words don’t make a difference or impact to someone deep within an eating disorder, you’re wrong.

I will give a cautionary note, however. For every good friend who expressed concern and gave me unconditional love during my journey, there was another who met me with insensitivity and stigma.

Talking to someone with an eating disorder can be a tricky endeavor. On the one hand, you want to express love and concern, but you don’t want to do so in a way that is off putting or hurtful.

In this blog post I will be outlining some “do’s and don’t’s” derived from years of experience of what has and hasn’t helped me.

  1. Do ask about it…

… but try not to probe or make assumptions.

Bringing up your concerns with someone you believe to be struggling can be anxiety provoking. It is a whole lot easier to pretend everything is okay. However, if you have a sinking feeling that something is wrong, and you are close enough to the person to broach the subject, by all means consider it.

Before you do so, consider these two things:

a) Don’t push it– If you bring it up and are met with defensiveness, it might not be the right time to talk. People with eating disorders can be highly secretive. In my deepest stages of denial and shame, I avoided all conversations about how I was doing. I remember how one time prior to admission to residential treatment, a teacher asked if I had an eating disorder. Taken aback, I mumbled something about having a rare digestive disorder. I wasn’t ready to admit how out of control or scared I was. Eight years later, I still remember that conversation as formative. She did not push the issue but expressed concern, and that meant a lot. Even though I wasn’t in a place to talk about it at the time, I respected her for bringing up the subject.

b) Check your assumptions– In society, we tend to associate eating disorders with “thinness” (whatever that means), but that’s just not accurate. Most people with eating disorders are not underweight. Anorexia is the most rare eating disorder, and bulimia and binge eating disorder are more common. People with eating disorders often fluctuate between periods of restriction, bingeing, and purging. I know some of my most symptomatic, out of control times were when I looked healthy. Don’t automatically assume that someone’s thinness is anorexia. It might as easily be a thyroid issue, an autoimmune disease, drug abuse, or simply body type. Similarly, don’t assume that someone doesn’t have an eating disorder because they appear to be healthy.

I have a “spidey sense” in my judgments about whether someone has an eating disorder, but I can be wrong. I am also careful about bringing up the subject of a possible eating disorder. Far before I bring that topic up, I make sure to talk about my own experience, normalize the reality of eating disorders, and check the facts.

. . .

2. Do seek consultation…

… but avoid gossip.

I can’t tell you how horrible it feels to know that people have been talking about you in the whispers you slightly overhear as you pass by and in hushed conversations you know have happened. I think by all means people learn more about eating disorders if they suspect a problem in a family member or friend. Education is important. Talking to a dietitian, therapist, or an organization like the National Eating Disorders Association can be a great move. HOWEVER, when that trickles into gossip and shaming, it stops being helpful.

Sometimes a family or friend group might need to get together to discuss how best to broach the subject with a loved one, but as soon as it turns into judgment and teasing, it can become toxic.

A note about consultation: It is strangely easy to read an article from BuzzFeed or some other reputable source (joke, but in full disclosure, I love BuzzFeed) and think you’re Dr. Phil or something. “Is it about control?” I’ve had people ask me in condescending tones. As if that comment is unique and your therapist hasn’t talked about control 900 times. Eating disorders *can* have an element of control, but it is ALWAYS much more complex. Eating disorders are associated with a cluster of things that may or may not be related: psychological factors, personality types, presence of past trauma, significant stressors, biological predisposition, family history, etc. A cursory look at a non-scientific article or watching a horrible Lifetime movie about anorexia cannot make anyone an expert.

. . .

3. Do express concern about eating habits…

… but don’t do so during meal time. 

Eating with someone you’re almost sure has an eating disorder is difficult and uncomfortable.

It is SO tempting to reach across the table and critique a meal choice, or say something like, “Is that all you’re having?”, or, “Why aren’t you eating more?” In my experience, those conversations are never helpful. The person with an eating disorder, who is likely anxious from the experience eating out, is on guard and gets defensive fast.

I get it– meal time seems like the most logical time to express concern. After all, it is commonly thought that meal time is in fact the problem. When I was deep into my eating disorder, going out to eat was SO MUCH more than an hour at a restaurant. It was the fasting before and after; it was the fear of eating in front of people; it was planning a binge later in the night so I didn’t have to eat in front of people; it was looking up the menu online beforehand; it was counting calories hours before I stepped foot in the restaurant.

It is better to bring up the specific behaviors later in the day when meal time is over. Stick to the specifics about behavior and don’t make it personal. An example: “I noticed when you were at dinner tonight, you ordered a low calorie entree, and you kept putting parts of the meal in the napkin on your lap.” –> I know, easier said than done!! I’ve been the recipient of a lot of insensitive mealtime comments, but I’ve also given some insensitive mealtime comments to friends I knew were struggling. I get it: Frustration can mount in the moment at mealtime, but try to hold off until later. You’ll end up having a much better conversation.

. . .

4. Do focus on food…

… but look at the greater picture, which has a whole lot more to do than just food.

Someone I knew in graduate school said something to the extent of, “I don’t know why families don’t lock the family member with an eating disorder up and force the person to eat.”

While that is absurd, I have heard so many comments that are similarly invalidating and off base:

“Just eat.”

“It’s not that hard.”

“Don’t make this such a big deal.”

That approach doesn’t work.

Eating disorders are both about food and not about food. Of course, eating disorders are highly related to weight and food habits (that’s why they’re called eating disorders) but in some respects have little to do with food.

Restriction was my teenage coping mechanism to deal with a lot of internal chaos– undiagnosed generalized anxiety, crippling OCD, existential anxiety, depression, and feelings of hopelessness, and worthlessness.

In my years of being symptomatic, I was way more likely to talk about those things than my eating habits. I hated when people would make it seem like gaining weight or eating would solve all of my problems. My eating disorder served multiple functions in my life, and until I dealt with those, I didn’t get truly better.

On the other hand, eating disorders are necessarily about eating.

If someone is underweight or malnourished, it is impossible to look adequately at the big picture. Medical, nutritional recovery is a precursor to psychological recovery.

Sometimes in more psychoanalytic approaches to recovery, it is conceptualized that when a person deals fully with the psychological parts of the eating disorder, the symptoms will dissipate. That also doesn’t work.

If you are bringing the subject up with someone, consider the rather paradoxical statement that eating disorders are about eating, but they don’t give us the full picture of what’s going on.

. . .

5. Do take action if necessary

… but think it through first.

Eating disorders are dangerous.

Period.

It is well-known that anorexia has one of the highest mortality rates of all mental health issues, but it is definitely possible to die of bulimia or binge eating disorder too.

The first thing I tell people who haven’t gotten into treatment is: SEE A DOCTOR.

Eating disorders can be associated with some serious medical complications that can kill including (not an exhaustive list): potassium/ electrolyte imbalance, low heart rate, low blood pressure, and general heart abnormalities (that’s why people with eating disorders must have regular EKG’s).

I will reiterate here that someone of average weight, overweight, or obese can die of an eating disorder as well. All of the above medical problems can happen to a person at 70 pounds or 370 pounds.

That is why if you truly suspect a loved one or friend has an eating disorder, don’t stay silent.

In all three of my three major anorexia tail spins, the initial descent into the illness and two subsequent relapses, I needed intensive medical intervention to get back to normal. Two of those times, it was not of my own choosing. Friends, family, and even my school had to intervene on my precarious downward spirals, and thank God they did. Otherwise I might not be here right now.

With that said, if you are seriously concerned about someone who is NOT getting treatment for an eating disorder, there might be cases in which you should advocate for medical consultation or even hospitalization.

For someone with a SEVERE and UNTREATED eating disorder, it could be that lovingly suggesting a trip to the doctor or ER for a medical evaluation is what is needed in the moment. Or, perhaps looking up residential treatment options and calling the person’s insurance company for help.

** Now: Before you attempt this kind of conversation with someone, heed caution! Most people who are diagnosed with an eating disorder have a treatment team or are getting support of some kind. If that is the case, step back and offer support in other ways. Suggesting hospitalization or a doctor consultation additionally has a high likelihood of pissing off the person’s eating disorder, so be prepared that you will likely be met with resistance.

There are some cases when this kind of conversation happens more organically: For example, if a friend passes out or complains of heart palpitations.

. . .

I think the reason many people don’t express concern to a friend or family member about what they’re seeing is out of fear. I get it– it’s scary. People don’t inherently know how to bring it up or what to say.

You are brave and caring to consider having a conversation that might save a life. Sometimes simple comments can go a long way, things like:

“I love you, and I’m concerned about you.”

“It seems like you’ve been struggling lately, and I want to help.”

“If you ever want to talk more about what’s  been going on for you, I’m here for you.”

For more information or to take a free screening, check out NEDA’s website.

In keeping with the National Eating Disorders Awareness Week slogan for this year, I’ll finish with this: “It’s time to talk about it.”

On Donald Trump: Post Election Musings 

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On Wednesday morning I woke up as I normally would, snoozing my alarm past the point I should, and groggily leaned to my side to check my phone.

The memories from the night before flashed before me… the increasingly anxiety-ridden faces of the MSNBC newscasters, state after state lighting up in red with the words: ” (state)- Donald Trump: Projected Winner,” stunned texts from my friends, “What is happening?” I remembered in horror as the newscasters dissected Michigan counties, mine and the ones adjacent to me. I remembered a newscaster saying, “Michigan will decide the next president of the United States.” I thought to the many Trump signs I saw canvassing for Hillary and to my conservative family members. My immediate reaction was: Oh my God, it’s up to us, and she’s going to lose. 

I went to bed thinking that it couldn’t be real; still holding on to the faint hope that decency would prevail, that Hillary’s face would be on my Google home screen as our next president when I woke up. “Wake me up when Hillary is our president,” I texted a friend before drifting into sleep.

I was wrong.

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Becoming a Liberal Christian IV: Unforced Rhythms of Grace

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It’s taken me a while to finish up this blog series, so bear with me here. If you want to be reminded of previous blog posts, check out I, II, and III. Also, I was planning another blog post to be IV, but the writing spirit wasn’t moving me, so here is what I have to say next.

C.S. Lewis wrote in The Chronicles of Narnia regarding Aslan (a Jesus-like figure):

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

I have heard it said that Jesus came to disturb the comforted and comfort the disturbed. Walking with Jesus is not a walk through lilacs, unicorns, and lollipops, nor is it walking on egg shells to appease a God with his eyes narrowed, finger outstretched, and ready to strike people down who don’t do (a politically conservative understanding) of his will.

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Why You Shouldn’t Call My Eating Disorder A Sin

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My relationship between my faith and eating disorder has been complicated, at best. I said the “Jesus Prayer” at a Christian camp the summer I became anorexic. I proceeded for years in pseudo recovery or full on relapse, all the while left with the question, “Where is God in this?

In the midst of probably my worst relapse, I happened to be interning at a church and was at the height of my cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, I was doing daily “quiet times” and working at a church to further the Kingdom of God, and on the other, I was getting more and more out of control with my anorexia. I knew that what I was doing was “wrong,” but I couldn’t seem to stop. There was no praying this relapse away.

At a worship night, I had to leave the room and went outside to cry. I felt so alone and distant from God, and worse yet, I felt like it was my fault. Wasn’t I the one actively choosing to disappear for hours a day to engage in eating disorder behaviors? Wasn’t I the one lying about my obsessive walks saying they were “for worship?” Wasn’t I the one who “wasn’t hungry” at 11 PM after a church event? My supervisor at the time asked me the obvious question, given my emaciated appearance, “Do you have an eating disorder?”

“No, I’m just naturally thin,” I answered in the most innocent Christian church-intern way.

“I thought so,” she smiled. We smiled. Crisis averted.

Even when going to a Christian recovery conference later that summer, I refused to disclose the truth: I had an eating disorder. Nowadays, I’m an open book with that kind of thing, but back then, I felt like it would be a failure to admit that I was struggling with an eating disorder. The entire summer internship I didn’t tell a single person the truth about what was happening for me.

Meanwhile in private… all summer I was coming to the realization of how out of control my eating disorder was getting… again. I was still lying to family, friends, coworkers, and classmates about HOW out of control, but I did at least start seeing a therapist near the church where I worked.

I specifically chose this therapist because I knew she was a Christian, and I thought she could help me. I told her all about how hypocritical I felt, working at a church with a rampant eating disorder. She showed me nothing but love.

In tears, I asked her one day, fearing the response, “Do you think an eating disorder is a sin?”

She didn’t wait two seconds to answer. “I think that’s like saying, ‘Is diabetes a sin?’ ”

She wasn’t judging me.

That was probably the most meaningful minute of therapy in my entire life. Even though I didn’t totally believe her at the time, I remember so much shame lifting when she responded in the way that she did.

Years and two master’s degrees later, I would echo my former therapist’s sentiment that an eating disorder is many things, but sin is not on my list.

And yet…

I recently found out that a church I attended while living in California presented a video testimony about someone recovered (“delivered”) from an eating disorder. Notable in this video testimony is the girl talking about this sin in her life, and she discussed it being “selfish.” She also said that ultimately, the Gospel “marinating in her heart” (these are her literal words, pun probably unintended) “cured” her.

Fifteen years after being first diagnosed with an eating disorder, I have to say, at first I was livid. However, after cooling down, I realized that this “testimony” touches on a few larger issues. I will break them into the categories of: 1) Theological and 2) Societal.

Theology Basics

  1. What does sin mean?

Christians throw the term “sin” into a lot of conversations, but it can mean different things to different people. So here’s what sin means to me (my background is Episcopalian –> turned semi-fundamentalist–> turned Reformed –> turned ?? Protestant with Reformed influences). Sin is anything that is the absence of the shalom, the absolute peace and perfection, of God. As a result of the fall, sin is everywhere in society. People individually sin, there is corporate sin, and there is systemic evil in play in all brokenness of the world. War, earthquakes, climate change, and disease are just examples of how pervasive the brokenness of our world is. HOWEVER, just because something or someone is broken does not mean it is God’s desire for the world. In the Garden of Eden, God laid out a perfect image of what heaven will be like– all humans, in perfect communion with each other, the environment, and God. Regarding personal sin, all humans sin, or fall short of God’s standard. There is no way of earning God’s love by doing good, but we also can’t become unlovable by doing something bad.

2. What does the Bible say about mental illness?

The answer to that is easy: it doesn’t say anything. In 2000 BC or 100 AD, no one was taking Prozac or checking into rehab. The DSM was thousands of years from being created. Mental illness as we understand it now simply wasn’t discussed in Jesus’ time. There are definitely stories in the Bible, that reading them now, I’m kind of like, “Yeah that sounds like schizophrenia.” But the treatment du jour was either leaving the person to die in restraints or conducting straight up doing exorcisms. There are some crazy demon-exorcism stories in the New Testament. However, nothing was mentioned about “mental illness” because that is a societal construct, and relatively recent one, at that.

3. How has the church historically addressed eating disorders?

Again, eating disorders weren’t recognized in their current form until the last few decades. If you look back at The Middle Ages, there are a few saints canonized for their starvation, most notably St. Catherine of Siena, who straight up starved herself to death (sorry Catholics, fasted to death). If you’re interested in the history of starvation/ fasting and faith, there are a few great books on it, such as this one. Now: I am not condoning canonizing anyone for starving, but there was a time in church history when the mainstream church saw excessive fasting as an ideal. Just putting things in perspective.

In conclusion: When I heard on this video testimony that an eating disorder was this girl’s “sin struggle” I was leery. We all define sin differently, and mental illness is not mentioned at all in the Bible, so that’s some hermaneutical gymnastics to come to the conclusion that a culturally defined term, a “sin struggle” could be something that the Bible does not touch on. In my opinion, it comes down to what is seen as personal sin, which I will now address from a wider, societal perspective.

Societal Factors

  1. The myth of an eating disorder as a “choice”

I make a lot of choices in my day: some good, some bad. I chose to have a donut for breakfast. I chose to buy my dog a pet ewok costume on Amazon (sorry not sorry).

A long time ago, I chose to go on a diet. I was 13 and a normal weight and didn’t need to, but I felt like my eating was getting out of control. The diet spiraled quickly, and in a matter of a month, I had full blown anorexia.

While I chose to go on a diet, I did NOT choose to get an eating disorder.

There is a HUGE difference.

As a social worker, I work with people who have severe and persistent mental illness, like schizophrenia. Many people narrate their struggles similarly: they were in college, off to a promising future, when fate got in the way. They perhaps started hearing voices or seeing things that weren’t there and had a psychotic break. They got “sick.”

I have yet to hear anyone call schizophrenia a sin. It is 50% heritable– meaning that if one identical twin has schizophrenia, there is a 50% chance that the other twin will have schizophrenia as well. Schizophrenia is perceived as a genetic issue, an organic chemical imbalance or brain disorder.

BUT… anorexia nervosa is ALSO 50% heritable... meaning there are highly genetic factors associated with this disorder. It is as genetically influenced as schizophrenia.

The brain is still a mystery to us, but we know that genetics, personality, and life circumstances, such as trauma or abuse, are associated with eating disorders. Problematic genetics might be associated with the brokenness of this world, but could it be attributed to a personal choice? I don’t think so.

I think what this reflects is a stigma against eating disorders. I’ve wrote many posts about media glorification of anorexia in particular. I’ve been told that I have so much “willpower” to make myself starve. What people don’t get is that a full blown, diagnosable eating disorder is not sexy, nor is it stoppable without considerable force.

When I was interning at the church in college, I was on what I know now is my “path of no return.” I can control my eating disorder with  up until a certain point, and then, it becomes a monster functioning on its own. Past the “point of no return,” I need residential treatment. It’s almost as if my neuronal pathways have gotten out of whack, and they need extreme treatment to get pointed back to normalcy. That’s not “personal sin” in my book. That is someone struggling with something that is out of his or her hands.

In current mental health legislature, the goal is to have insurance cover mental and physical health care EQUALLY because they are EQUAL issues. Just because we understand diabetes better than we understand anorexia doesn’t mean one should be covered and one shouldn’t. Similarly, I think people have equal “blame” for mental and physical health issues. Just like my previous therapist said to me so many years ago, I am not to blame that I have an eating disorder, similar to how a person with diabetes isn’t blamed for being diabetic.

2. Language and shame

To my last, and most important point: language. The words we use matter. They can speak truth into our lives or they can hurt. Brutal criticism can be memorable for a lifetime. When I saw that a church that I once loved and attended was calling a disorder that I’ve struggled with being “selfish” and a “sin,” it cut me to the core in so many ways. It activates my anger but also my shame. As I’ve discussed, I spent over a decade in an eating disorder, many of those years filled with shame. Shame for my struggle, shame for the way I’ve looked, shame for being who I am. The LAST thing I wanted in times of struggle is being called out as a selfish sinner. I already believed that.

As the church, we should come to those with eating disorders and all other mental health issues with open hands, stigma-free language, and loads of LOVE and GRACE. We should come with open hearts and ears rather than shaking fingers and shaming language.

One reason I didn’t start a blog until almost 2013 is because I didn’t think I was good enough. I wasn’t professional enough, I wasn’t together enough, and I certainly wasn’t healed enough. This article convinced me: No I didn’t have to have it together. There is beauty in the journey of healing rather than only the destination.

There is beauty in the trenches, the gunk, the mess.

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The Good News of Jesus Christ is this:

Sin reigns over this land. There is no part of the world that is untouched by its grip.

But God.

Diseases of all kind, physical and mental, reap havoc on unsuspecting people.

But God.

Christians are busy yelling on street corners about repentance while the homeless person begs for food down at the street light.

But God.

God intervened on this mess of a world, and we know the end of the story. I went to a movie today with the special needs girl I nanny for, and during a difficult part of the movie, she whispered to me, “What happens at the end?” I saw the movie before so I knew, “Everything is going to be alright.”

At the end, shalom will be restored on the new heaven and new earth. No one will ever have an eating disorder, nor will people who had eating disorders be called out for their “selfish sin.” There will be a new order of things, and that new order is love.

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Until then, and I’m going to be completely real with you: we need to chill the fuck out.

I believe that God delivers people from struggles but not always and not completely, this side of heaven. And frankly, those of us in the trenches don’t want to hear the words “what you’re doing is selfish and sinful.”

Let’s play nice and veer on the side of love and inclusion.

I will not tolerate churches preaching about mental illness being sin. I just won’t. It’s really not cool.

I find that many Christians don’t know a lot about mental illness. It is so stigmatized- as if Christians don’t struggle from it like the rest of the general population. Um, well, we do. We might as well talk about it and be REAL.

So please, churches, Christians, don’t call my eating disorder a sin. 

Or do and I’ll have to write another blog post about it.

Whatever.

Your choice.

When I Miss You….

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When I miss you… I don’t want to remember just the times when you held me in a long embrace and told me you loved me; but also the times when you shut me out of your world, leaving me deep in shame, wondering, “What did I do wrong?”

When I miss you… I don’t want to remember only the times you told me you were ready for a long-term commitment. I want to recall the memory of you asking to look at rings and casually bringing up your doubts as to whether you wanted to marry me, words that broke my heart.

When I miss you… I don’t want to remember only the moments when I felt alive with you; I want to remember your harsh, judgmental words and resentments, as I was left a crumpling heap on the floor. I want to remember how your cruel insults left me feeling.

When I miss you… I don’t want to remember the fleeting fun times we had together in isolation of the times I walked on egg shells to spare you from anxiety, stress, and talk of commitment.

When I miss you… I want to remember that I was too much for you– too much passion, energy, and emotion. I want to remember how overwhelmed and stressed you felt when I acted like me… so I learned to push myself to the side and pretend to be the person you wanted me to be.

When I miss you… I want to remember your lies and manipulations. I want to remember my realization that to be with you, I would have to live with an emotionally barren, unfulfilling relationship because you didn’t know how to affirm or care for me.

When I miss you… I want to remember the times I cried and screamed into my pillow about how I wish you could be different. I want to remember the heartbreak and reality of on-again, off-again, and on, and on, and on. How I felt tepid, lukewarm in your eyes; a back up option; the person you could fall back on when you were lonely.

When I miss you… I want to remember what I deserve: an emotionally stable, warm, welcoming, compassionate, loving, and selfless man who will laugh at my absurd humor and kiss me just for being me. I don’t want to have to pretend, censor, and shield anyone from the truth of who I am, nor do I want to feel physically objectified.

When I miss you… I don’t want to just remember that I believed you were “The One.” I want to draw on the reality that “The One” would not treat me like you did. “The One” would not disconnect and withdraw when life got hard. “The One” would fight for me and love me through it all. You were someone I once loved, but that goes no further. You are my past, but not my future.

When I miss you… I want to remember that I miss the idea of you rather than you. I loved the person I thought you were, rather the person you ended up being. Even when I was convinced that you had changed, I want to remember the realization that you hadn’t.

When I miss you… I will honor that feeling, but I will not dwell in it, because you were not and never will be “The One,” even if I believed that for a while.