My Anorexia, And How It Began With a Holy Experience
I can hear the soft crying of my teammates around me.
We have all taken the same journey over the past six weeks. The physical journey over vast expanse of water; from Texas, to Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. Our personal journeys, however, differ greatly.
I was fifteen, and being deeply challenged in ways that would affect the rest of my life.
This particular morning we all sit in the upper room of a church in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The sun pounds down harsh outside.
We have gathered, as a team of teenagers who were strangers six weeks before, to process how this experience—the extreme physical and spiritual hunger we have witnessed—will change our lives from here on out.
Some of my teammates are speaking with our team leaders, being prayed over, sharing the commitments they’ve made for when they get home.
I write my own manifesto, as of each of us do; promises to myself and God for how I will carry out this ministry at home. I begin, “If we end our mission here at the end of the trip, we have failed.”
I go on to ink my intentions into vows. “Stay in contact with the Thai people I’ve met”. “Sleep on the floor every Thursday to remember those in poverty” “Be informed about world events” “Study missionary biographies.”
And finally, “I will fast on the fifteenth of every month, to always remember the need overseas.”
A Fast To Fuel A Famine
I came home from that trip with a mission. I also came home from that trip with a secret. And tragically, my mission began to fuel my secret.
Secrets in their very nature fuel upon covertness; the longer it is hidden, the more power that secret gains.
One morning in Thailand, I had come down to breakfast and made myself this challenge: eat only half as much breakfast as normal. And with that seemingly innocent decision, a secret was born.
I carried that secret through customs, over an ocean, and back home. As it began to thrive and gain power, good intentions turned into cloaks. My commitment to fast on the fifteenth of every month quickly morphed from a day of thought and prayer, to an “easy” day for masking my anorexia.
The Giving Up Of Good For The Pursuit Of Healing
Fasting is a simple act—an abstaining, usually of food, for a time. The purpose? To think clearer, and to focus on prayer.
It is a reminder for us to depend upon God alone for what we need. It’s not only a Christian practice. People of all kinds of belief practice fasting as a way to clear the mind and regain clarity and focus. It is a good and healthy practice.
That is, if you don’t have an eating disorder.
I would eventually give up my practice of fasting once a month, trading it instead for the decision to heal. It was too risky a practice; something meant to be good, but I had tarnished ugly with my sin and secret.
I still don’t fast. Although I am completely healed, and no longer struggle with any facet of an eating disorder (God is so good, seriously.). I just never took up the practice again. That’s not to say I won’t. Perhaps it’s simply because I have too many unhealthy memories of the days I fasted; tying it forever to a great mistake I made. Perhaps it’s simply because I haven’t felt the need to.
The Filling Up Part
There is something wonderful that happens at the end of a fast: you get to eat again! The meal after a fast always holds an extra morsel of appreciation, gratitude, and enjoyment. When I broke my fast, at the end of several years battling eating disorders, and I approached that first day with certainty that God in His grace was making me whole again—my soul filled.
My healing began through the realization that I had grown hungry for much more than food. My body, my soul, my spirit–the whole of me was being starved.
My fast lasted years, and although it was murky and sinful and deadly, God somehow in His grace used it to bring clarity. However, my clarity did not come through the fast itself, it came at the end, with that first meal. With the filling up. With the making whole.
A Practice Of Breaking The Fast
I think this may be why my favorite meal is breakfast. For Heaven’s sake, I have waited all night long to eat! Breakfast is just that: breaking the fast.
I appreciate breakfast the most, because I know that it is in the filling, after a fast, that empowers us for a day. It fills us up with nourishment, that we may fill others up with nourishment as well.
I never miss it.
In fact, when we were leaving our house late this morning for church, none of us having eaten breakfast, I hopped in the car and my husband chuckled at me as I pulled out two hard boiled eggs and began to peel them in my lap. I cannot not eat breakfast, because a fast has to end at some point. The emptying out and abstaining helps us clear our mind, and it prepares us for the filling up.
What Type Of Hungry Are You?
I believe that we need to ask ourselves from time to time just what our motive is for our spiritual practices. And not only for the spiritual, but anything we deem important in our life. Because motives can quickly be skewed when we fail to keep our focus on the “why”.
Maybe your fast has turned ugly, as mine did years ago. How do you need to be filled up? Is your soul weary and spirit aching from empty?
Are you hungry?
Then I dare you to examine your fasting. Whether its physical—a struggle against your own body for the ideal image in your mind. Or spiritual; a giving up of the very food we need for all life, God and His Word.
We are all hungry. We are born hungry. Awkwardly squawking out our first breaths as desperate cries for our mother’s milk. We are born hungry for more than just milk. At times we fuel the flame of that hunger by avoiding the very nourishment we need. I challenge you today, ask yourself what your body and soul are longing for, and then pursue the nourishment from that which is good; that which always satisfies.