“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”! If there ever was a man who shouted it from the rooftops it was Jim Thorne. A bit stunned and confused, I shifted the schoolwork that I needed to grade that night to my other shoulder, looking around fruitlessly. The words were repeated, this time with even more gusto. Looking up, I saw him smiling, perched on the roof of the school. It was the Mr. Thorne, the principle’s husband. I lifted my hand and smiled back. He had almost laughed the words because there was so much enjoyment in his voice. That moment has forever been etched on my heart. At that time in my life I wondered if such precious words were meant for me. He had shouted them so freely and so joyfully. To me, a bulimic! And the words made my heart leap for joy. But it wouldn’t be long before my joy would fade with my failure to rid myself of bulimia. I continued to struggle.
Oftentimes, during my prep period at school, I would listen to and take notes on certain sermons that I would later craft into lesson plans for my junior highers. While part of me was terrified by the sermons I listened to (what if they didn’t “work” for me?), I was desperate to know how I could come out of this trap. What was I missing? I would go to desiringgod.org and immediately go to the sermon section, click on “topics,” scroll down to the heading “spiritual growth,” and from there, click the category called “Killing Sin.” I approached those sermons as if my life depended on it. I listened to them. I read them. I printed them off and highlighted them. Some examples of the sermons that I became well familiar with were the following:
How to Kill Sin, Part 1
How to Kill Sin, Part 2
How to Kill Sin, Part 3
Do Not Let Sin Reign in Your Mortal Body, Part 1
Do Not Let Sin Reign in Your Mortal Body, Part 2
During summer break between my first and second year of teaching, my husband and I trained for the Chicago marathon. I would listen to these sermons, especially during my long runs. I remember one particular sermon where Piper said, “The measure of your treasure is your pleasure in that treasure.” It became my theme for my junior highers that entire next school year. It seemed to me that my inability to “stop it” lay in what I was treasuring. But rather than this pushing me to figure out how I could treasure Him more, I went looking to prove again that He was my treasure by “stopping it.” I had yet to recognize that the battle I needed to fight was simply in being overwhelmed by His grace and being overcome by His love. It was going back to the gospel. I didn’t realize that the power to fight lay in the gospel and being overwhelmed by the depths of His grace. I was attacking it backwards. I would not allow myself to run to Him until I was “clean.” Running to Him first was not an option. Because what if I did run to Him with my finger down my throat, and nothing changed?
One of the most formative events in my years as a bulimic came in the form of a performance done for a chapel service one morning at school. While some of it is a bit blurry in my memory, the gist of it was a high school girl going through life with various struggles and addictions, and, at the end, she finds Jesus and the cross. Throughout the whole performance there was no speaking, only intense music. As I watched her walk through various temptations, I began to grow increasingly uneasy as I saw her act out getting onto her knees, holding back her hair, leaning over an imaginary toilet bowl and start heaving. My cheeks burned. My eyes stung. My chest tightened.
And while the fact that I was watching my own life acted out on stage took away my breath, what stung deeper was that throughout her whole performance there was someone with her, someone who was following her every step of the way. It was Satan, or some type of devil. He gingerly pranced around her, encouraging her, in his unseen way, pushing temptations towards her, dancing around her as she caved into them. And then, when her body bent over heaving, his arms grasped her shoulders, silently smiling. This image stuck with me. My heart failed me, and my courage left. So it is the devil? That is who my companion is in that moment? Every purge afterwards, there would be a moment in the purge when that image would flash before my eyes, and I would think with dulled, robotic emotion: It’s just me and the devil. I left that chapel service further weighed down by my shame.
It wasn’t until almost three years later that the image changed for me. The truth of that moment was like the shouting of Mr. Thorne’s voice– a sound so clear and so holy and so true that the previous image was shattered. It put to death a lie that rendered me powerless. The arms that embraced me, even in that very moment of my shame, were not Satan’s, they were the very arms of Christ. He did not leave the room when I prepared my garbage can. He did not look away as I put my hair back in a ponytail. He did not plug his ears as the vomit mess hit the plastic bag. He was there waiting to wipe my bloodshot eyes with a cool rag, and my mouth with a soft cloth. He was there, singing His song of love, grace, mercy and patience to me, but I had not the ears to hear it, not yet.