I did not personally know anyone who had come out of the bondage of purging, let alone someone who had been a purging pastor’s wife. I had no one to ask what life after purging might look like. I was not sure if what I was experiencing was “normal.” Living near my parents at that time, with Jeff still in Iraq, my mom and dad were the loudest voices in my life that reminded me that there was more to me than an eating disorder. I was a military wife, I was a mother, I was a daughter, I was a sister, I was a friend. These things brought normalcy to my life, a life that was still filled with a distorted relationship with food. My own battles were often fought as I took care of my two little girls. I was scared of my own hunger and then I’d hear the voice of my daughter, “Mommy, I’m hungry.” I was scared of my own loneliness, and then I’d hear the voice of my daughter, “Mommy, I’m scared.” These roles provided a perspective and a purpose I needed desperately in those days – opportunities to speak truth and comfort not only to my girls, but also to myself. And so I continued on an unmarked road, a road I had seen no one travel before, hoping I was moving in the right direction – towards a healed relationship with food.
I needed a constant reminder that who I was, was not wrapped up in the packages of the food I did or did not eat. My relationship to food could muddy the waters of who I was, but they could never replace and overcome it. I did not belong to my eating disorder, I belonged to Christ, and my identity was unchangeable in Him. My relationship with Jesus had changed in a moment, that moment on my knees choking on the kitchen floor. A restored relationship with Jesus had not translated into a restored pattern of eating. Yes, the purging was gone, but the messed up relationship with food was still hanging out with me, or better put, was like a needy, pleady child desperately clinging to my leg. I had experienced a Paul and Silas deliverance as in Acts 16:26: “Immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.” In a moment He had released me from purging and deepened my view of Him – of a good and kind Father who was full of grace and mercy. In a moment He had killed my desire to purge, but the day to day eating was still a mess, a mess that I did not want to drag anyone down into or burden anyone else with. I had already done enough damage to so many as a result of the past five years.
I was afraid that everyone would think this purging deliverance would mean my relationship with food had been taken care of as well. I was afraid of being watched and judged. I was afraid of disappointing others. They were the same fears that had accompanied me in my purging past. Basically, I was afraid that they would see no change. For the most part, this would be true. It is not like everyone was invited into the bathroom with me while I purged. Possibly, the only change they would see is how my bathroom time had just been cut in half. I was afraid they would not be able to celebrate a deliverance from purging if the “batteries were not included” (the batteries being eating habits/patterns). Fear of what others thought and worrying about pleasing others kept me stagnant and stale. I believed the lie that those who had not struggled in this area would misunderstand and judge me. I found myself unable to believe that my fellow-fighters in the faith would have grace enough to extend to me. I forgot that though they did not have my specific struggle, they had battles of their own. Or maybe, on an entirely different note, I did not want their grace and mercy. I wanted them to think well of me. I did not want to be an object of grace and mercy.
My mission, post-purging, was not to prove to anyone “how far I had come.” My mission, though I did not know it, was to display a life that had been chased down, overcome, and consumed by His grace and His mercy. And yes, Christ’s grace and mercy changes things. It changes lives. It takes a fearer of food and transforms it into a vessel of glory. But I put perimeters on how and when I could bring Christ glory by eating. It was only a healed relationship that could bring Him glory, and thereby I missed the beauty and glory of worshiping in the mess. Yes, there is glory and beauty in a clean room. But what parent would deny that an even more beautiful thing is observing a weakened child, attempting to put back to order a mess made by her own hands. What parent does not leap at a chance to shower encouragement and love at such a sight, as opposed to throwing discouragement to a child who was not as far along as they had hoped. I lived daily with a mixture of confusion and shame that my restored relationship with God had not transferred over into a changed relationship with food. My relationship with food and my relationship with God were kept separate. (This was only a slight difference from my purging days when I felt like I could have no relationship with God until my purging was taken care of.) They were two parallel lines running alongside each other. My relationship with God was one line and my relationship with food as the other. The lines could never intersect unless my relationship with food was finally and fully healed. I had my diet books to fix my eating problems, and I had my Bible to fix my spiritual problems.
During this time I heard a distant and excited voice from Iraq continually talking about how, “All of life is worship” and a “theology of vocation.” I knew this theology in my head. I saw how it applied to vocation (and was experiencing daily the change that it was bringing over Jeff – chaplain to doctor). I knew that whatever I did could be an act of worship, including eating. But could my life really be a sweet aroma to the Lord when my “food life” was still a mess? What did bringing God into my recovery look like? What did bringing God into my fight look like? Just prayers and Bible reading alone? Medication? Some form of intervention? (And this, my friends, is an exciting part. This is where freedom lies. It will look different for all of us.) God does not operate in parallel lines. God intersects the parallel lines we attempt to draw. We are free to live in the intersection, regardless of what “recovery stage” we are in, even regardless if we never taste “recovery” in this life. It is at the intersection that we collide with Jesus. In the struggle and in that battle, we encounter His goodness; we feel His embrace…and this is the fuel and energy that drives us further and deeper into our fight – furtherance that is freedom from what others think, and a furtherance of feeling His pleasure alone. My recovery was signed, sealed, and delivered at the foot of the cross. It just was delayed. And, just like Paul and Silas did as they awaited their deliverance, we can sing. For while the timing of our delieverence is unknown, it is sure.