Author: Sara Burns
When I was a teenager, I joined the common girl fad of starving myself. At the time, in the late 90’s, famous girls looked like they had a daily diet of raisins and ice. Kids my age had dark-lined eyes, sunken cheeks, and choker necklaces, like they had stepped out of a Tim Burton film; it wasn’t popular to be happy or healthy. I wanted to be popular, so I started the destructive habit of obsessing over how little I could eat. Calista Flockhart set my standard. During this time, anorexia was glorified as a condition to be pitied and pandered to. I desperately wanted those things from people as well. But deep down I knew that God wasn’t happy with my choices. I struggled for attention and at the same time knew God wanted to have a talk with me, but I avoided it.
Then one night I had a sleepover with a friend. This same friend was my secret competitor; at parties I would strive to eat less than her or compare notes with what she had eaten that day. Often I was up against: “I’ve only had black coffee for the last three days.” We were in the same sick game. At the sleepover, she shared with me how she had been recently challenged by an older role model of ours. This wise mentor had told her that the root of her eating issue was PRIDE. Ouch. I sat there on my bedroom floor, her on the bottom bunk, as she relayed this conversation and I started feeling fidgety. There was no room for self-pity in that prognosis. I couldn’t sugar-coat and ignore my struggle under the glaring light of that revelation. It was the same truth God had been whispering to me, but I had shut my ears to. Now a friend was speaking it to me directly and I couldn’t avoid it anymore. I couldn’t hope for people to feel sorry for me or want to affirm me out of this hole I had dug for myself. I would have to deal with pride if I wanted freedom.
With a new resolve, I started to address the issue. I began to starve my pride. I ate my whole dinner instead of spreading it across my plate to look like I had eaten it. I almost self-righteously ate big bowls of ice cream, rather than snack bags of craisins. I drank glasses of milk, rather than Diet Coke. I consequently developed lactose intolerance, but that’s beside the point. I kept this anorexia, for me this form of pride, at bay and tried to keep it from having the last say in how I acted toward food. I had taken the first step, I guess, and identified starving myself and obsessing over my body as SIN. Unfortunately, I had just exchanged one form of pride for another.
I wrestled with this issue on and off for about eight years. My issue still lurked in the corners, scrawny through starvation though it was. It was a threat to my spiritual and emotional well-being, because when the pressures of life mounted, that ugly thing came out of hiding and attacked. Whenever I lost my resolve to be holy and wanted to be accepted instead, I reverted to trying to control or adjust my body weight and then hating myself when I couldn’t do it quickly or completely enough. I found small victories and seasons of peace and freedom, but it was always waiting for a weak moment. I was still very self-absorbed. I really really wanted people to take notice of me and like me. I hated myself when I didn’t get the kind of attention I wanted. It meant I hadn’t had the level of self-restraint I needed. It meant I wasn’t born with the beauty I would have wanted for myself.
I found that when I had opened the door in my life and let in the monster of anorexia, I had also invited perfectionism, control, and self-hatred to rule my decisions. If I wasn’t actively starving myself, these sins would look for different outlets. If I wouldn’t control what I ate, then I would control another aspect of my appearance.
When I got married the struggle once again got real. I was put in the pressure cooker and the things that had lain dormant quickly resurfaced, to my (and believe me Ryan’s) dismay. Any thoughts that marriage and true love would wipe away further concerns over my appearance quickly vanished. I was still concerned about looking good, and now I had to look good all the time.
Three years into marriage, one evening things mercifully came to a head. Poor Ryan had spent three years fervently and vainly trying to convince me that I was beautifully and wonderfully made, but I had allowed the lies in my head to grow too loud. It spoke spiteful, hateful, and lying things about myself and I was tired of agreeing. I came to the point that night when I knew, either I kill this thing or it will rule me. It was satanic. It was ungodly in these thoughts it provoked. It had to go. My amazing husband very willingly led me in a prayer which I prayed through gritted teeth because I had been very familiar with these lies for so long. I took a stand and told that pride with a mixture of self-glorification, control, perfectionism, and self-hatred, a very toxic tonic, that they were done. I didn’t even know who or what I was dealing with at the time. I just knew there was evil lurking in my heart that was choking me, and they must leave in Jesus’ name. I said NO. No. No. No. Until every last bit of my “yes” to it was gone.
I am here to tell you that my stand had an effect. I immediately felt empowered and stronger than the pride that had minutes before been mastering me. I had cut the legs of this harassing enemy right out from under him, just by looking him in the face, calling him out, and saying NO.
I can’t lie, the problem didn’t disappear without a trace. I had fainter echoes of the former lies for a while. I can remember a specific time a week or so after this powerful prayer time that I was in the kitchen and started worrying about eating too much. I felt the same suffocating squeeze on my heart, but this time I realized what was happening. I recognized the lies I was starting to listen to. I felt a rush of grace and I put my foot down and started repeating my “no’s” and then doing the opposite of what this pride wanted me to do. I told myself the truth.
I remember feeling freedom for the first time in a while as I ate without worry. I remember how the lies gave up so much more quickly...it was as if I intimidated them now. This facet of pride made various attempts to bully and control me again, but I was removed to a higher mountain and the battle was no longer on the same ground. (James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will LIFT you UP.”) Any of you who have struggled with unhealthy body image, self image or eating habits will understand the relief it was to be free. The obsession and anger were gone. As long as my determination remained to relinquish my pride to the Lord, He continually granted victory in my life.
I came to realize that pride often bars the gate that leads to victory. It blocks the flow of grace. When we remove the pride, we can experience a surge of victory. I saw this victory. I was able to enter into a healthy body image and healthy eating habits. It took years to feel fully free, but it was always a winning battle. I took ground every time. Each time I continued to say no to this pride, it meant a new surge in my breakthrough. And each breakthrough took me farther and farther from the place I had been in that pride before. (James 4:6 But He gives more grace. Therefore it says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.)
My encouragement to you today is to look at where you are too self-focused and recognize that it is not God’s best for you. God wants you free from that perfectionism and self-hatred that comes bundled together with self-worship. Repent for putting “self” and “appearance” over God. Say “NO!” to that stuff that drives you away from the presence of the Lord, and experience the freedom Christ died to give you. Join me in breathing deeply of the Father’s grace and the strength He so ardently wants to give you in this area!