Can You Help?

It’s tempting to assume that churches are full of people who’ve got it together.  The Sunday morning freshly-scrubbed faces and starchy smiles that disguise altogether murkier and choppier depths.  The argument  that’s tidied away along with the breakfast dishes – or at least until the final hymn. Everyone else is fine.  You’re the only one with any issues.

Of course, this is a nonsense idea.  Church is for those who recognise their need of a Saviour – not those who can manage on their own. But if you’re in that situation, it can feel, well – wrong. Exposed.  Messy.  Who do you talk to?  What do you say?  As churches we’re called to make it as easy as possible to hoist up a white flag.  But that’s easier said than done.

In a couple of weeks I’m running some training evenings for church leaders on how to help those affected by or struggling with eating disorders.  It’s a massive issue – not just within our society, but especially I believe, within our congregations.  Eating disorders affect families as well as individuals – and they impact grandparents and men as well as teenage girls.  Saying this, there’s can be a particular type of person who’s vulnerable to this sort of struggle.  The good girls.  They’re not going to take drugs or go spectacularly off the rails.  But they may break down internally – and an eating disorder is a natural correlative to the nice girl who doesn’t want to make a fuss. So my belief is that eating disorders are overrepresented in our churches – even if they don’t seem obvious.

Which is where you come in.  As I plan the sessions, I’d love to get your input.  Have you come across these issues in your church? What questions would you want to see answered?  What in your experience has helped/hindered those in recovery (and their families)?

If you’re a sufferer or affected by eating disorders, what in a church context has been useful – or detrimental?  How can others help? What would you like to see change? How has the gospel spoken into your situations?

Feel free to email me privately or to post comments: the more feedback I can get, the better.






6 thoughts on “Can You Help?

  1. Emma, firstly, well done for doing this, I think it’s pretty badly needed!
    As for ideas…
    – I would have loved to have felt able to be honest about what was going on, but I usually didn’t feel that way. There’s a perception that one can’t be a Christian and in the midst of an eating disorder, one can only say ‘I used to struggle with this’. Finding a way for people to admit that it is a current struggle, and that they believe in Jesus, at the same time would be helpful – but I don’t know how you’ll do that!
    – You wouldn’t tell someone with cancer to get over it and get well, so don’t tell someone with an ED to do the same – it’s an illness too.
    – Also, an obvious one but, almost every church event involves food, and that’s quite hard work. Thinking about sensitivity in this area would be a help I think.

    Ellidh x

  2. Emma,
    I have watched so many freinds over the years struggle with some of these issues(being overweight too) and have felt terribly guilty that I haven’t been able to address the issue. I simply haven’t known the words to start with. I suspect I’m not alone, but it is scandalas we can call someone a good (often Christian) freind yet somehow this can’t even be mentioned in a prayer group. I don’t know what the barriers are but think overcoming the initial reservation to say anything would help. It’s not that I don’t understand the issue as I can see I am only not affected by the grace of God but even now I have freinds with whom I don’t know where to start. At work i’ll happily start a conversation about my patents HIV but eating problems is so much more difficult. Why is there such a taboo? How can we change this?

  3. Hi Alice

    You’re not alone – I think all of us struggle to help those who are hurting, especially when it’s something as hidden and explosive as an eating disorder. There are lots of challenges – one of the biggest being the shame and secrecy which surrounds them. Usually the person suffering doesn’t want to get help or feels ambivalent about letting others in. Plus it’s just horrific and frustrating and sad and infuriating and a million other emotions when you’re watching someone stuff or starve themselves and you can’t help.

    Saying this, I do think that as churches, we should be doing more to address eating disorders – not just anorexia, but bulimia, binge-eating, and the rest. I’ll be writing a few posts with some practical suggestions after these training days and would love to hear your (and other people’s) thoughts.

    My feeling is that churches need to work in partnership with families and health care professionals to support not only those with ED but their families too. It may feel like a no-go area or one that’s just for the experts, but in my experience, it was people praying and just being there that made all the difference. It’s not what you say as the fact that you say something and I know that you care. Your friends are very lucky to have you, even if you feel unsure about how much you’re helping.

  4. My sister found great comfort in the ‘doctrines of grace.’ Then the focus is not on the subjective sine-wave of Feelings and Situations but on a loving God who gently holds those who are weak. Hope for the future isn’t based on somehow discovering strength within myself but on Him who will not let me go.

  5. Thank you Daniel and everyone else who’s shared their wisdom – I’m just putting together the last bits of the presentation now and your input has been invaluable. Prayers valued.

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