Fire-Fighting with a Water Gun

I’m writing a training evening for church leaders on ‘Eating Disorders’. And I’m not quite sure what to say.

Here’s what I think people (including me!) want to hear.  A short explanation of what eating disorders are and who they impact.  A description of the warning signs.  The names of specialists who’ll deal with the messy bits. A list of practical suggestions on how to support those affected. The problem – and then the solution.

I’ve got these things in my notes. That’s what people expect and that’s what’s easiest to give.

But it’s really not enough.

Last time I looked, my idols didn’t respond to good sense. Think about it.  You’re in the grip of something bigger than you; something that gives you life and purpose and identity and control. It makes you powerful and it sets you apart.  It’s your secret and you’ll kill anyone who tries to rip it from your breast. Now tell that thing that if you put on weight people will ‘worry less’ and you’ll have ‘more energy’.  Tell it to eat a piece of cheese and start to love itself.  Tell it to keep a journal and burn some candles.  And watch as it chokes itself laughing  and tells you to go to hell.

Practical advice is useful, but it doesn’t reach the heart.  It might curb the excesses of your behaviour, but it leaves you the same – or at best, a higher-functioning sinner. A church building doesn’t make our meetings Christian. And if all we’re offering is worldly wisdom, then let’s leave it to the experts:  they have more resources and can do a far better job.  Plus, eating disorders are physical or mental conditions, right? Entirely separate from soul care, (whatever that is).

I’m being flippant, but there’s a serious point.  Jesus isn’t just a nice add-on for people who have got it together. He’s everything – or He’s nothing at all. What we offer to those with eating disorders is what we first receive for ourselves: a Person, not a programme.





4 thoughts on “Fire-Fighting with a Water Gun

  1. I know just what you are talking about. I myself was part of a church based program as a teen that was designed to help people get over “life controlling issues” (mine was bulimia) and the class didn’t help me at all. Partly because my eating disorder was such a side issue but also, I think the focus was really us “getting over” something that was holding us back. The goal being so outwardly measurable made it so easy to fake progress and say things that sounded spiritual and gain approval from the group. I was by far the youngest, and praised for getting it “right” early on so I would avoid having “problems” in life! This was THE LAST thing a sick approval addict needed to hear. Because it didn’t “work” for me made me doubt my very salvation for years. Later my niece actually spiraled into severe anorexia after we joined a different weight loss program at the same church (interestingly, a lot of the same people were in both classes 5 years apart!). Our family, as not to embarrass her (!), sat in SILENCE as this once beautiful girl literally wasted away. When she lost her period and had constant leg cramps she was seen by a doctor and told to gain 30 pounds ASAP .This time it was totally obvious: The group she was in came right out and taught that eating when you are not hungry is a sin and if you do not lose all your extra weight you are probably not saved and will go to hell! (That one was called “The weigh down workshop” and the leader Gwen Shamblin was called a heretic in later years, but not before a lot of damage was caused.) I have often pondered these to “christian” programs and concluded that surrender to the Lord was totally missing. It is the only thing that has ever helped me, but its not very measurable and I admit it’s hard to put on a TO DO list. I don’t know if this helps you at all :(

  2. Thanks Caroline – it’s fascinating to hear about the similarities in our experience – especially the danger of setting purely external goals, (which the ‘good girl’ will long to fulfil). You’re right – a ‘gospel’ that’s based on our works instead of Christ’s grace is no gospel at all – the very opposite.

    It’s tempting to conclude that the church does more damage than good. Yet real Christian community (at least in my own experience) has been a vital part of recovery. God’s people may be flawed, but in His hands they can bring amazing healing too.

  3. Real Community. Yes, I think that is a key. Not the “I USED to be like you, bless your soul” attitude that sometimes comes with the leader/follower structure, that does not help in the long run. Instead a ,”here we go together, moment by moment, slowly gaining ground”, is better. Sharing our victories, where for just a second, we saw that it is IN HIM we live, and move, and have our being. For myself, his is how I have tried to interact with others, (in a home group setting for instance), but because of PRIDE, the “I’ve arrived” attitude will often try to creep in, especially in areas where it appears I might have it all together. Not good. I read somewhere this phrase: “people in need of change, helping people in need of change”

  4. Yes, I think that’s right – moving forward together instead of either ‘stooping’ to help others or placing them on a pedestal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *