Growing up, I used to get called names like “beanpole” and “knobby knees.”
My parents never worried though, because I loved food and ate lots of it. They would laugh when we had company over and I ate bowl after bowl of plain spaghetti—smothered with butter and salt.
“She can eat as much as she wants,” they would say. “She never gets any bigger!”
And I never did. This was true of me through high school, and I grew up eating without restraint and even being encouraged to do so because of my naturally skinny frame.
In school when my mom packed my lunch, she would sometimes send me with two brown paper sacks overflowing with food. I appreciated that Mom put such loving care into my lunch every day. And I just loved eating. I enjoyed food. By that time, I was a ballerina, and before then I had been a competitive swimmer, but the thought of dieting or even being concerned with weight was foreign to me.
I went away to college, and I brought my lack of restraint to our all-you-can-eat cafeteria. I found that I could not stop eating even when everyone around me was finished and I was no longer hungry. At the end of any meal, I would go back for two, three, four bowls of ice cream.
But relationships have a way of getting complicated when you leave home for the first time, and my relationship with food was no different. I was in college to get a dance degree, so there I was spending hours and hours in front of a wall of mirrors.
Now it goes without saying that a wall of mirrors does not rank among the best tools for helping a young Christian lady grow in faith and humility. And if the young lady is a compulsive overeater, you have a recipe for spiritual disaster. Four bowls of ice cream a day plus a wall of mirrors equals a serious problem.
It’s not that I ever got overweight, exactly, by non-dance-major standards. I was still the same beanpole that God made me, plus a few extra pounds. If you were never a neurotic dance major, I doubt you would have felt very sorry for me. But the me of back then certainly felt sorry for herself.
So what did I do? I had big spiritual insights and I made big spiritual resolutions. I realized I had never developed the skills of self-control or self-denial when it came to food. I could see that others around me had the ability to stop eating when they were full, and they certainly had the ability to deny themselves food in the interest of losing weight. Of course, I didn’t really understand the true nature of their struggles, but that’s another story. For my part, I prayed for help and made resolution after resolution to exercise self-control.
Yet, somehow, I experienced hardly any victory over my sin. The funny thing was, the more I tried to lead a godly and self-controlled life, the more I kept thinking about food, until I was thinking about it all the time. Only now, I couldn’t think about it in anything but extremes. Either I had to deny myself every pleasurable bite of ice cream, or I had to eat four bowls of it. Meanwhile, I obsessed about food and judged others for what they ate. This is relatively normal among dancers, so although I knew it was awful, not only did I not have the support or the strength to get help, I don’t know that I would have accepted it if I had.
Because really I did not want help. Even though I hated my sin, I loved it at the same time, and being a dancer was my justification for continuing in it. After all, I loved dancing and I was dancing for the Lord—and God would not ask me to give up something I loved and was doing for His glory. I tried to overcome my sin, but in a sense I accepted that it was part of the package of my “calling.” In the end, I was unwilling to put my sin to death.
After graduation, I was part of a performance tour where I met my future husband. We fell in love and then he moved to Indiana to study music and I moved to Tennessee to dance. We soon were engaged and planning our wedding, and I prepared to move to Indiana. All this time, I was still a slave to food, one way or another, but at this point I was very good at hiding my sin. Then I moved to Indiana and married the love of my life, and at the same time I gave up my other love, which was dancing.
And that’s when the Lord began to work in my heart. Not that He hadn’t been working before, planting seeds, watering and tending them in ways I didn’t perceive. But now, He allowed for the little sprouts of the fruit of the Spirit to push through the tough soil of my heart, where I could begin to see them grow. I think God wanted to wait for this, until I had submitted to Him through marriage and given up something I held dear. He’s like that, sometimes.
And, of course, God works through the people and events in our lives, and the big person and event in my life were my husband and marriage. In some ways, leaving dancing behind and getting married was like leaving one wall of mirrors for another. Except, of course, marriage is much healthier. God used it to force me and my sin out of hiding for the first time in my life. I was no longer able to hide my sins, not with my husband there for meals or skipped meals or late-night ice cream binges. And, as it turns out, that was a huge relief, because his love and care and concern helped me have faith to confess my past sins and ask for help overcoming the sin that had enslaved me for so many years. And the Lord worked. Slowly, I began to experience freedom and to learn that the freedom Christ offers is so much sweeter than the fleeting pleasures of sin.
But sin manifests itself in many ways and is often so subtle that it takes years to come to the surface. As we continued in our married life, had children, moved to several different homes in town, and transitioned through phases of life rather quickly, I began to have mysterious health issues that mostly took the form of stomach troubles.
Naturally, I wanted to find a way to feel better, to have energy to care for my family, and to end my suffering from the pain and exhaustion I was experiencing. I started researching different diets and natural ways of treating my problems. It did not take long for me to see that there are an infinite number of ways to “treat” digestive issues, and each one sounded equally convincing. What began as a simple and healthy desire to make changes to our diet so that I would feel better grew into a preoccupation with food, food allergies, and a belief that revamping our eating habits could be the secret to a happier, fuller, more meaningful life.
I found that certain changes to my diet did help ease my problems, but only temporarily. I would make a change, enjoy better health for a few weeks, and then find myself right back where I started. I won’t lie to you. This cycle continues to this day.
But God has been merciful in helping me to better know Him and myself. At one point, after another weary conversation about food as the culprit and solution to all of life’s problems, my husband asked me this question: “Does the Bible ever prescribe food as a remedy?”
It was a good question. I suppose Paul advised Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach. But that wasn’t, of course, what my love was getting at.
The sad fact is that my life has been characterized by avoiding spiritual labor in favor of something tangible that I can do with my own hands. It’s so very hard to trust Christ completely for my salvation. I want to work it out for myself. And as silly as it is—of all the ways, big or small, that I could try to seize control of my life from God—I’ve chosen food to do it. It could have been sex or power or politics or work or family or even religion. But food is the instrument of my rebellion. It is my idol of choice. I want to make food that will save me from suffering, from getting older, from sickness and death. I want to swing from one extreme to the other because it is easier to give in to my impulses than to temper them and walk down the middle of the road. I battle with anxiety and fear, and I look to food for help. As if food is the Savior of my soul.
But, by God’s grace, I know that if I do not address the problems of my heart, if I continue to suppress and ignore them, I will experience suffering no matter what food I choose to eat. In avoiding the spiritual cure, I only increase my sorrow. I desperately need the Lord’s help and power to walk by faith.
As a young lady, I did not want to do the spiritual work of repentance, confession of sin, and dying to self so that I could be free from sin. As a grown woman, I do not want to do the work of asking the Lord to reveal my sin, searching my heart, diligently seeking Him in prayer, and regularly being in the Scriptures to strengthen me in my weakness. God is very gracious and has shown His mercy to be abundant in my life. As I see myself in the mirror of His Word, and reflected in my husband and children, I pray He continues to bring my sin to light, and I pray for the humility to work for the food which endures to eternal life, and not for the food which perishes.