The weight of fear {guest post}


I heard Emily Wierenga’s voice for the first time a while ago, on a youtube video, and I smiled, because it so perfectly matches her blog. She speaks softly and gently so you need to lean in close; it is full of sweetness and sparkles with the kind of joy that has been hard-won. I am delighted to share her story with you here (originally posted elsewhere – used with permission from Emily.)

 

The nurses murmured to each other under fluorescent lighting as I lay shivering on the metal hospital bed, cold. Later I would find out they couldn’t understand how I was still alive. I’d learn of them marveling at my hypothermic, sixty-pound sack of bones, reasoning, ‘She should be dead.’ I was a breach of science; a modern-day miracle.

 

Yet in that profound moment, all I could think was: “Why can’t I lose any more weight?”

 

After four years of slow and steady starvation, I had finally quit eating altogether. No longer was I striving to be thin; I knew I was thin. Rather, I was trying to stay thin. Afraid of losing control and gaining weight, I ate less and less every day. And every time I saw the lowered digits flashing red on the weigh-scale, a warm hand rubbed away the fear in my chest letting me ‘go’ for a little bit longer.  The cycle was sick.

 

Laying there that autumn day in 1993, purple under the green sheet, I knew I’d done all I could. For some reason my body was refusing to let me shed anymore invisible pounds. And in some strange, sad way I felt relieved. I was tired of fighting my family, friends, and my heavenly father.  I was exhausted from fighting fear.

 

In those quiet minutes I gave in to the love which had spared my life, and decided to become ‘normal’.

 

For most, food is a desirable necessity. For me, it served as a temptation. From the age of nine, fear was my master, ordering me not to slip up on the scales of life.

 

I say nine because that’s the age when I entered public school, after being taught at home with my brother and sisters. It was then that I met my enviably thin peers, and I began to force myself into a mold several sizes smaller than my competition. The more weight I lost, the better I felt: It was a severe addiction.

 

Baptized at eight into my Dad’s church, I believed in the existence of God, and knew I was created to have a personal relationship with Him. Yet He wasn’t real to me. It was all ‘head knowledge’. And, as I began to dabble in the anorexic occult, my faith became nothing more than a precarious piece in the puzzle that was my life. It was just another element to be controlled.

 

Everything had to be tiny and orderly: I scheduled what I wore, journalled every step of my day and prayed for everyone I’d ever met for fear they wouldn’t be saved. I had, in short, deemed myself their Savior.

 

My teachers’ eyes hurt trying to read my handwriting which was microscopically small. My siblings’ ears hurt from the wars which waged between my father and I, and my mother’s heart shriveled up as I refused to hug either of my parents for two years.

 

Meanwhile, I continued to pray — a listless length of names recited nightly out of soul-less duty. And for all I knew, my prayers were merely bouncing off the ceiling back into my bedroom where my stomach growled endlessly.

 

I had completely missed the ever-revealing point: Faith is nothing if not expressed through love. As Galatians puts it, the law is summed up in this: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. I hated myself. I was my own worst enemy, a dictator ruling with a fear-shaped scepter.

 

When I realized God had, in His grace, saved me from death, I got it. Faith touched my heart, and love transformed my life. Fear was no longer my defining feature. I figured the least I could do was serve the One who’d saved me twice: Once on the cross, and once in the fall of 1993.

 

For the next decade my disease lay dormant. I re-trained myself to eat, watching people who I deemed ‘beautiful’ as they dished up at potlucks or family functions, mimicking their actions like a mindless shadow. I was a copy-cat infant when it came to knowing how to eat.

 

Similarly I nursed at the breast of God, who reminded me daily of my identity in Christ.

 

Those were happy years, filled with mission trips, boys and a restored relationship with my family.

 

Then, like a clap of thunder on a sunny day, “it” reappeared, rearing its ugly head, awakened by a comment.

“You’ve gained a bit of weight.” It was that one remark from an unaware observer which regurgitated four more years of the same battle. Only this time, I was married, and my husband wasn’t able (or willing) to sit back and watch as I destroyed our lives in an attempt to fit the ‘perfect’ mold. And this time, I knew what I was doing. I’d been through the routine before, and realized what I was risking: A wonderful, godly husband who loved me more than life itself; the hope of having children; a ministry to teenage girls who looked up to me, and most importantly, a maturing and fruitful relationship with my heavenly father.

 

How much worse is it for the person who embraces Christ and then later rejects Him, Scripture says. Perhaps it would have been better for him/her to have never claimed to know God.

 

The heart of the problem lay here: When recovering from my initial bout of Anorexia, I had failed to train myself in nutrition, to educate myself, finding a healthy lifestyle which suited my body type. Instead I’d settled for mimicking those around me — which, ironically, was what got me into trouble in the first place. Thus, with the slightest tremor, the flimsy scaffolding I’d tacked together crumbled.

 

There came a point in the spring of 2006 — a very dark and deathly point — which defined my destiny. It happened on the streets of Alberta where, during an ear-splitting fight with my husband over food, I nearly drove our car into oncoming traffic — on purpose. Our lives were marked by hurt feelings and power struggles. Food was the issue gluing our tension together. Both involved in ministry all day long, we saved up our tiredness and worries to dump on each other at night. I was exercising every morning, skipping breakfast and lunch and drinking six cups of coffee a day. I became an insomniac, unable to sleep for a year and a half.

 

It was on that breezy Spring day in the middle of the Albertan highway that my husband gave me a choice: It was him or food. He couldn’t do it any longer.

 

And would you believe that it took more than a minute for me to choose him? But choose him I did, rejecting, once again, the fear which was swallowing up my life.

 

We ended up dropping everything and leaving for Korea where we taught English. Surrounded by everything foreign except the comfort of each other, we re-mastered marriage. I studied nutrition, and developed a balanced menu for myself. I learned how to eat organically, in a way that hurt neither myself nor the earth. My husband was my rock, the one who helped me on days when anxiety began to re-emerge. The grace of God was our mortar, sticking everything back together.

Once again, love transformed my life, and faith became more than a mental trip.

 

Every day I continue to battle. Despite being prayed over, counseled and trained, I still struggle with feeling ‘fat.’ The Bible says that if we resist the devil, he will flee. I believe this — but I wonder, How long will it take?

Every morning, it’s a matter of waking myself up in my Christ-identity, of silencing the negative whisper which sounds through television ads, magazines and song lyrics, of tuning in to the affirming words of Scripture. While God assures us that we are beautifully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139), He is also quick to remind us that true beauty comes from within: the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. (1 Peter 3:4)

 

If you or someone you know is struggling with “a weighty fear” — afraid of not being perfect, of losing control or becoming fat — consider this: Shouldn’t we be more afraid of missing out on life as He intended it to be?  As often as we mess up, He forgives, but “Don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom” (Galatians 5:14).  No one knows the hour in which God will bring us home.

 

What does God desire? “Faith expressed in love” (5:6).  When we have love, we have no need to fear. Christ loved humanity before time began — before the first calories were counted or mirrors reflected our vanity.

 

So rather than striving for the perfect size, hunger for perfect love.  Then, life will no longer be viewed from behind a thin veil. You will see yourself for who you truly are: A beautiful child of God.

 

 

Emily Wierenga, author of ‘Chasing Silhouettes: How to help a loved one who refuses to eat,’ is a volunteer counselor for families with anorexic loved ones, through FINDINGbalance.com. For more information, please visit www.emilywierenga.com. I reviewed her book here and would recommend that you purchase it! Find it on amazon.com or amazon.co.uk

This is the final ‘God and Suffering: Our story’ post for 2012. Back on January 8th with Preston Yancey.

 

 

Over to you:

  • “Every morning, it’s a matter of waking myself up in my Christ-identity, of silencing the negative whisper” – can you relate to this?

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19 Responses to The weight of fear {guest post}

  1. Rose Bredenhof 18th December, 2012 at 8:23 pm #

    Beautifully written. Thanks for your courage and honesty!

  2. Mel @ Trailing After God 18th December, 2012 at 5:27 pm #

    I have had some similar experiences. When I was thin and fit, my boss at a fitness center used to make fun of my weight. I was a size 6. My aunt’s mother-in-law said one day, “Wow, you’ve put on quite a bit of weight” one day, after I’d started getting heavy. My doctor a few years ago, while I was losing weight and was so proud to be down 25 pounds told me that most people don’t lose the weight or keep it off. That ended that. I was so disheartened I gave up and put it all back on. I’m really overweight and have type 2 diabetes now. When I get depressed, I think I secretly kill myself with food. It’s vicious cycle. I can relate so much to your messages, just in a different way. I’ve also had a relative tell me twice in the past year that I should get the gastric bypass surgery 🙁 THAT broke my heart and the last time it was said, I told them so. I don’t weigh enough for gastric bypass for one thing. And two, I KNOW it would send me into a major depression. It’s not an easy fix and it’s got some pretty heavy consequences. Not for me.

    Thank you for all you do and for sharing your delicate struggles.

  3. Joy 18th December, 2012 at 10:21 am #

    Thank you, Emily and Tanya for this painfully honest account. Although I haven’t experienced an eating disorder, I can relate to having poor self-image and low self- esteem that mainly characterises itself in negativity and perfectionism. It has taken me many years to overcome and still remains a steep learning curve at times. How essential it is to get a revelation on who we are In Christ. Truly believing how much God loves and values us will aid our journey back to wholeness. May God continue to bless you with His grace as you serve Him and faithfully share all He is teaching you with others. 🙂

    • emily wierenga 19th December, 2012 at 4:32 am #

      “how essential it is to get a revelation on who we are in Christ.” yes. this is the key to healing, friend. thank you so much for sharing your story with me. bless you. e.

  4. Nick 18th December, 2012 at 10:00 am #

    Thanks Emily and Tanya for a great post.
    Emily, you say, “The Bible says that if we resist the devil, he will flee. I believe this — but I wonder, How long will it take?”
    I think sometimes we’re led to believe that this is a bit like those lights that you turn on and off with a handclap. When you feel the devil attacking, simply clap and he’ll disappear. Of course, this is so far from the truth. I wonder if sometimes it’s a little more like being a cliff battered by the waves. The tide begins to come in and the battering increases, yet the time will come when the tide will recede again, for a time, and the crashing of the waves subsides. Certainly in my experience, the ‘handclap’ approach to defeating attacks is far rarer than the standing firm in the storm.

    • emily wierenga 19th December, 2012 at 4:31 am #

      yes! yes. nick, i totally agree. while i am recovered, i am every day healing, too. i have to beware of my triggers, or else i could relapse. i think it’s about constantly resisting the devil, and temptation in general. he flees, and then he returns, but slowly we get stronger… with God as our helper. very insightful, thank you. e. http://www.emilywierenga.com

  5. Mia 18th December, 2012 at 9:40 am #

    Thank you Emily and Tanya
    I also had my own bout with anorexia and at my wedding I only weighed 47kg. But as our Pappa God started to heal my heart of a lot of abuse and rejection, I totally overcame this disease. Thank you for sharing your heart, dear Emily.
    Much love to you two.
    Mia

  6. Mia 18th December, 2012 at 9:39 am #

    Thank you Emily and Tanya
    I also had my own bout with anorexia and at my wedding I only weighed 47kg. But as our Pappa God started to heal my heart of a lot of abuse and rejection, I totally overcame this disease. Thank you for sharing your heart, dear Emily.
    Much love to you two.
    Mia

    • emily wierenga 19th December, 2012 at 4:30 am #

      mia, i LOVE how you call God Pappa. the next project i’m working on is a book in which i hope to draw all women into the heart of the Abba Father, the only one who will never let us down. bless you. e. http://www.emilywierenga.com

  7. Lynn 18th December, 2012 at 8:46 am #

    This is beautiful. Thank you.

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