“But…I don’t want to be fat.”
That’s what Zoe said to me, months ago, her diabetes yet undiagnosed, her body slowly consuming itself. I looked at her, sitting there at the breakfast table picking at a piece of toast, and I thought, “I wonder when I started thinking that way.” By then, her bones had already begun to jut out sharply from her skin.
“You need to eat more,” I pleaded, not yet realizing why she’d lost the weight, why it took too much of her energy even to chew. “You’re growing, getting taller. Your body needs the food.”
“But… I don’t want to be fat.” She said it simply, blinking at me, as though I should know. And I did.
“You’re not going to get fat if you eat the right things in the right amounts,” I told her. “Do you think I’m fat?” I realized, standing there with my hands in a dish towel, watching her face, waiting, that even though I knew I wasn’t fat, I feared that she might see me that way. I thought of her watching me check my abs for flatness in the bathroom mirror. I had asked an unfair question, placed an unfair burden on her shoulders. She can’t bear the weight of my body issues. No one can, save Christ alone.
“No.” She said easily, and still, somewhere in the back of my mind, I wondered if she said it because she’s perceptive enough to know it matters to me too.
“So, see,” I reiterated, “if you just eat the right things in the right amounts and exercise, you don’t have to worry.” But as the words tumbled from my mouth, I felt a deep spiritual conviction:
Unless I surrender the stronghold, my daughters will always hear me say one thing and watch me live another.
I’m not sure when my issues with my body, with food, took root. Maybe it happened as I stood in the department store with my mom, still a little girl, watching her search for jeans for someone else. “Look for the ones that say ‘husky.’” She told me. “We need those.” I barely understood the word, but I knew the description meant big, and I hated it for the way it lodged in my throat. I remember feeling triumphant about my small size. “Be careful,” Mom warned, “your time is coming too.”
And it did. Those round, shapeless years—everything round: my face, my arms, my middle—made me into a target for meanness. Persistently, my parents breathed words I couldn’t quite believe: “You’re beautiful, inside and out.”
One day, I confessed my insecurity to my brother. We always talked, and he made honesty easy. His eyes registered no surprise, but they lit on me with the sparkle of opportunity. “You know, if you don’t like the way you look, do something about it. Change what you can, and learn to accept what you can’t.” He was barely a teenager at the time, but his advice resonated, his influence sure. I took the advice and never looked back. I played basketball, started learning about nutrition in small snatches. Before my freshman year in college, my brother wickedly prodded the sleeping giant with a question, “So, are you going to gain ‘the freshman 15?’ Most girls either gain weight or lose it during their freshman year. Which will you do?”
I remember shrugging it off, acting unconcerned, but the whole time we talked I nursed a thought: “I.will.not.gain.weight.”
In college I started exercising every day. My freshman year, I lost weight. That year, I slid into the smallest pair of jeans I’ve ever worn. I visited my brother on another campus and ran into people I’d known in high school, who noticed me for the first time. I felt victorious, but here’s the truth: this stronghold has complicated architecture. If my dissatisfaction with my body and my anxiety about weight sit at the foundation, my issues with food live in the crawl space. I love food. I have often looked to it for comfort, for adventure, for free-spirited fun. And then, there are the support beams: my deep longing for approval from others. My family has always loved me well, but for years, I felt that my peers labeled me “unworthy.” I measured my value by their affections, and I learned quickly that physical attractiveness wins “friends.”
I stood there in the kitchen that day, looking at my beautiful daughter, my spirit calling out to God, “Please. Please. Let me not pass on my issues to this beautiful creature you’ve placed in my arms.”
And looking back, I can see that the Refiner’s Fire has been burning away at that foul, misguided structure for a long, long time. God loves me too much to see me imprisoned within its walls.
I’ve come to see that my tight-fisted, selfish, sin-born motives built the seesaw I’ve lived on most of my life. As I sought what I needed from food, making it an idol, I gained weight. That fuse lit, anxiety and insecurity exploded, tilting my precarious position. Armed with knowledge and discipline, I’d beat my body back into submission, fueled by a deep desire to be considered beautiful, measured against a standard that is a glossy, air-brushed lie. For years, I envied all those women who can eat anything they want and stay slim, resenting the work it took for me to balance my love for food with my anxiety about and preoccupation with weight.
And then one day recently, the last beam of that stronghold fell. The faithful Spirit claimed one more part of my heart as He breathed these truths down deep:
- I want to be absolutely everything to you. I am your comfort, your adventure, your free-spirited fun. When you are weary, I am your place of rest. I am your joy and your salvation, your shield and your very great reward. I am jealous for unadulterated love. I will not share you. Crave me. Let not your stomach be your god (Philippians 3:19).
- If you are trying to please men, you are not a servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10). Your worth must be measured by the blood of my son, shed for you, nothing else.
- You must truly desire only my glory, only that I be seen and exalted. You must want to be less, that I might be more (John 3:30). For you are dead, and your life is now hidden with Christ (Colossians 3:3).
- Take care of your body to glorify me, that you might serve me well. Let your physical life testify that you belong to me, that I am everything, that you remain only nourished, only satisfied, by the bread of life (John 6:35).
What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
“Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.”
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty (John 6:30-35)
I want my daughters to live free, craving the only bread that will ever satisfy, presenting themselves healthy, reflections of the only pure sacrifice, lives surrendered on the Holy altar. I want them to care about how they eat and why they eat, how they live and why they live, but never for the praise of men. But unless they see the demolished stronghold, unless they witness it lived out, they will hear me say one thing and live another.
Once a dear, wise friend, a sister in Christ who mentored me without ever expressing the intent to do so, lived surrendered right in front of me. Her example left an impression on my soul. She once apologized to me for eating smores around a campfire just after she’d told me how God had blessed her through healthy living, how Christ was everything she craved. I thought she was a little “over the top.” “I mean, it’s okay to eat smores,” I thought, as she told me about how she’d asked God for forgiveness. “See, that’s not how He’s asked me to eat,” she said, distressed, “it doesn’t bring Him glory.”
I didn’t get it then. I didn’t help, either. I told her I thought it was great she’d indulged, mentioned that we all had. I even told her that she’d made me feel better about eating the smores by eating one herself. Why is it that we all feel better about the choices we make if someone else validates them in participation? And it wasn’t really the smores she spoke about, anymore than Christ had been speaking to the disciples about bread that day. She had shared a Spirit-led, surrendered heart, trying to obey in the specific way God had asked her, not necessarily the rest of us. She confessed a departure from a path on which God had guided her feet. It distressed her that she’d left His side. It really wasn’t about the food.
I’ve seen so much sensitivity over the issue of healthy living. One life convicts another, and discouraging, selfish words threaten to drown a soul trying desperately to obey. Not all of us share the same weakness. The women I used to resent, the ones who can eat anything and never gain weight, they struggle too, but maybe over a different idol, a different stronghold. We must learn not to malign each other, nor to take it personally when someone commits to a level of obedience to which we’ve yet to be called. My walk is not in the walking a conviction of yours, only the Spirit convicts. And all our weaknesses, for all their differences, have but one purpose, to show clearly:
Christ is everything.
As Paul wrote,
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12: 7-10)
Oh Lord, you’re my every joy. Let my daughters inherit the freedom that is all you, all grace. Let them fight to make you everything. May they know, every day of their lives: You made them beautiful, and you make them beautiful.
*God used Lisa TerKeurst’s book, Made to Crave, to push down that last nasty pillar in the stronghold that has held me captive for a long time. I have thanked Him many times for using her to speak His heart into mine. If you share the same seesaw struggle I have lived with food and body issues, the book is well worth reading and owning.
*I use a fantastic website to calculate nutrition facts on the food we eat, which is important to every person in our home for a different reason. If you feel called to this obedience, check out the Spark People Recipe Calculator.
*It is a terrible lie that healthful food must be “tolerable” food. Along the way, I’ve discovered Hungry-Girl and her fantastic, healthful, deliciously experiential recipes. You can enjoy food and still eat with your health in mind. Check her out.:)