As the church, we are called to be the light of the world. You can’t have light without darkness. And darkness is all around us. But sometimes we try to insulate ourselves from the darkness instead of being a light in the darkness.
It’s hard to get into the darkness with others. It often brings up our own darkness and the American Prosperity Gospel says that as Christians, we should be wealthy, healthy, and happy… aka we shouldn’t have darkness.
If you live in this world, you know this is a straight up lie. But we often abide by this subtle and insidious lie that is fed to us.
When I can reflect on the times I’m caught in emotional distress or situation turmoil, it often is rooted in the fact that I have bought into the American Prosperity Gospel. Again.
This lie is so subtle and sneaky, we don’t really see that we’re buying into unless we step back and evaluate the deep roots of our distress. We often live our life, trying to insulate ourselves from the darkness as much as possible. Sometimes that’s behaviorally and sometimes that’s emotionally.
But we are missing our calling to be in the darkness.
Jesus went into the darkness so He could shine.
And we are called to do the same.
The Darkest Place
One of the darkest places I have entered in my therapeutic practice is the inner world of someone’s eating disorder. The people that have so graciously allowed me to step into this inner world are beautiful, wonderful people most of whom love the Lord, or want to love Him.
When I say this is one of the darkest plae I have visited, I need you to understand that eating disorders are so much deeper than food, body and control. The misnomer that eating disorders are all about control is absolutely maddening. It’s extremely belittling and harmful to our loved ones that have an eating disorder. Eating disorders are complex and have many, many variables. There is no easy “fix” for the person struggling to recovery.
It is an all-out war.
An emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual war to recover from the icy clench of the eating disorder.
The experience of an eating disorder is a terrifying isolating experience in our diet culture and weight obsessed world. Because they can’t escape it. There is no breath of fresh air because diet culture is everywhere, screaming “Lose weight!” or “Don’t get fat!” This is how we are taught we will be healthy, be happy, be loveable, be worthy.
I hate that this is the culture we live in. I hate it because one time, I was caught up in the empty promises that diet culture shouted at me. And sometimes I have to remind myself that the promises are empty. Because it’s enticing to think I can fix all of life’s problems with one “simple” equation.
But we live in a fallen world and I can accept that.
I can’t accept the church being unsafe. I know, as the church, we are fallen people. We are hurt people. And hurt people often hurt people.
But we must do better. We must be the light IN the darkness.
A Call To Action
Church, this isn’t a knock on us. I’m a part of the church and I fail my brothers and sisters DAILY. (And that’s not to mention my husband and son! Yeesh!)
This is a call to action. To be present with people.
The idea of eating disorders are scary for most of us because we all have very strong beliefs about food, body, nutrition, exercise, health. We are fed information that is sometimes true and sometimes false. We hold to these beliefs like a banner and we unintentionally allow that to hurt our brothers and sisters in this war.
I believe deeply in intuitive eating, health at every size, fat acceptance and the idea that our worth is much more than our physical selves. I do not believe food and exercise is the be-all, end-all to health. I do not believe food or exercise are barometers of morality in this world. Therefore, I do not believe in food labelling. And I absolutely believe that weight is not a good predictor of health. At all, period.
This is not a popular belief system. The majority of the people I speak with, loved ones and strangers alike, have a totally different set of beliefs.
The thing is, do my beliefs about that matter when I’m sitting with someone who is hurting? Do our matching belief systems matter when my loved one is hurting?
No. What matters is that person’s heart.
Being a light in their darkness is being with them. It’s attending to their aching heart.
How do I know that? That’s what Jesus promises us.
He doesn’t promise us freedom from poverty, pain, hardship, or even death.
He promises us Himself.
He promises us a relationship with Him because relationships are the essence of life.
As the church, how do we offer a relationship over our beliefs about food/nutrition/weight/health?
- We listen.
You may have heard before that we often “listen” to have a response. While someone else is talking, we’re formulating our argument or advice. We especially do this when we care deeply about the topic at hand. Just listen, as hard as it may be not to correct, advise, guide… just listen with sole intent to hear that person’s heart. That’s a reflection of the most beautiful love. We all desire desperately to be truly heard so we can be deeply known.
- Recognize that food/body talk can be extremely harmful for a loved one or acquaintance or stranger.
In our culture, we are constantly evaluating what we should or shouldn’t eat, how “good/bad” food is, our exercise and diet plans, etc. Most of us don’t realize how truly damning this talk is. For someone with an eating disorder that is a participant or overhears this conversation, it is extremely triggering and often gives the eating disorder a foothold to gain traction. Recovery can be undermined by these types of conversations that are confusing to the recovery message.
- Stop thin praising.
I don’t like to use negatives, but please, stop thin praising. I’ve said it again and I will say it until I stop breathing. Stop thin praising. Please think before you comment on someone’s weight loss or weight changes. Instead, replace the need to compliment someone’s appearance with a compliment on their character. That’s what we want to be known for, right? I want to be known as someone who evidently has a heart that is desperate for God. I don’t want to be known as someone who has an awesome six pack. Because that says nothing about the essence of who I am. We all desire to be known for who we are, no matter how scary that may feel.
- Be with each other.
Instead of fixing, sit with others. Be with each other. Cry. Laugh. Jump. Dance. Walk. Swing. Rock. Pray. Listen to Music. Don’t talk. Whatever, just be together. That’s the most beautiful relationship, when you can be together in life. When you can be in the darkness together.
The greatest ministry my church did for me during my miscarriage and bedrest was to be with me. People just sat with me. The people who came in and changed my world just sat with me. They didn’t try to fix me and my pain. They didn’t try to straighten my theology when I was warring with God over my loss and fear for my unborn child. They were with me. They cried with me. They laughed with me. They prayed with me. They let the Spirit do the deep work and just focused on holding my heart. And my world forever changed.
So in honor of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, take into consideration those that are struggling with this deadly disease. I am not asking you to believe as I do or believe what they are being taught in recovery. I am only asking you to be the light IN their darkness. It’s a darkness that is quietly present in our world and it’s consuming our children, our teens, our wives, our husbands, our brothers, our sisters, our aunts, our uncles, our grandmothers, our grandfathers. Eating disorders aren’t selective to gender, faith, race, ethnicity, sexuality, or socioeconomic status. Whether you know it or not, someone around you is struggling with this disease in some form or fashion.
Be with each other.
Be cognizant of your words.
Be the light.