by Sarah Van Diest
Sarah has worked in Christian publishing since 2005 as both and editor and an agent.
Making sense of trials often takes time. Why do we feel the way we feel? Is a question we can often only partly answer in the middle of feeling it. And Why can’t we fix what’s wrong with us? Can be even harder to answer. Hindsight is clearer most of the time, if not all of the time.
Not long ago, I basically stopped eating. Each day my caloric intake decreased. My typical daily allowance was somewhere around 1500 prior to this decline, but by the end of the third week I was down to about 300 calories a day. If a banana has 65 calories then that’s where I was at the end of 4 weeks.
I knew why this recurrence of an old eating disorder (dormant for over a decade) had occurred, but I didn’t know how to make it stop. In the past, a stay at a hospital with an IV had somehow done the trick. In those days, shock brought about forced-consumption which over time eased back into the simplicity of eating like everyone else, but real understanding never entered the picture. Each time I merely survived the ordeal.
Trauma had triggered the disorder to begin with and trauma had induced it this time, but I still couldn’t make it stop. Just because I understood why it was there didn’t mean I had the tools to think or feel my way out. I could see the impending destination of this reduced caloric intake, and I had no desire to go there, but that didn’t fix the repulsion I felt when I thought of eating; that didn’t take away the pain and sickness I felt when food hit my stomach; that didn’t rescue me from my own hand.
So what did?
I want to give you the full answer. I don’t know if that’s what I have, but that’s what I hope I am beginning to grasp. It has to do with love, and ultimately that’s my answer, but there’s a more complete explanation needed here.
As I’ve learned since those gaunt days, we all have a particular construct working in us. It’s what psychiatrist Eric Berne called “Parent. Adult. Child.” It sounds simple, if not simplistic, but it has proven very helpful for me to understand the agents at work in my mind, will and emotions. The Parent is the rule maker, keeper and judge. The Parent comes out in our expressions of “I should” or “You shouldn’t,” etc. The Child is our feeler. It hurts, it wants, it fears, etc. The Adult is our even-tempered thinker. There is no condemning judge in the Adult and no fearful reactionary. The Adult takes in the information, assesses it and works from its understanding.
What I can see now is that my Adult wasn’t allowed to enter the conversation much at all. The fear (Child) I felt pushed me to run out of the present reality trauma had awakened me to, but rules (Parent) were keeping me from running. Neither were bad; they were just responses to what had happened recently and what had happened in my past, but the Parent in me was extremely judgmental of the Child in me. I was harsh and condemnatory toward the feelings I had of fear, anxiety, hurt and the desire I had to flee. The more time passed and the more it became clear I wasn’t getting better but was actually getting worse (now not just traumatized, but also not eating), the more condemnation I poured out on myself and the worse I felt. I couldn’t reason my way out of this which confounded and saddened my loved ones, and the “smallness” of my faith distressed my spirit. Depression set in and hopelessness filled my soul.
So what do I mean “love” rescued me?
At the end of this 4 weeks we visited family. We went home. Sitting at a table in a restaurant with our boys, who had worked there for years, I ate. I didn’t know what was happening, but I felt hunger for the first time in a month. Food sounded good, smelled good, looked good and tasted good. As we talked, laughed and shared a meal together, I didn’t hear those warring voices in my head. They were silent. As if they had gone to sleep and were giving me permission to eat with my family.
And yes, I knew what was happening. I knew I was eating for the first time in a month. I was very much aware of it; cognizant of the fact that I wasn’t struggling to feed myself. I wasn’t blind or forgetful; distracted or any other thing. I knew. But I didn’t understand. All the other times I had spiraled down like this had lasted much longer, as in years at a time.
It wasn’t until I was sitting in my therapist’s office (after a week of back to normal eating) describing what had happened that I saw the full picture.
I had been reading a book called Present Perfect by Greg Boyd. Boyd’s purpose in writing the book was to understand for himself and hopefully for his readers what others had experienced as they “practiced the presence of God” in their lives. He researched some of the great minds of the past centuries to find what they meant by living moment-by-moment in the knowledge of God’s love for them. One of the principles he describes came to life for me through this trial.
Boyd talks about our “autopilot programming.” This has to do with the reactions we have that come subconsciously. He gives an example of a woman who as a child heard of a plane crashing and killing many children, and as a 40 year old she still was terrified to fly. The message she heard when she was very young had held her captive all these years, even though her mind was sensible that the likelihood of crashing was very low. She was in bondage to her fears.
Boyd says this, “The truest and most insightful information in the world won’t change us so long as our moment-by-moment experience of our self and interaction with the world is dictated by our programmed flesh-mind. We’ll simply become a slightly more informed slave to whomever or whatever programmed us” (p.87, 88). Just having the right and correct information isn’t enough to set us free. Just knowing I needed to eat and knowing why I wasn’t eating weren’t sufficient to quiet the voices and release me to eat.
Here’s what Boyd says we can do with those autopilot programs and the condemnations we lay on ourselves because of them: bring them to Christ. “Well, of course” you say, as did I, but here’s the catch for me: I somehow thought I had to clean them up, fix them, before I brought them to Christ. I thought I had to take them captive (and make them my slave) before I could bring them to Him. My Parent was sure I needed to stop feeling (Child) what I was feeling; that I needed to eradicate from my mind and heart the fear I felt before I was acceptable to God. Fear, in my understanding, was proof I wasn’t trusting God.
What Boyd reminded me of was this: moment-by-moment, as in right now, God loves me. His love for me is full, overflowing, abundant, pure, and free. His love is not conditioned on my acceptability level, or level of “rightness,” or lack of fear. What I saw in Boyd’s book was the encouragement I needed to bring my mental and emotional “garbage” or “baggage” as it is, without judgment, to Christ; and at the same time sit in the present understanding of His great love for me. As I sit there, I can look on at my “garbage” and simply observe it.
There, in that posture, I can listen to my Father’s voice. His voice can speak to my Adult ears and I can hear His truth about me. His love quiets the other voices in my head and heart. The Parent condemnatory voice is silenced by the Judge whose love covers all sin, and the Child fearful voice is quieted, comforted, reassured and soothed by His loving presence.
For eating to resume in my life I had to experience being loved. The voices in me had to be quieted and love came to meet my needs. And so I ate. Freely. Without condemnation or fear.
And this principle is permeating my life. All around. I hear myself “should-ing” all over the place. I feel myself fearing or craving all over the place. And now I know the voice I really want to hear; the voice that speaks Truth to me. I know my Shepherd’s voice. I recognize it amid all the other voices around me. It is love. His voice is Love.
And moment-by-moment, for that’s all we really have anyway, I hope to remember my Father’s love for me. And moment-by-moment find the freedom from slavery His love gives.
“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather the Spirit you received brought about your adoptions to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba Father’” Rom. 8:15.
“We are destroying every speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” II Cor. 10:5. (Oh, look at that… not to make it my slave, but to the obedience of Christ!)
“Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares for you” I Pet. 5:7. (That’s present tense!)
Sarah has worked in Christian publishing since 2005 as both and editor and an agent.
Currently, she works with her husband, David, in their agency, the Van Diest Literary Agency. Writing is a growing passion for her as she hopes to bring hope to hurting hearts.