By Emma Scrivener
If you’d met me seven years ago, here’s what you’d have seen: a ‘successful’ Christian, newly married to a vicar in training. Leader of a thriving children’s ministry. A talented student with a bright future ahead. Someone who seemed to have it all together.
But there’s one part you might have missed: a young woman gripped by an eating disorder that would nearly take her life.
You wouldn’t have been alone. You see, for a long time I managed to hide my obsession. I threw myself into church activities, missions and teaching. I gave talks about the gospel and wrote glittering essays. On the outside I looked pretty good – a dynamo, burning out ‘for the Lord’. I even believed it myself. But at the heart of my ‘ministry’ beat a commitment to proving – and saving – myself.
So how did I get there – and what has helped to bring me out?
It started when I turned 13. Up until then I’d had an idyllic childhood: I knew who I was and I knew where I belonged. But almost overnight, that started to change. My grandfather died. I moved schools. My body felt out of control: like a tanker, spilling flesh and hormones. In search of answers, I even started going to church.
The God I heard about was real and personal, and I resolved to follow him. But in retrospect, we were never properly introduced. You see, my brand of Christianity had space for ‘God’, but not for Jesus. It talked about sin and rules – but less about grace. It paid lip service to his work on my behalf. But, in practice, it was up to me to prove my own worth.
So that’s what I did. I worked hard and won prizes. I wore the ‘right’ labels. I resolved to be smart and pretty and most of all, ‘good’. But nothing – whether prizes or clothes or friends or money — was ever enough. Instead of finding satisfaction, I was filled with insatiable hungers. I didn’t know what they were called or where to put them. What I did know was this: they were too much.
I was too much – too needy, too intense, too messy, too fat.
So I made a decision. Instead of my desires killing me, I would kill them. I would take charge: of my body and my life. I would squash my hungers and I would fix myself. I would be thin.
In the beginning it was a solution, not a problem. A way of negotiating the world and making it ‘safe’. An idea that became a habit that became an obsession. A jealous god who stripped me of everything I held dear – and yet, my very best friend.
Anorexia. She promised me life, but brought me close to death – not just once, but twice. The first time, I was a teenager and professionals forced me to eat. I put on weight – but though I looked better on the outside, on the inside I felt the same. Ten years later, the old habits started to return. My husband and I were finishing Bible college and I was overwhelmed by the prospect of a new parish and my new role as a vicar’s wife. Unable to cope, I stopped eating. It was a slow but inexorable decline. In the end my hair and nails fell out and I could barely walk. This time however, I was an adult – it seemed that nothing and no one could help.
Then came the phone call. My beloved grandmother had died — but I was too weak to travel to her funeral. That night, faced with the reality of my choices, something in me finally broke. In desperation, I cried out to the God I’d tried to flee: ‘I’ve exhausted my own resources,’ I said. ‘But if you want me, you can have what’s left’.
I had always pictured God as a scary headmaster – slightly disapproving and far away. Someone with rights over my soul – but not my body. Someone who wanted me to perform and keep his rules. This God would surely strike me down or turn me away. But there was no blinding flash of light. No smoke or lightning. Instead, I discovered something far more exciting. As I opened my Bible, I found Jesus.
Instead of the God I thought I knew; in Jesus I met the one who knew me. This Jesus confronted me, not as a tyrant or heavenly taskmaster, but as a gift. He came offering himself. And this truth changed everything. On the cross my badness and my goodness were taken away: rendered irrelevant by his sacrifice. Jesus didn’t want apologies, resolutions or assurances that I would do better. He wanted me. Instead of making me perform, he lifted me clean out of the arena. In return, he asked only one question: Would I receive him?
I was the girl who always said ‘No’.
‘No’ to people.
‘No’ to relationships.
‘No’ to marriage and health and family and food.
‘No’ to risk and desire and vulnerability and need.
But as I looked at him – the Saviour who knew me and yet loved me – I said yes.
And that was when my life and recovery began.
Emma Scrivener was born in Belfast, but now lives with her husband in the south east of England. She suffered from life-threatening anorexia as a child and as an adult. She now speaks and writes about her experiences at www.emmascrivener.net. Her book, A New Name is published by IVP on 20.7.12, (ISBN: 9781844745869, 176 pages, £7.99). It can be pre-ordered at the website above