'What thing shall I liken to thee, O daughter of Jerusalem? what shall I equal to thee, that I may comfort thee, O virgin daughter of Zion? For thy wound is great as the sea: who can heal thee?
Thy prophets have seen vain and foolish things for thee: and they have not discovered thine iniquity, to turn back thy captivity; But have seen for thee false burdens and causes of banishment.' (Lam. 2.13-4)
A brave young woman's testimony of recovery
To read the Ana Belles Blog you'd wonder if anorexia was a religious cult, and a dangerous and extreme one at that, even if some of the sentiments are written satirically, and I am not convinced they are.
There are suggested creeds, which cannily characterise the disorder.
The Ana Beliefs...
I believe in Control, the only force mighty enough to bring order to the chaos that is my world.
I believe that I am the most vile, worthless, and useless person ever to have existed on this planet, and that I must dedicate everything I have to correcting this.
I believe that other people who tell me differently must be idiots. If they could see how I really am, then they would hate me almost as much as I do.
I believe in oughts, musts, and shoulds as unbreakable laws to determine my daily behavior.
I believe in perfection and strive to attain it.
I believe in salvation through trying a bit harder than I did yesterday.
I believe in calorie counters as the inspired word of God, and memorize them accordingly.
I believe in bathroom scales as an indicator of my daily successes and failures.
I believe in a wholly black and white world, the losing of weight, recrimination for sins, the abnegation of the body and a life ever fasting
Ana Creed: Thin is beauty; therefore I must be thin, and remain thin, If I wish to be loved. Food is my ultimate enemy. I may look, and I may smell, but I may not touch!
I must think about food every second of every minute of every hour of every day... and ways to avoid eating it.
I must weigh myself, first thing, every morning, and keep that number in mind throughout the remainder of that day. Should that number be greater than it was the day before, I must fast that entire day.
I shall not be tempted by the enemy (food), and I shall not give into temptation should it arise. Should I be in such a weakened state and I should cave, I will feel guilty and punish myself accordingly, for I have failed her.
I will be thin, at all costs. It is the most important thing; nothing else matters.
I will devote myself to Ana. She will be with me where ever I go, keeping me in line. No one else matters; she is the only one who cares about me and who understands me. I will honor Her and make Her proud.
1.) Never admit you are skinny enough
2.) Binges should only occur at a maximum of once every six weeks and must be kept private, if you expect perfection. Purging and excessive exercise MUST follow otherwise, thou art a failure.
3.) Never let your stomach growl. You can control it.
4.) 10 glasses of water a day, 10 sticks of gum, 10 diet sodas, and 10 cups of black coffee must be consumed on a regular basis for your perfect body's essential needs.
5.) Wrist bones are infatuation. Ribs are sexy. Collar bones are beautiful. Hip bones are love. Back bones are submission, but the two bones that connect ankle to your foot, those are perfection.
6.) Flat stomachs are banned. concaved stomachs are the only kind acceptable.
7.) You shall fast at least 5-7 days from every month. and exercise 7 days a week, at least 2 hours each time.
8.) You shall weigh yourself at least three times a day and hate yourself no matter what the number it is.
9.) Never give up on what you want most. Ana loves you only if you're thin.
10.) Recovery is a sin, but sins are forgiven. Remember obesity is a crime and crimes are on your permanent record FOREVER
...there is even a parody psalm...
Strict is my diet. I must not want. It maketh me lie down at night hungry. It leadeth me past the confectioners. It trieth my willpower. It leadeth me in the paths of alteration for my body's sake. Yea, though I walk through the aisles of the pastry department, I will buy no sweet rolls for they are fattening. The cakes and the pies, they tempt me. Before me is a table set with green beans and lettuce. I filleth my stomach with liquids. My day's quota runneth over. Surely calorie and weight charts will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the fear of the scales forever.
Nature of the beast within
Given the recorded mortality of Anorexia, of something like 0.5% every year of the disease, and its complex, multifaceted nature, its sufferers need patience, gentleness and wisdom in their care. However not seeing the spiritual side of the disease may seriously disable practitioners from being able to offer solid help and direction, in a bewildering maze and minefield for patients and relatives alike. Are modern materialist blinkers shortchanging our service and more importantly our patients?
The sentiments above are disturbingly familiar, if strangely warped by contemporary trends, to students of church history.
Ascetic practices have a long religious tradition both before and in the churches, some of which have been and remain extremely injurious and in celebrated cases like Catherine of Siena, who died after losing both the strength in both legs and then a stroke following severe fasting at the age of 33 years.
The intense and obsessional desire for perfection, extremely strict self criticism, self punishment, a sense of desertion or betrayal, an altered, sometimes grossly distorted, view of personal body image and an overwhelming striving for control are all well recognised aspects of the disease.
The link between anorexia and the denial or suppression of sexuality, despite the sentiments about beauty in the creeds above, is also well documented, so much so that amenorrhoea is a diagnostic criterion. In this context it's claimed to serve the purpose of 1/ deadening repugnant feelings and desires, 2/ creating some protection by lessening feminine attractiveness, 3/ shifting the mental focus from the emotional devastation of abuse to intense hunger, 4/ neutralising a sense of defilement, and 5/ establishing some control over a sense of chaos. These are all tentative but feasible explanations. A strong mastery of sexual desire, sometimes influenced by past abuse or casual misuse of a sacred and important gift, also clearly can be coloured and shaped by how one views God's attitude to this precious and deep matter, so close to the heart of who we are and indeed Who God is (Gen.1.27, 5.1-3), Whose holy image we still bear.
How then does an understanding of the history of ascetism help our perspective?
The Apostles foresaw many harmful and dangerous trends entering the churches.
John the Beloved wrote, 'Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.' 1 Jn.4.1
Paul warns, of very specific tendencies, which were later to bear fruit in Romanism and other ascetic branches.
'Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;
Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.
For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:' 1 Tim.4.1-4
The principal early ascetic heresy was Gnosticism.
Gnosticism is characterised by dualism, the view that the material is either evil or degenerate and that the spiritual alone is pure. It divided creation into two parts, spiritual and material, and the Creator into two separate and somewhat antagonistic Beings, the Creator of the higher spiritual plane and the Demiurge, fashioner of the visible and earthly.
Much of our information on Gnosticism comes from the Apostle John's spiritual 'grandson', a disciple of his disciple, the dear martyr Polycarp, his name was Irenaeus. He wrote 5 volumes describing and refuting the maze of errors and poisons generated by Gnosticism. The Christian Institute has produced a useful brief introduction to this tsunami of neo-Gnosticism, local copy here.
Gnosticism tended to produce two equal but opposite tendencies, an extreme neglect of the body in hedonism or an extreme mastery and denial of the physical in ascetism. Both streams are all too evident today.
The Christian Institute's focus has been on transgender ideology, and it is easy to see how gender can be regarded as a mere construct, if the physical and spiritual aspects of our beings are divorced.
However Anorexia too, contains elements of extreme denial, and perhaps its increasing prevalence is in no small part due to the rise of the failure of pure materialism, a hankering after misguided spirituality, and the application of the most wounding and dangerous applications.
Twenty two measures of cordial for a wounded spirit (but all are rooted and encompassed in the first)
1. Consider carefully that the Lord Jesus was anointed first of all to heal the broken hearted.
When Isaiah predicted His coming and the first reading Jesus chose as he stood in the synagogue in Nazareth, His first task in declaring glad tidings, is to bandage and bind up the crushed in heart.
'The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound' (Isaiah 61.1).
Is this One Who has no knowledge of the deplorable darkness and misery of our condition? Yet another naive adviser who thinks the screaming problems within are easily solved with a supericial sticking plaster, a trivial, useless remedy, another set of mental tricks or palliative thought manipulations? Is this yet more spiritual anaesthesia?
No, this is the Saviour, Who knew what was in man, Who knew the evil depths and malicious intents of those who hated Him, even before they opened their mouths.
He weighs our tears and groans. He knows what has happened in all the full dimensions of its ugliness. He surveys with a glance the desperate wreckage of our condition.
He Who is joined to Divine Power to bless, to bind up and to heal the broken. He is God's Word in flesh, He knows how to console, how to comfort, how to enlighten. His words will not be easy, but they are efficacious and full of insight.
Come to Him, listen to His voice, ask for His Spirit. He is the wounded Healer of our despair. Don't be shy or withdraw. He alone knows how to help. He has proved it countless times by bringing light and help into hopeless situations.
2. The Divine Word and the Holy Spirit are given for spiritual and mental healing
'The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes' (Psalm 19.7-8 KJV modified).
'For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind' (2 Timothy 1.7)
3. What is my being but for Thee?
All we are and all we do belongs to our benevolent Maker. He is the author of all our pleasures and delights, He alone is our supreme Master. In our eating and drinking, our first priority should be to please and glorify Him and Him alone with joy.
'Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.' 1 Cor.10.31
Abuse or neglect is theft and not virtue, it profanes His Name, it vandalises His image in us, it is itself an offence to His patience and kindness, for which we need pardon.
4. Matter is not evil
God created all things good. Seven times the refrain is repeated, the crowning chorus is, after man and woman are formed, perfect in His image, 'Behold, it was very good'.
'O LORD, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.' Ps.104.24
Job the oldest book in the Bible, describes the exultation of the highest spiritual beings in God's early creation, 'When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?' Job.38.7
The youngest and latest book concurs,
'The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created." Rev.4.10-11
5. Food is not evil
Again and again, the scripture declares that ordinary gifts like light, food, air and water, are God's special graces.
'For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness' Ps.107.9
'Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it: thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, which is full of water: thou preparest them corn, when thou hast so provided for it. Thou waterest the ridges thereof abundantly: thou settlest the furrows thereof: thou makest it soft with showers: thou blessest the springing thereof. Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness.' Ps.65.9-11
'For how great is his goodness, and how great is his beauty! corn shall make the young men cheerful, and new wine the maids.' Zech.9.17
The Apostles are explicit in describing food as a holy and good gift, provided it is received with thanks.
'For every creature (creation) of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.' 1 Tim.4.4-5
6. The vital role of gratitude to God
One simple but important step, is to acknowledge and to keep God's goodness often in mind, especially when eating or drinking.
The Gnostics and others sought higher planes by self will, 'Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods', but 'God hath created [these] to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.' 1 Tim.4.3
'For every creation of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:
For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.' 1 Tim.4.4
No generation has been so blessed with abundance as our own, our grandparents marvel at our supermarket abundance, the wealth of our gifts and our opportunities for work, travel and study. Yet there is a dreadful famine of remembrance and gratitude, and this famine is far worse than all the others that have preceded it. 1 Tim.3.1-2. It is a plague worse than the Black Death, Ebola or Cholera to be cut off from eternal life and communion with our Creator through mindless neglect.
Let us not be like the 9 lepers who received a great blessing, but neglected to thank its source. Luke 17.11-19. Be like the one Samaritan who bowed on his knees and worshipped the Lord for restoring to him his liberty and his life. Be thankful even for the small mercies, for even these we are not at all worthy of, Gen.32.10 , but He delights to make them abound. A thankful heart is a precious gift, Acts 16.14, then nurture and cherish it.
7. The body of a believer is the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
In Jeremiah's time the Holy Temple was defiled and trashed. Israel's pride and glory became her disgrace.
The psalmists write:
'They have cast fire into thy sanctuary, they have defiled by casting down the dwelling place of thy name to the ground' (Ps.74.7)
'O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance; thy holy temple have they defiled; they have laid Jerusalem on heaps' (Ps.79.1)
After 70 years of painful exile, when it was rebuilt, it felt to many that it was a shadow of its former self, whilst some rejoiced, many others wept openly for sorrow and disgrace (Ezra.3.12).
Haggai the prophet said at the time,
'Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?' (Hag.2.3)
Yet he also had a promise, because something far more glorious would happen in the second Temple than ever happened in the first.
The King Himself would come there, sit and teach and rule.
'The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts.' (Hag.2.9)
Jesus' own body though brutally beaten, bruised and abused became the Third Temple.
'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' (Jn.2.19)
By His death and offering, He cleanses and purges the whole being of those who come to Him for mercy, even our bodies, and claims them for His own.
'What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s'
8. God's dealings with us are based on undeserved grace alone to exclude all boasting
To exclude all human glory in His dealings with us, God saves by His free grace. Our merit is both utterly unworthy and of little weight.
All our works are vanity and lightness in the strictest scale of His justice.
'For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Not of works, lest any man should boast.' Eph.2.9-10
Like so many false religions, a striving after merit to gain acceptance will utterly fail.
God receives us and deals with us on the freely given merit and favour only of His Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus, who alone is fit and worthy to plead our case before His Father.
So He is fully able to justify the ungodly, transform the most ugly and unworthy spirit, and take beggars like us from the dunghill to sit with Him, among the princes.
How else could He save Magdalene, Zachaeus, Levi, Saul and others?
What hope had they in their own righteousness - they were filthy rags!
Come and glorify His mercy, come and taste His real power.
Unrepentant and unbelieving sinners, who think themselves fit are excluded, as Mary and Hannah sang, the hungry he fills with good things and sends the rich away.
9. No human works can bring us favour with God
Our noblest and most righteous works are like filthy rags (literally a menstruous cloth) (Isa 64.6), even the best things we do in God's sight are still stained with selfish and impure motives. As the hymn writer beautifully puts it:
Not the labours of my hands
Can fulfil Thy law's demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone:
Thou must save and Thou alone.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.
10. The Lord Jesus alone is fit and capable of bearing our well deserved punishment
'He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.' Isaiah 53.3-6, 700 years before His birth.
Sometimes we imagine we need to punish ourselves for our own faults, or the faults of the others, but we must not despise God's patience or His kindness, expressed freely in His wonderful Son, the Lord Jesus. Nor should we attempt to thieve the glory of His unique prerogative. Why is He first of all called not the King or the Priest or even the Lord, but the Lamb of God?
The Saviour first of all came to taste our griefs more deeply and more intensely than we realise, He bore on the cross the indignation and vengeance of Justice for us, if we turn to Him. We cannot share this burden without being utterly crushed and destroyed. Atonement is His and His alone to work out, noone else has any similar authority to pardon and cleanse our sin.
However gently and friendlily, He calls us to follow Him, trust Him and forsake this crooked and foolish generation's side.
14. Pride can take many guises and deprives us of the best blessings of all
Secret pride and elitism, self pity and excessive self reference may be a common problem in anorexia, according to its sufferers, as the creeds and commandments above reveal. Humility is a great treasure and a key to the undeserved grace and kindness of God. Don't deprive yourself of the riches of His close communion for a bowlful of intoxicating but poisonous pottage.
'For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.' Isa 57.15
'Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time' 1 Pet. 5.6
15. The right use of our sexuality reflects His glory
The sacred gift of sexual intercourse within matrimony is one of His holiest and highest gifts, 1 Tim.4.3, with the high privilege and calling of child rearing that ensues, according to His wise calling and His dispensing. 'Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.' Heb.13.4
Abuse often leaves deep wounds, even where the victim has had no recourse to refusal, sometimes because of a misplaced guilt at a sense of participation or even pleasure. The Lord will fully judge the real perpetrator, unless real repentance and a ransom is found in Christ. Sadly, what deep harm has been done to our young generation, by the neglect of old counsels. Though He is well able and practised in healing these wounds, to cleanse the spirits and bind up the broken hearts that ensue from breaking down the old landmarks.
16. Spiritual sins of the kind that abound in ascetic practies are often the most poisonous.
Perhaps it appears that denying fleshly desires opens up spiritual purity and a superiority over the trough feeders around us. However the most lethal and dangerous sins of all are not carnal but spiritual, their 'purity' and freedom from or steely resistance to fleshly appetites desire is no hindrance to them being the instruments of the most Satanic impulses of all. Self preoccupation, self pity, self exaltation are all vile traits in the eyes of God, are diametrically opposite to Christ's life and work and need repentance, as much as if not even more than gluttony or self indulgence.
'Thou hast said, I am a God, I sit in the seat of God, in the midst of the seas; yet thou art a man, and not God, though thou set thine heart as the heart of God:'
'Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee.' Ezek.28.2b,17
The proud Pharisee who fasted twice a week, prayed with himself, he was ignored, whilst the penitent sinner was justified for his justifying God's mercy. Luke.18.10-14.
17. Choose a form of self-denial aimed at the benefit of others, rather than one that may be deeply misguided or selfish
King Saul ordered a fast to commend his zeal.
It was useless, weakened Israel during its battle with her enemies, and nearly resulted in the death of his own son, Jonathan. (1 Samuel 14.24-52)
The priests in Zecharaiah's time thought their fasts displayed their spirituality. The prophet reproves them firmly for a selfish pretence. 'Did ye at all fast unto me, even to me? And when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did not ye eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves?'(Zech.7.1-6)
In Isaiah's day, in chapter 58 the prophet challenges the people to practise a fast that resulted in blessing, not selfish self abnegation, for selfish ends.
Special promises and blessings follow:
'Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward.
Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity.' (Isa.58.5-9)
Many more rich promises of blessing continue later in the passage, when self denial is aimed at God's service and pleasure rather than our own.
18. Self will too can be a dangerous idol
As with all forms of idolatry, the theft of God's glory is repaid with a theft of ours. Read Ps.115 for the full outworking of this, but the summary is found in this, 'They that make them [deaf, blind, dead idols] are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.' Much asceticism is founded in worship of the will, one word in the Greek NT, ethel-threskeia, will-worship, the idol of absolute resolve which robs its worshippers.
For real disciples of Christ, it is a foolish snare,
'Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,
(Touch not; taste not; handle not;
Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?
Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.' Colossians 2.20-23
As one writer rightly observes, one of the dangerous ironies of anorexia, is that a strong pursuit of control often leads to tremendous loss of personal control and of so much else beside. One testimony on this site rings all too true, 'While I was trying to control my food and exercise, I was totally losing control. In fact, I almost lost my life.'
As with the gods of Egypt, God brought 10 terrible plagues to bring each one of them low, so that even non Jewish Jethro could say, 'I know that the LORD is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them.' Will He not glory over the idol Ana too?
19. Praying for and serving others in great distress is a potent antidote to self-pity
It may be difficult to concentrate for long, but small things often make a real difference. Pray for and show simple help those in pain and distress around you. It is more blessed to give than to receive. Even if one only has a little spare thought or energy, two fish and five loaves can be greatly blessed and multiplied to make an eternal monument of God's work in other people's lives.
20. Exercise the other senses to exult in God's excellent sensory gifts
Gifts of musical enjoyment, artistic skills and strong scents and smells are all simple and practical ways of enjoying and appreciating His goodness directly. Find something your friend or loved one cherishes to awaken the senses and rekindle a love for the created material realm. Each of these is greatly enhanced and sharpened by exercising gratitude. He is the Father of every good and perfect gift! What are our lives, according to the Westminster Catechism, if not to glorify and enjoy Him forever?
All of this helps indirectly a little loosen the deadening grip of a dualistic antagonism to the despising of food.
'The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken: lo, they have rejected the word of the LORD; and what wisdom is in them?' (Jeremiah 8.9)
22. Remember your Creator in the days of your youth
Love the Lord, follow Him, take His Word to heart, then you will find in truth how full and rich His best and highest pleasures are, how strong the fountain of His life is. Take Him as your exceeding great reward, your only needed portion. For in His light we shall see light. He is the end of our being and our supreme pleasure, Whose love is incomparable with all other loves.
'They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures.' Ps.36.8
The chiefest of all being our communion and delight in Him.
'Thy love is better than wine' Song.1.2b
'Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty: they shall behold the land that is very far off.' Isa.33.17
Comments or criticisms welcome at charles underscore soper at hotmail dot com