During Sunday's sermon on Jonah 1, I referred to and quoted from a chapter of a Bible study that Brenda Coats and I have been writing to provide some help for people who are fighting eating disorders. This is part of Brenda's story, and like we said about Jonah, this is not the most important element of her life. It's not what defines her. Infinitely more important, she belongs to Christ. Further, she's a wife, a mom, a grandma, mother-in-law, daughter, sister, etc. She's also a church member, a citizen, and fulfills many other roles in the various relationships she has in this world. God is using her in each of these areas, both in spite and because of her sickness.
Here is the entire chapter, along with some study questions at the end, to help you understand the quotation in its context. When we refuse God on his terms, the consequences often have hurtful effects on others. We can choose our sin, but we don't get to choose our consequences. In unique ways, this truth is part of every believer's story. One of these days, we'll make the entire study public, but here you're jumping into it midstream. Hopefully it will be a blessing to some hurting people.
Chapter 4: The Selfishness of Self-Destruction
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. ~I Corinthians 10:31
Any way we look at it, eating disorders are destructive. Not only do they destroy our bodies, but they have the potential to destroy relationships, strain pocketbooks, and take away our ability to serve and care for others. They certainly don’t glorify God - something we are supposed to do even in our eating habits.
Let's first discuss the destruction of our bodies. Any type of eating disorder has great potential to harm us. Anorexia will cause us to become emaciated and malnourished, which can upset our electrolytes and cause heart failure. Binge eating disorder (eating too much, but not purging) can cause severe bloating, and insulin and gallbladder problems. Bulimia can erode teeth enamel, cause kidney failure, and even death. These are just a few health problems that can arise from not caring for our bodies in a way that glorifies God.
Relationships are also at risk. It is difficult for family members and friends to watch us self-destruct, and they can become worried, stressed, and possibly develop health issues of their own. By hurting ourselves, we hurt others. Friends and family may suffer financially if they are responsible for paying our medical bills once we are too ill to go on, or if we are too young to work. If we are responsible for someone's care, our eating disorder will affect them as we will eventually no longer have the strength to meet their needs - partly because we are self-focused, partly because if we continue, we will eventually self-destruct.
I, Brenda, had an eating disorder for ten years before any physical consequences began to manifest. From age 20-30, I hid the disorder, but when my stomach became paralyzed from nerve damage and would no longer accept food, I had some explaining to do - not only to others, but to myself, as I was in denial about the disorder being a problem.
I became ill very quickly, lost 50 pounds in three months, and was bedridden for ten months. Now, fifteen years later, though I’ve repented of my destructive behavior, my diet still only consists of three foods, as my stomach cannot digest a variety. Stomach paralyzation, also called gastroparesis, has lead to malnourishment and has complicated other diseases unrelated to the eating disorder.
At age 30, when gastroparesis struck, my children were ages 11, 10, and 5. We had just moved to a new town and didn't know many people. Because I was so ill, my husband was required to become Mr. Mom for nearly a year while still working a job. We were forced to send the kids to school, rather than homeschool. Medical bills came pouring in, because getting diagnosed with a paralyzed stomach wasn't an easy or quick process. Many doctors were visited. A plethora of tests were run. ER trips became frequent. As a child, I had open heart surgery, so there was much concern about a possible relapse since I was again experiencing heart irregularities. Thankfully, the heart was not the cause of the irregularities. Electrolyte imbalances due to the inability to eat was the cause.
Gastroparesis is well-known for being incurable. So while I am managing it the best I can, I still require IV feedings, regular doctor visits, medications, and possibly a feeding tube in the future. It has complicated other health problems and prevents me from working outside the home even though my children are raised. The point in telling my story is: what we do affects others. What we think does determine our actions. What we believe does determine the course we take in life, and many times, the course others take in life. My eating disorder has affected my children, husband, extended family, friends, and certainly my pocketbook, as getting IV feedings and regular healthcare is pricey.
I have found the grace and mercy of God to be deeper than I ever thought possible through living with a paralyzed stomach, but I ask myself the same questions Paul asks in Romans:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?
I'm thankful for God's grace. But I don't want to live my life as though it will never run dry. Will He always forgive? Yes, all for the asking. Will He always extend grace and mercy as my family and I live with the consequences of self-inflicted harm? I believe His mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:22-23). But that does not give me license to sin. It gives me freedom to obey.
The truths I've discussed thus far are not meant to inflict deeper self-loathing. They are meant to point out the stark reality that self-destruction is selfish. We are not alone in our struggle, and it's normal to have struggles. But we don't want to get comfortable in those struggles, as I did for ten years. We want to be rescued from ourselves - to find the strength to turn from our selfish ways before serious damage and ramifications takes place.
Recovery may feel impossible, because eating disorders are strongholds. They bind us and feel stronger than us. But as we learned in Chapter 1, this is the Enemy lying. The truth is that with God, all things are possible. Even turning away from an eating disorder.
1. Read I Corinthians 6:19-20. What does God have to say about your body? To whom does your body belong? What do you think "bought with a price" means? What does God say to do with our bodies, and why?
2. Read Philippians 2: 3-4. Where eating disorders are concerned, what do you think "count others more significant than yourselves" would look like in a practical sense? How can you look not only to your own interests (take proper care of yourself), but also the interest of others (give proper care to others) in your current struggles? What do you specifically need to change?
3. Philippians 4:13 says "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." You may be feeling like conquering an eating disorder is impossible. Our society tells us if we have an eating disorder, we are victims. The Bible says if we have an eating disorder, we are sinning. We may very well be victims (see Ch .1). But even victims are responsible to respond Biblically to injustice, and the injustices we suffer are not a license to self-destruct.
God’s Word instructs us to appropriately care for ourselves and others, and that we can do so through Christ. Through Him, we are conquerors (Rom. 8:37). If you feel you are unable to overcome sin in your own strength, you are correct. Anyone attempting to conquer sin must have Christ's help. Conquering comes through 1.) recognizing that both help and victory is ours to be had and Christ's to give 2.) humbly praying for that help 3.) realizing the pleasures found in knowing and loving Christ far outweigh any pleasures this world has to offer, and 4.) turning away from destructive behavior to godly habits. That is our path to victory.
4. Remember that progress is always achieved through taking one step at a time. The goal is not to be rid of your eating disorder in the next hour. Don't look too far into the future, or you open yourself up to discouragement. All we know to do now is to set ourselves on the right path, ask for God's help, and take the next right step. So what will that next right step be?
If nothing comes to mind, pray. Review the verses in this study again and ask God and perhaps a Biblical counselor to help you decipher what to do next. He will answer, if you truly want to hear.