Christmas was coming soon .
Preparing for the holiday’s festivities meant gift buying and giving, baking and decorating, being inspired by projects seen on Pinterest, and subsequently being embarrassed by the outcome of attempted projects discovered on Pinterest. My mind was filled with little girls wearing velvet dresses adorned with plaid taffeta and satin bows, handcrafting ornaments, and singing songs with childlike wonder about the sweet baby Jesus, lying in a manger.
In the midst of such merry happenings, I found myself, the mother of four young daughters, performing daring feats of hairstyling acrobatics wedged in our undersized upstairs bathroom, surrounded by beadboard and peeling paint. It was the night of the annual Christmas play. As most parents can testify, conversations in such situations can be amusing, they can be informative, they can be entertaining, and if extended long enough, they can lead to episodes of pent-up sibling violence.
“Mommy, I love you more than the sunset and the sunrise,” said my youngest daughter, Rose, as she attempted to hold my hand, which at that particular moment, brandished a blazing hot curling iron. “I love you more than a big heart in the sky. A big heart that is sparkling.” She paused for dramatic effect. “I love you more than all the penguins in the world.”
Her three older sisters burst out in peals of laughter. Rose’s brown eyes narrowed in moral outrage, the tender sentiment expressed not two minutes before instantly forgotten. The barrette she was clutching was about to become weaponized.
I quickly tried to steer the conversation in a different direction. “So, what part are you playing this year?”
“I’m an angel,” Rose said angelically.
“Weren’t you an angel last year, too?” Violet inquired with the air of one in a parliamentary debate.
“No,” Rose replied.
“Well, I’m sure you were an angel last year.”
“No—I was a shepherd last year!”
The oldest, Daisy, a ten-year-old fount of factual knowledge, rebuffed. “Girls aren’t shepherds. Besides, I remember you wore the white angel costume last year because we could see your underwear through it. They were pink with white hearts.”
The tension mounted yet again, and Lily, the second oldest, intervened. She excelled in the art of distraction through changing the subject. “Well, I remember that I was Holly in the play last year. But I really wanted to be Noelle, the street-smart orphan with a talent for rapping,” she said.
“Excuse me,” Daisy quipped, “did you really just say ‘with a talent for wrapping’? As in wrapping presents?”
“No. Rapping. Like this.”
She proceeded to perform “Here We Come A-Rapping among the Leaves So Green,” and I began to panic. I was sinking into the realization I had absolutely no memory of that play. My brain was frantically reenacting the events of the past year—I should remember such a thing! I was their mother, after all. I organized and cataloged every moment of their sweet little lives. It was my job, my joy, my greatest pleasure to remember momentous occasions. I searched my memory over and over again, fruitlessly.
What could be the cause of such a glaring short-term memory loss? Had I been in a coma? Had I undergone a lobotomy?
My fingers stopped moving as I searched for these memories.
What were they wearing? What did they sing? Who played the lead? Who was awarded the solos . . . ?
A wave of dawning comprehension hit: I didn’t remember it because I wasn’t there.
In November of 2009, I entered an inpatient treatment facility for women with eating disorders. I would love to be able to say that I went nobly and willingly for the good of my family, but that was not the way it went down. My husband gave me an ultimatum: Either I had to enter treatment, or things were going to be very different. I would no longer be able to live at home and subject my children and family to the tyrannical dysfunction that was my existence with an eating disorder.
I certainly didn’t want to go. I was ashamed that I had let my life come to this. Shame was as natural as breathing. Guilt had ravaged promise, leaving the person I dreamed of being buried under the ash heap of despair. I had been struggling with an eating disorder in one form or another for decades. At that point, it was all I knew. I knew it as assuredly as the sun moves in an unrelenting arc across the sky from east to west. And I was desperately scared of what my life would look like without it.
Yet, deep inside me, there was a longing—a longing deeper than the ache of excruciating hunger—for a life without the constant fear of food. If treatment worked, maybe, just maybe, I could really be free. I wouldn’t have to mark occasions in my life by how much I weighed on that particular day, or if I had been able to make it through the day without eating. I wouldn’t have to retreat to my bed to deal with the physical aftermath of bingeing and purging.
I wouldn’t have to keep telling my beautiful little girls excuses for why I wasn’t eating: that I was just really tired, really sick, really full, really busy. I wouldn’t have to see the disappointment in their eyes when I said I couldn’t attend one of their games or concerts or dance classes because I didn’t feel well. I could be liberated of my reluctance to take them on a picnic at the park because I couldn’t handle being around food. We could go on long walks, bike rides, dance in the rain, play badminton in the backyard, explore unknown paths together, without me feeling like I was going to black out.
The decision to enter inpatient treatment, which would entail me packing up and flying across the country, was truly a last-ditch effort. I had managed to evade the ignominy of “going away” for almost twenty years. But at that point in time, there was truly no other recourse. I could either go through with it, or I would surely lose everything; my children, my family, and I would all become just another sad statistic.
I hung all my hope of recovery and a “normal” life on what I would learn while I was in treatment. Far away, out of sight and out of mind, they could fix me once and for all. After all, places like that existed to fix the unfixable, to warehouse all the dysfunction and human wreckage that assaulted the average person’s way of life. At least, this was how I felt. And sadly, that was where the avalanche of my poor decisions and devastating pain had carried me. There was no plan B. I had tried it all. I decided to go, morbidly consoling myself that if this didn’t work, nothing ever would.
I gathered every ounce of resolve I possessed and kissed my sweet girls good-bye while they slept. The house was deadly quiet, my telltale heart the only sound I could perceive. I felt that if I even whispered, the pounding of my heart would overcome me, and I would not have to strength to do what I was required to do. And so, not daring to breathe, I watched my daughters sleep.
A remarkable and magical transformation occurs in the eyes of a parent when their children fall asleep. As their faces relax and their breathing settles into the familiar rhythm of slumber, it is then a spell is cast. They appear once again as they did when they were very, very small, when their every breath was a wonder to behold, when the miracle of life was plain, etched in the features of a tiny babe asleep in sheltering arms. On the night of my leaving, the softness of their long-ago faces appeared as I watched them sleep.
I kissed them again in the darkness of the early morning, the sky so black it seemed that the stars were hiding their faces. I boarded a plane as the sun rose over a motherless world for my children. As the plane gathered altitude, my determination began to crumble. I felt loneliness and resentment spread through my soul like a disease. I was alone and cast aside. Didn’t everyone realize that I had really been trying to get better? Why couldn’t they see and appreciate all my efforts?
I had tried and tried and tried. And failed and failed and failed. Yes, I was keenly aware of the trying and failing. It was so incredibly hard—food was All-Pervasive. It was everywhere. The inundation of food in our culture is truly unimaginable. How could I ever escape its omnipresent reach? Every moment of our lives is marked by food; we feast our lives away, moment by moment, and food is everything.
Why couldn’t anyone see that?
What they saw instead was an abomination. Some struggles you can wear on the inside and shadows keep them hidden. But to struggle with food? How many times did I hear . . . how many times did I tell myself, “Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?” Didn’t I know that the way I treated my body was displeasing to the Lord? Didn’t I know that I was squandering a life of God-given health? The obvious answer was yes . . . I knew it better than anyone.
However, nothing could compete, nothing could even come close to convincing me that those things were more important than being thin. Thin was all I ever knew. I was thin and thin was me. I couldn’t give up my identity. Didn’t everyone know that if I weren’t remarkably thin, then there was nothing remarkable about me?
I wrestled with those agonizing thoughts while squeezed into the middle seat on the airplane, desperately trying to avoid contact with the passengers on my right and my left. They were immersed in their own doings: watching the movie, reading a book. They were passing time in their own normal lives. How could anyone do anything normal while I was sitting there, my world falling apart? No, I don’t want anything to drink. Please, move your knee; don’t touch me. Don’t look at anyone; don’t make eye contact or your heart might break.
Finally, the moment arrived to disembark the plane. I had previously been informed that someone from the treatment facility would be waiting for me at baggage claim to give me a ride. As I filed off the plane, I comforted myself with the thought that I would at least have a moment to gather my composure between exiting the plane and being picked up by the treatment worker in baggage claim. I needed that moment to come to terms with what was about to happen to me.
I stepped from the gate and entered the terminal, steeling myself to begin the death march from freedom to imprisonment. To my horror, I was face-to-face with a woman holding a sign with my name on it in big, black letters. I felt utterly betrayed. This wasn't supposed to be happening! Inside I was seething with anger, How dare she stand there so insolently? Wasn’t it a criminal offense for her to be here? Where was Homeland Security?
She stood, not ten yards from me, holding my name in her hands. JENNENE EKLUND scrawled in black maker across a flimsy piece of paper.
A wave of shame engulfed me. Rage suddenly gave way to incomprehensible sorrow. I began to sob. She might as well have been holding a sign that said "failure as a mother.”
I was sure that at any moment they were going to attach a scarlet letter to my clothes. I clutched my jacket closer to me and followed her, crying uncontrollably, stricken with grief as we paraded through the terminal. We collected my suitcase and began the hour-long drive to the treatment center. Looking back, I am sure that she was very kind and professional. She attempted to engage me in conversation; but I could never remember what we talked about. I was consumed with sorrow, resentment, and militant fury. I was in deep mourning for all that I had been forced to give up: my children, my marriage, my home, my self-respect, and most importantly of all, my eating disorder. I knew that it was killing me, but I needed it to manage life.
I couldn’t imagine life without the constant presence of hunger.
When I arrived, I realized there had been a monumental mistake. I did not belong in this place, filled with women and girls with feeding tubes. They were all around me, some standing, others sitting around a large round table with food in front of them. Treatment workers were stationed everywhere. The room was covered in dark wood paneling, and the fabric on the furniture was dark brown. Everything was brown. Colorless and oppressively brown. It was a bright sunny day, and I felt like I had just entered a tomb. My stomach revolted. I didn’t want to touch anything.
A woman sitting at the table was struggling to open a package of M&M’S, her frail limbs shaking with the strain of the effort. She finally succeeded, and the colorful contents spilled out all over the table. Gathering them up, she methodically placed them in front of her on a napkin. Under the watchful eye of the treatment worker she began to eat them, one at a time, at the speed of a great land tortoise. The girls around her were encouraging her,
“Great job! Look at you go!”
I watched the scene, looking from one person to another, wondering sardonically if they realized they were treating her as if she were a sideshow at the circus. Come one, come all, and behold the lady who eats a package of M&M’S. The plain ones, not the peanut kind!
May God have mercy on anyone who tries to talk to me like that, my thoughts blistered. A treatment worker led me from that room to another small, clinical-looking one in the back. I was handed a hospital gown to put on. Gritting my teeth, I complied. The nurse performed a battery of tests, utilizing numerous medical devices, including multiple needles. But the most horrifying experience of all was being weighed. She did not allow me to see what the number was. I was convinced, in my much maligned delusion, that the nurse and the treatment workers took great delight in withholding that particular information. They watched me angrily putting my clothes on as though I were a caged animal, a spectacle at the zoo, existing for the delight of those who had the luxury of casually regarding me.
From that moment on, my feelings about being in treatment could be defined in one word: rage. I watched with hatred as a treatment worker searched my belongings, rifling through my suitcase and purse, piling what was unsuitable in the middle of a table on display for all to see. I felt my heart breaking as she unceremoniously deposited four little stuffed animals, tenderly chosen and sent along with me, in the “not allowed” heap.
“People do dangerous things with them. You can’t even begin to imagine what people think to do,” the worker said as I lunged for the only remaining link to my children’s existence. From there, she led me to yet another small, clinical room to be “psychologically evaluated.” Degradation, humiliation, and shame were filling every fiber of my being. What in God's holy name was happening to me? I wrestled with deciding if I should tell them what they wanted to hear or what I was really thinking and feeling.
Reason convinced me that telling them what I thought they wanted to hear could potentially get me out of there sooner.
Throughout the course of my life with an eating disorder, I had certainly been to my share of counseling sessions. I knew that disturbing song and dance. I took great pride in the gift I believed I possessed to manipulate any situation. It was always the same: The therapist would sit across from me with a condescending look on her face, or from time to time, pity. She would force me to relive the past, searching for the deep-seated, dark secret, the reason I had so many unfortunate tendencies. It was always a pointless endeavor. I already knew what my problem was: I weighed too much. If she would just leave me alone, I could lose those five more nagging pounds that were the elusive key to my happiness.
When this evaluation was completed, the treatment worker released me back into the large, wood-paneled tomb. I surveyed the filthy couch, searching in vain for a blanket. But blankets, like stuffed animals, were too dangerous for us to be trusted with. Pillows, however, appeared to be innocuous objects and were plentiful. Piling pillows on top of myself like a funeral pyre, I curled up in a ball and sobbed.
I thought I had prepared myself for what it would feel like to be separated from my children. But nothing, nothing, could have prepared me for the violent, visceral reaction I experienced as the reality of the separation assaulted me. I felt as if I couldn’t breathe. God had truly forsaken me. I had begged countless times for God to take this eating disorder away from me, even going so far as to swallow my pride on one occasion and ask a group of church elders to lay hands on me and pray.
God could remove it instantly; I knew He could. So why didn’t He reach down and rescue me? I had inflicted so much physical damage on my body. Why did He not heal me? I had petitioned and pleaded so many times before. As I lay on that couch wallowing in my wretchedness, I cried out in desperation one last time.
God, have mercy on me! Help me!
I sat up, pillows tumbling. The heavens were silent. The room around me buzzed like static on a radio, with the activity of all of those sick women. And I was one of them. My heart hardened to bitter steel, and defiance came over me such as I had never known before. A battle cry stirred in my soul; there was no one, not even God Himself, who could force me to do what I did not want to do. With that attitude in my heart, I readied myself to face the treatment worker who was coming over to my couch to tell me it was time for dinner. Dinner. A showdown, the first of many, was about to start.
Since it was my first meal there, I was given the great privilege of sitting at a table for two, a treatment worker and myself. In retrospect, I can see it as a practice designed to ease the transition of the incoming resident into a new behavioral pattern. A pattern that involved eating. I looked across the table at the worker and our eyes locked. I was on the warpath and she was in my way. I would not let her tell me what to do. I would not let her turn me into an object of pity.
Three other large round tables, filled with women, were within arm’s reach. Being separated yet still surrounded only further reinforced the feeling of being a spectacle on display. I could feel their furtive glances as I sat staring resolutely ahead with the plate of food in front of me—food I was going to have to eat. I couldn’t talk my way out of this one. In a businesslike tone, she told me to take off my jacket because it had pockets in which I could potentially hide food. My hands were to be visible on the table at all times, so that she could make sure I was eating every morsel of food that was on the plate. There was half an hour to eat it all. Or else.
The clock started and the stares coming from the other tables intensified. I could practically hear their brains humming with thoughts. Would she eat? Would she refuse? What will they do if she refuses? That was the one question I needed answered. What would they do if I refused?
I picked up a fork. The fork had been specially engineered to be safe, with blunt tips and edges. I guess they figured I wouldn’t be able to hurt myself with it. Didn’t they know there were so many other ways in which I could hurt myself?
I put the fork in some Jell-O, which appeared to be the least calorie-laden food on the plate. Lifting it to my lips, I ate a tiny, mouse-size bite. It tasted so good. I didn’t often allow myself the luxury of tasting food because hunger was my preferred state of existence. And while I liked being hungry, and was always in a state of hunger, going hungry was by no means an easy feat. That was why it was easier to not eat. Food tasted so intoxicatingly good, and once I started eating, it was agonizingly hard to stop.
I swallowed the Jell-O and put the fork down in a display that announced I was done eating. Through a dazzling display of self-control, I had proven that I had mastered myself, had shown them that I was in control. In defiant irreverence, I felt like I had just shouted my battle cry for all to hear. “Look at me! No one can make me do what I don’t want to do!”
The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.
Henry David Thoreau
Up until the point I entered treatment, the fact that I struggled with an eating disorder was a secret I was determined to take with me to the grave. The hard edge of the constant need for lying had worn down the softness of my conscience. Conscience was a fickle friend, anyway. I couldn’t rely on it as much as I could rely on my eating disorder. Conscience had led me to trust that others could help me, and the repeated destruction of that delusion brought with it immense wreckage. And the cost of repairing all that damage was a price too high to keep paying.
Lying came very easily to me. I had a practiced answer to every pointed question. I was a pastor’s wife, after all. I was not supposed to have problems. I dressed the part, worked in the nursery, taught Sunday school, did whatever was asked of me; for the love of God, I even knew how to play the piano, which was a virtual prerequisite of being the spouse of someone in ministry. If I was struggling, I needed to keep it quiet, keep it a secret.
My actions were measured against this standard: don’t make a fool of yourself, your family, your church. The expression “living in a fishbowl” could be ascribed to my life as a pastor’s wife at that time. People felt as if they knew me and my children because of my husband’s role in the public eye. On the rare occasion I felt safe enough with a person to be able to start to disclose that I was dealing with an issue involving food, their immediate response was usually enough to stop me. These encounters reinforced the belief I held that I would only be met with judgment if I revealed what was really going on.
Only once, at that time, can I remember someone actually attempting to identify with my struggle. I really admired this person. She always seemed to have compassion in her eyes; she was on the prayer team and was a doer of good deeds.
I don’t know what I expected would come of sharing the fact that I had an eating disorder.
I began to confide to her, “I just can’t make myself eat. I get so terrified and overcome with fear that I will become fat if I let myself eat.” I quickly looked down. I didn’t want her to see how much it had cost me to be that vulnerable. This beautiful woman looked at me with genuine love and concern.
“I know what you mean,” she said. “There was one summer in 1987 when I was not able to keep anything down that I was eating. It was awful.”
My heart fell into my stomach. I knew I should have kept it to myself. Her best, most empathy-filled effort to relate to me only served to redraw the boundaries of my isolation. Her response didn’t cause me hurt, and I don’t fault her one bit; she was truly trying to love me. But one thing became more and more clear to me with every passing encounter: my affliction was of a new breed. Drinking, using drugs, even sexual wanderings, were deemed very, very bad, on the list of very, very bad things, and were just cause to be unwelcomed from a church. But they were also known quantities. An eating disorder, however, would elicit a response like this: “What the hell is wrong with you? (Yes, a church person actually said this to me.) Just eat!” Or “Stop making yourself throw up!”
I was a pioneer in a brave, new, dysfunctional world; a world riven by shame and misunderstanding. People at church, even the most well-intentioned, were simply unequipped to deal with me.
The Numbers Tell the Story
According to South Carolina Department of Mental Health, eight out of ten thirteen-year-old girls have reported dieting to control their weight. Eight out ten thirteen-year-old girls think they need to lose weight! These are girls who want to be loved; who want to be seen as beautiful and special; who believe they are not good enough.
In the college age group, 91 percent said that they have already dieted. Over half of teenage girls have used unhealthy behaviors to control their weight. These behaviors include skipping meals, fasting, smoking, vomiting, and taking laxatives (Neumark-Sztainer, 2005). According to the International Journal of Eating Disorders, 13 percent of women over the age of fifty displayed eating disorder symptoms. These include fasting, skipping meals, excessive exercise, laxative abuse, binge eating, and self-induced vomiting. Seventy percent of this age group is actively trying to lose weight and 62 percent felt that their weight and body shape had a negative impact on their life.
These are the statistics. These are the facts. Percentages and numbers tend to reduce things to emotionless, scientific figures. But the truth is, they represent real people. People like your thirteen-year-old daughter who quietly goes to youth group every week. People like your grandmother who sings in the choir. People like your sister who volunteers in the nursery. People like you. People like me.
And these statistics barely scratch the surface of what is going on in the hearts and minds of women and men who are likely to be sitting in the pew on Sunday morning. Many of whom have eating disorders. Or at least a very tortured relationship with food and how they feel about their bodies. Week after week, they sit, suffering in silence. They don’t look the part of a person in pain. No one asks. They never tell.
The vast majority of those who struggle with food don’t look emaciated. Personally, the times I was at a normal weight were the most hellish. I engaged in disordered behaviors, but I wasn’t noticeably thin. I couldn’t even manage looking like I had an eating disorder! If I had asked for help, who would believe me?
“You look fine to me,” they’d say.
Inside I’d cry, I’m not fine! Do you want me to spell it out? Do you require I give you every nauseating detail? Every flashback? Every crippling fear? Every insecurity? Do you want me to brand the word DAMAGED on my flesh so that I can be forever identified as the failure I am?
But that was what people required, it seemed. And I did not want to give it to them. I would rather die than give that to them.
I was not alone. I’ve been in countless confidential support groups, and in my experience, these statistics are a small reflection of the real numbers. People feel that they would rather go to their graves than ever let another human know what they have done. And what has been done to them.
I remember the day a woman, who was closer to my mother’s age than mine, approached me at church. She asked if she could share a secret with me. I prepared myself to hear a scandalous confession. Instead, she whispered, barely able to form coherent words, her voice strangled in shame.
“My son died in a freak accident. I can’t get over it. And now I can’t stop bingeing and purging. He’ll never come back. Never. I hate myself for what I do.” Her features twisted in anguish. “Promise me you will never tell. No one can ever know.”
One of the bravest men I have ever known told me about the first time he worked up the courage to tell someone at his church that he was bulimic. They openly mocked him.
“Are you serious? Only young white girls have eating disorders! What kind of a freak are you?” News of his struggle spread like wildfire thanks to a prayer request chain. “Did you hear about Brian? He needs our prayers.” The reaction he received convinced him that church was the last place on the face of the earth he would find compassion. Let alone help.
And so, the hurting trudge forward in silent pain. No one will ever know that Brian wants someone to reach through the blackness and help him, that Brian was molested when he was a kid, that Brian’s father left, that Brian has hopes and dreams.
The nameless, faceless numbers of the unreported swell, rising in a shameful tide. Its unrelenting waters beat against the doors of the church.
I Want to Remember
Perhaps some churches have someone on staff who is willing or qualified to do some counseling. I know there are many pastors who spend countless hours with hurting parishioners. I have seen the multitude of these people, filing into a pastor’s office, hoping to not be seen by another congregant as they enter the room of unholy disclosure. But more likely than not, someone with a deep hurt is referred to an outside secular resource to get better there. And while motives vary widely, damaged people are sent out to be “fixed” so that they will then be capable of reintegration into the church. There is a disconnect between the church’s professed desire to reach out and their willingness or ability to actually deal with people who need help.
It’s admittedly messy business. And unfortunately we are inundated with a religious culture that has turned “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” into “If we build it, they will come.” Offering real help to someone else might mean they have to confront their own shame and shortcomings . . . and besides that, they just don’t know what to do. The church as a whole is often at a loss to offer practical, “in the trenches” solutions and counsel to those with deep-rooted, significant issues and pain.
If someone is drowning, whether or not they wandered unnecessarily into dangerous waters, is the appropriate response to yell from the shore, “You should have known better!” or “Why don’t you swim back to shore and then I can help you!”?
If one of my children carelessly fell into the water and was being swept away, you had better believe that I would jump headlong into the waters to rescue them at any cost. Jumping in to save someone who is drowning involves getting in over your head. It involves extreme risk. The decision to help, to rescue, to save a drowning life, means swimming out to meet them and by any and all means necessary returning them back to shore.
Many times, the church would rather toss out a life preserver in the general direction of the victim, leaving it up to the sinking soul to grab hold. I had a lot of Bible verses hurled at me in life preserver fashion as I gasped for air and flailed. As I was being pressed down under the overwhelming waters, they threw platitudes at me which usually contained the phrases “Reaping and sowing” and “O ye of little faith” and the previously mentioned “Do you not know your body is a temple?” They flung verses from the holy book of My Own Ridiculous Opinion: “God helps those who help themselves,” “You’ve made your bed, now go lie in it,” and my personal favorite, “Just get over yourself.”
I have had many, many encounters with church people who thought it was their job to determine my fitness for the ministry based upon my weight and too-thin appearance. I have been taken to lunch for the express purpose of letting me know that the way I treated my body was not pleasing to God. My husband has been told, more than once, that he was a failure as a spouse because his wife was hurting so much. They quoted Christ’s words to him, “Physician, heal thyself” (kjv). Any advice that was offered amounted to this: Just believe what Christ had done is enough and move on with your life.
Honestly, I did believe that what Christ did was enough. That was exactly why I felt like such an unmitigated failure. I beat myself up with some of the same questions.
“If I believed that Christ’s death on the cross was my cure, why am I still sick?”
“If by His stripes I am healed, why am I still hurting?”
“If Jesus paid it all, why do I feel so spiritually bankrupt?”
“If Christ came to set the captives free, why am I still living as in bondage?”
“If Jesus rose from the dead in triumphant victory, why am I living in defeat?”
Was the issue with me? Had I gone too far? Had I done too many bad things that I was now beyond the reach of the Cross? Had I so abused the grace of Jesus Christ that I had used up all of my chances? Had God finally had it with me?
For as long as I could remember, shame was a force greater than and as irreversible as gravity. It kept me trapped under the weight of condemnation. It kept me viewing the beautiful, sacred truths of Christ’s love and forgiveness as nothing more than the mile markers of failure on my long, pitiful, scandalous road to death.
Shame is a parasite. It will attach itself to anything if it is given the opportunity. It sucks the life out of grace and twists it into guilt. It preys on things that are wholesome and pure. Anne Rice wrote, “Why does shame and self-loathing become cruelty to the innocent?” It does not matter where the shame and loathing came from or for what reason they developed. They overtake the innocent without mercy and with supreme malice.
In this way, shame overwhelms the little one who thinks she is insufficient because of some careless thing a bully has said. It overwhelms the middle-aged woman who looks in the mirror and convinces herself that because she let herself go, her husband walked out. It overwhelms the young man who feels defeated because a faceless religious person posted something on social media that mocks his struggle. It overwhelms the mother who can’t stop bingeing and purging while her children play in the next room. It overwhelms the young woman who gives herself to men who don’t love her, convinced she is not worthy of love because of how she looks. It overwhelms the grandmother who sings in the church choir, standing at the edge of the group, hoping no one will notice how grotesque she has let herself become. It overwhelms the teenage girl as she tries to starve the life out of the pain of the memory of being abused.
Shame is suffocating. How can one possibly begin to contemplate living a life of purpose and happiness when every breath is a struggle to survive?
There are some moments when I myself am sick and tired of thinking about and telling my own weary, old story of shame. It is not who I am anymore. But then God reminds me that it is not my story anyway; it is His story, and He has entrusted me with it. Corrie ten Boom said, “Every experience God gives us, every person He puts into our lives, is the perfect preparation for a future that only He can see.” And shame was a masterful, brutal preparation for me. Living a life of shame was, to me, a fate worse than death. It was a dementia of the soul that imprisoned me in a perverted truth of what my reality was. I knew that distorted condition well. I pray I never forget it, either.
I need to remember it. When I remember Christ’s bitter suffering, I don’t remember for the sake of the sorrow, but for the sake of what that suffering accomplished: redemption and eternal life. In the same way, I will keep on remembering and sharing my story of shame because right now someone is lost in the shadow of dark disgrace, and it is a dark shadow, indeed. But shadows can only exist where there is light. This means that while we may feel lost in the shadow of death, light is ever present.
So hold on. The light is fast approaching, and when it finally breaks within your soul, you will be filled with hope and with life made all the more brilliant because you have walked through the dark shadows of shame.
Chapter 1: Treatment 17
Chapter 2: Shame 27
Chapter 3: Do You Want to Get Well? 37
Chapter 4: A Different Perspective 47
Chapter 5: The Root of the Problem 59
Chapter 6: The Usurper 73
Chapter 7: Have You Ever Felt the Earth Breathe? 89
Chapter 8: Spiritual Warfare 101
Chapter 9: Preparing to Fight 107
Chapter 10: Question 1—Have I Identified and Declared War against the Enemy? 125
Chapter 11: Question 2—Could I Be Happy if I Never Lost Another Pound or Could Never Alter My Physical Appearance in Any Way? 133
Chapter 12: Question 3—Am I Looking at the Mirror Inside as much as the Mirror Outside? 145
Chapter 13: Question 4—What Am I Doing with Feelings That Are Too Much to Bear? 161
Chapter 14: Question 5—Am I Pursuing a Perfect Body or a Perfected Body? 179
Chapter 15: Question 6—Am I Using Food the Way God Intended? 197
Chapter 16: The Late Usurper 215
Chapter 17: The Beginning 229
Postscript: Through My Husband's Eyes 247
Overthrow copyright © 2017 by Jennene Eklund. All rights reserved.
Published by Lucas Lane
Designed by Nicole Grimes
Edited by Meredith Hinds
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible,® copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible,® Holman CSB,® and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
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Scripture quotations marked KJV are taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version.
Printed in the United States of America
First Edition 2017
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Eklund, Jennene 1976-
Overthrow: How to unseat the false king and live in victory/Jennene Eklund.