Walking towards the light

I remember when the realization first dawned.  It was several years ago…I was on tour with my Bible college Chorale over Spring Break and as a treat, I had inter-library-loaned several fiction books to read over the break.  One of them was Feeling for Bones by Bethany Pierce.  I don’t remember how I first heard of it (maybe Amazon mentioned it in relation to another excellent book from the same publisher, My Hands Came Away Red by Lisa McKay), but I’m very glad I did.  It’s a Christian novel about a girl who struggles with anorexia, a subject not many Christian writers would take on (or even do justice to, in my opinion).  But Bethany Pierce did an amazing job – the book is very raw and very real, something that’s not surprising when you find out that she struggled with an eating disorder as well.

For me, reading Feeling for Bones was very sobering as I could relate to many of the main character’s thoughts and feelings and the realization hit me that I had struggled with anorexia as well.  That may sound silly to a lot of people…that I could deal with something like that and not know it.  But for me, that was because it never progressed to the physical level that it does for most girls.  Though I tried, I never could deprive myself of food…both because my parents would never let me and due to having an incredibly high metabolism in my teen years, I would faint if I went without food for a number of hours.  I had just thought of myself as a health freak in my younger teen years, one who was obsessed about her weight (even though I literally looked like a stick!).  But as I read this book, I realized that during that time in my life (early teens), I had definitely had the mind of an anorexic.

Contrary to what many people think, anorexia (anorexia nervosa) is essentially a mental illness.  The person’s mind distorts their body image from what it truly is.  I would look at my stick-thin body in the mirror and think that I was fat…I was delusional.  But until I read Feeling for Bones, I didn’t realize that was anorexia, I thought I was just concerned about how I looked.  But it was more than just concern.

Granted, putting a label on something doesn’t change it much, but for me it made me realize that the thoughts and mindset that I struggled with then were more than just the average teenage girl’s focus with how she looked.  And it would explain why those same thoughts occasionally would come back to plague me now.

And as I was thinking about this more, I realized eating disorders and other such mental illnesses (such as depression, etc.) have in essence almost become taboo subjects among Christians.  We recognize that Christians can struggle with illnesses like diabetes and cancer, but eating disorders and depression are viewed as ailments that the person brings upon themselves and therefore no “good” Christian should struggle with them.  Granted, each person does have to take the responsibility of taking their thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) and work on renewing and transforming their mind (Romans 12:2).  But doing that doesn’t “fix” those illnesses any more than taking insulin immediately “fixes” diabetes.  It still is a daily struggle and one that Christians shouldn’t be afraid to confront.

A couple months after my realization, I heard a song by Superchic[k], entitled “Courage”.  It also is about a girl who struggles with an eating disorder and the first time I read the words and heard it, I almost cried.  The chorus is very honest:

I need you to know
I’m not through the night
Some days I’m still fighting to walk towards the light
I need you to know
That we’ll be okay
Together we can make it through another day

It was not surprising to find out that that song was also written out of the real-life experience of dealing with anorexia.  It’s real in recognizing that an eating disorder (or any mental illness) is not just something that you “get over”.  It takes a long time…for many people, it’s something that they struggle with for the rest of their lives. “Some days I’m still fighting to walk towards the light.”  And that doesn’t mean that they’re “back-sliding” or sinning because of it…it’s an illness, the same as diabetes.  Christians need to know that…and they need to be willing to step up and walk with their brothers and sisters who are dealing with these things.  The bridge to the song “Courage” says:

You should know you’re not on your own
These secrets are walls that keep us alone
I don’t know when but I know now
Together we’ll make it through somehow
Together we’ll make it through somehow

It has been said that Christians are the only tribe of people who shoot their wounded and that is so true.  Of anyone, why would we leave those who are hurting alone?  Why do we snub them and look down on them because they struggle with something we don’t understand?  Christians make a point to minister to and be with those who are dealing with physical illnesses, why should it be any different for those who are dealing with mental illnesses?

I mentioned earlier that the anorexic thoughts of my teenage years still occasionally plague me now.  It’s true though they don’t control me nearly as much as they used to.  I’ll still have the random day where I look at myself and think I’m fat when I know I’m not…and sometimes those thoughts can keep barraging you even if you know they’re not true. In regards to this, I’m in a much better place than years ago, but having been further away has given me empathy for those who are still “fighting to walk towards the light”.  They need us to walk with them.

originally published at Something Simple


  1. Thank you all for sharing on this topic; it is one close to my heart since there is quite a bit of mental illness across many generations of my (Christian) family. Personally, I’ve struggled with an anxiety disorder since I was 12 (it doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re too oppressed by fear and sickened by dread to leave your house, your room, or your bed, it can cause problems!) and my sister has her own cross to bear in the form of bulimia and bipolar disorder. I won’t go into the details, but Lise’s description of ‘mental hell on earth’ pretty much fits the bill. I am very happy to say that no-one has ever tried to tell us that these problems are somehow our own fault, or a visitation for our wrongs. But there are definitely times when people at church didn’t understand, or couldn’t sympathise, or didn’t even seem to understand that something was wrong. So the more discussion and education of these things among loving, open-hearted Christians the better, in my view!

    For me one of the greatest barriers to getting help was the belief that I imposed on myself, which was that (in the words of Marilla Cuthbert – at least in the Megan Follows version of Anne!) ‘to despair is to turn your back on God.’ It has taken me many years to understand that God is so much greater than my pain, so much more loving than my unhappiness, so much more forgiving than my guiltiness. The God who loved us so much that He sent His only son to die in pain and shame cannot be defeated by faulty wiring in my brain! He can’t hold the vicissitudes of a mortal body and the tricks of a sinful/ diseased mind against me, not when faith in Him outlives all death of faith in myself, not when He holds my hand and looks after me by sending people to help me when I need them most. And while talking about these issues with my sister and mother, and my brothers and sisters in Christ, and ministry workers and God’s other servants can be helpful and consoling, there is a lot to be said for professional help. Yes, therapy. Or a psychologist. Somebody who is trained to understand these problems. I say this because in some Christian circles you might as well tell people you are going to see a tarot reader as to see a psychologist! But when your body is sick, you see a doctor. And when your mind is sick, the same thing applies.

    It can be hard to find a good therapist at the best of times (honestly, I met my best match 13 years after I was first sent to see one by my poor worried parents! and every minute with her was a revelation) but you can definitely find one who is sympathethic to your faith if that is important to you. Or even one who shares it! But who is also educated in the mysteries of the brain, who can share sensible, practical ways of dealing with things, who knows what you are going through and can help you find your feet again. Please, if you ever struggle with these things, learn from my mistakes! Don’t wait until they overwhelm you. Don’t feel that you are betraying your faith, or not fighting the good fight, by asking for help.Getting professional help re-arms you for the struggle!

    For those of you blessed with a sound mind in a sound body, if you see friends, sisters, brothers struggling, talk to them. Several times I have been at breaking point when one of my friends has – I genuinely believe – been sent by God when I needed them most. Through their love I felt His love. And that always strengthened me a little bit more, and steeled my resolve to get help.

    It’s a long road to recovery – perhaps a life-long road. And some days are more challenging than others. But with my sisters around me – with God behind and before and about me – who can be against me?

    Love and God Bless,


  2. Hi Jessica. I came out of lurkdom just to comment on this post. I want to thank you for being honest because this post was one of many nudges that God was giving me and it turns out that I am (becoming was) in the early stages of an eating disorder. Now that I know that something was wrong I am beginning to change and God is renewing my mind.

  3. Thank you, Jessica, for your sensitivity and compassion toward this subject. I’ll admit, I cringed when I started reading your post, as I find that many things written on the subject – although well-meaning – make sweeping generalizations about a deeply complex illness that brings a unique set of challenges to each individual it torments. I totally agree that we need to accept mental illnesses for what they are – a disease – and offer comfort and support for those they inflict.

    That being said, as the sister of a young woman who has battled severe anorexia for many years, I really have a hard time when I hear people self-diagnosing themselves with this illness. I know they don’t mean to, but in a sense they’re trivializing the seriousness of this life-threatening disease. Many, many young women experience disordered eating and have distorted views of their bodies and unhealthy obsessions…but just because they can relate to those symptoms doesn’t make them anorexic. Anorexia runs so much deeper, controlling every aspect of a person’s life. From everything my sister has described to me, it is literally a mental hell on earth – not to mention the havoc it wreaks on your physical body.

    Jessica, I don’t know you and it’s very possible that you did indeed battle the beginnings of anorexia. However, it sounds like you were spared from actually falling into its pit of destruction. The difference between those two experiences is like night and day. You probably already realize all of this, but as you can imagine, it’s a sensitive subject for me, so please forgive me for feeling the need to clarify. Again, thank you for taking the time to write about it and show love and concern for those who suffer.

    1. Hello Lise,

      Thank you so much for your comment and for your candidness…I really appreciate both, especially the latter.

      I’m incredibly sorry if what I wrote in any way trivialized the seriousness of anorexia, that was never my intention at all. I too know people who battle with anorexia (though not my sister…I’m sure that takes it to a whole new level of sensitivity) and realize acutely that the difference between what they deal with constantly and what I dealt with as a teen are, as you said, the difference between night and day. Thankfully, as you mentioned, I was spared actually falling into the destruction that is a result of full-blown anorexia. Perhaps I should have made that clearer in my post, and again, I’m very sorry if by not making more of a point of that, I somehow diminished the seriousness of the “mental hell on earth” that your sister and many other girls battle daily.

      The point of writing what I wrote was not “I struggled with anorexia and it was hard”, but instead that we need to be there for those who deal with that and other mental illnesses. As I’m sure you’re aware of, with what your sister deals with, so many times Christians write off mental illnesses as something the person just needs to deal with, and get over, and move on. Instead I wanted to encourage us to make a point to be there for those people in the same way that we would do so for anyone struggling with any other kind of illness. As this was the main point I was try to communicate, I didn’t spend much time clarifying the major difference between what I dealt with and what someone who struggles with full-blown anorexia deals with. Thank you for taking the time to point out the differences to those who are unaware.

  4. Wow. This came along at just the right time in my life. I am struggling with mental illness, and yesterday was my first appointment to get treatment. I agree that mental illness should not be seen as weakness, and that it should not be hidden any more than a physical illness should be. A dear friend’s brother, who was afflicted with schizophrenia, committed suicide earlier this year…and the stigma surrounding his illness was so painful for him and his family. Christians need to treat people with mental illness like Christ does: with compassion, understanding, and love.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing this! It is so true that we need to be supporting one another especially when it comes to things like this…I never really struggled with anorexia but I did get a taste of how it really is mentally linked when I was super sick for a year and lost 25lbs in 6 months. Even though I knew I was underweight it was a very scary thing gaining some of the weight back that I needed to because I was so afraid all the sudden I would gain it ALL back. To this day I still struggle with that (I was actually worrying about it this morning). It is so important for me to remember to surrender that to that Lord. I am so thankful for such a patient and loving Heavenly Father 🙂

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