The Thorn in My Side

I was pretty stoked: God had given me an out! I had discovered the Bible verse that indicated anorexia was something I could struggle with my whole life.

Now, that sounds discouraging, but then, as someone who had fought the battle with anorexia for over a decade and continued to lose, it seemed like a welcome release. Perhaps I didn’t need to fight so hard, maybe this was something God had given me; my personal struggle. Maybe God wasn’t going to heal me or rescue me, maybe I could quit hoping and waiting and trying because this was just “my thing”.

Second Corinthians 12:6-10 says, “Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

See, I thought, even Paul had something that he struggled with his whole life.

But as I prayed about this and tried to find the peace that proved I had found the solution to my struggle, it wasn’t there.

Paul’s thorn served a specific purpose. In the preceding verses, Paul says that the thorn was given to him to keep him from boasting in himself; it was not a random affliction such that “everyone has one”.

Paul had become an untimely apostle, having seen the risen Jesus after his ascension. After that, with many visions, his extensive schooling in The Law, his dual citizenship and rightful authority and notoriety as an evangelist, Paul had good reason to be proud. God gave him this “thorn” as a reminder that he was not self-sufficient and perhaps even as a physically humiliating attribute that kept others from idolizing him.

My eating disorder can never be compared to Paul’s thorn in the flesh. First, the Bible says that God tempts no one. I believe that my anorexic behaviors were evidence of idolatry—worshipping myself. God frequently commands us to have no god besides Him. He will not “give” me an idol.

Second, Paul closes this passage by saying that he rejoices in his weakness so that the power of Christ might rest on him. To resign myself to an eating disorder as simply “my thorn” does not express the power of Christ and honor Him as the supreme one and only God, as The Redeemer.

Indeed, my eating disorder kept me on my knees before Jesus, more aware daily of how much I need Him. However, His power is made evident in my surrender to Him, not in my resignation to anorexia.

This article was first published at FINDINGbalance.com

The Universal Battle Plan for Anything You’re Facing

What’s your battle?

I’m the first one to admit I’ve fought the same battles over and over–be they marriage struggles, remnants of eating disordered habits and behaviors, jealousy of others, bitterness, boredom in my walk with the Lord … simple frustration. These aren’t characteristics that describe a thriving believer in the one true God–one who has firmly grasped the Gospel and is influenced by nothing more than the Gospel.

So this morning, after a perfect Thanksgiving holiday with family, I sat back down before the Lord for my usual morning quiet time–the sanity of routine returned. But the luster was gone.

I got the best kind of answer. Guess what? I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m simply doing when I should be waiting, listening, leaning …

Walk with me through Jehoshaphat’s problems. He was facing the ancient enemies of Israel. The Moabites and Ammonites were chronic irritations for the Israelites–generational plagues. It might have been tempting to look back and see what he’d done before to hold them at bay. Or, to muster all the armies of Israel in “the name of the Lord” and go out to do battle against this horde of evil. After all, doesn’t God want us to valiantly resist at all times?

That would have been a safe assumption–I think: I’ve got a nation here to protect, a nation called by the name of the Lord! Surely, God would have me take up arms and do diligent battle!

Instead, Jehoshaphat was admittedly afraid. The Bible makes no effort to hide this “weakness”. And, “he set his face to seek the Lord.”

Jehoshaphat’s next words are stunning:

“Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. Our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying,  ‘If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.’

“But now here are men from Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, whose territory you would not allow Israel to invade when they came from Egypt; so they turned away from them and did not destroy them. See how they are repaying us by coming to drive us out of the possession you gave us as an inheritance. Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” 2 Chronicles 20:6-12

Can you imagine? Have you ever just looked at God and said, “Guess what? I don’t know what to do, so I’m just going to sit right here in front of you, shut up and look at you.”

Rather than have you go look up the battle plans God gave to Jehoshaphat, I’ll outline here what happened next:

  1. God told Jehoshaphat to not be afraid. He told him exactly where the enemy would be, what they would do and that he didn’t need to do a thing: “You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf … “
  2. Jehoshaphat bowed
  3. All Israel fell down and worshipped
  4. The priests stood up and praised loudly
  5. Jehoshaphat stood and commanded everyone to hear and believe the Lord
  6. He told them to give thanks — even before the battle was fought or won

So, I ask again: What’s your battle? How are you fighting? Have you drawn up your battle plans yet? Have you told God that you really need to be involved a bit more?

What would happen if you said: “I don’t know what to do, so I’m just going to sit right here in front of you, shut up and look at you.”?

CS Lewis and Complete Freedom from Anorexia

I hereby designate C.S. Lewis “My Favorite Author”. But then, maybe by simply reading Predatory Lies, you figured that out before I did.

This morning, I got an email called, CS Lewis Daily. Never one to disappoint:

Teachers will tell you that the laziest boy in the class is the one who works hardest in the end. They mean this. If you give two boys, say, a proposition in geometry to do, the one who is prepared to take trouble will try to understand it. The lazy boy will try to learn it by heart because, for the moment, that needs less effort. But six months later, when they are preparing for an exam, that lazy boy is doing hours and hours of miserable drudgery over things the other boy understands, and positively enjoys, in a few minutes. Laziness means more work in the long run. Or look at it this way. In a battle, or in mountain climbing, there is often one thing which it takes a lot of pluck to do; but it is also, in the long run, the safest thing to do. If you funk it, you will find yourself, hours later, in far worse danger. The cowardly thing is also the most dangerous thing.

It is like that here. The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self—all your wishes and precautions—to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call ‘ourselves’, to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be ‘good’. We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way — centred on money or pleasure or ambition—and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. As He said, a thistle cannot produce figs. If I am a field that contains nothing but grass-seed, I cannot produce wheat. Cutting the grass may keep it short: but I shall still produce grass and no wheat. If I want to produce wheat, the change must go deeper than the surface. I must be ploughed up and re-sown.

When I was fighting for freedom from my eating disorder, I ran up against this conundrum.

Could I not retain “myself” or the habits I had established that afforded me some imaginary modicum of control?

Could I give up counting calories but continue obsessively exercising?

What if I was willing to get treatment, as long as I could weigh myself everyday?

Could I continue to pursue the self-centered desires of my heart and keep personal “happiness” as the great goal of my life and at the same time surrender my will, my life, my eternal salvation to a God that I claim to love and trust?

And this is what I found: Just like cutting the grass can keep it short, but will not produce real, nutritious wheat; managing aspects of my eating disorder might keep me alive but would never result in freedom.

To mature and blossom in freedom, I must necessarily uproot the  grass and allow Christ to remake me–to make all things new. The change must be complete, a destruction of the old to allow the new to take root and flourish.

Fragile Behind The Able

I wield this life of bone and marrow

Fending off foe and sorrow.

I plunge the sword of tongue and fist

Into threats and fears.

I galvanize my feet to tread on staunchly.

Painless – I insist.

I’m cloaked in mail, firm, steadfast

I ride the wind and waves of fate

With resolute bearing.

But one brutal clash and this life breaks,

Shatters in my hands.

Pierces soft palms with shards of hope, handle, poise.

Gory this, this mess of me.

Till stumbling blind and wounded

You pluck me up.

You hang the fragments of armor aside.

And gaze at my broken spirit.

There palms matched flat, your breath to mine

Pressed too close, I can’t escape.

Though weakness binds me, too.

Beneath the weight of all your love

I suck in life-breath once again.

You offer no recovered mail, or weapons made of earth.

But humble now, so vulnerable

I rise to stand in shadow

Fragile behind The Able.