Breathing Room

Lord, I need breathing room.

That has been my prayer the last couple weeks. When my therapist breathed those words out and I breathed them in– breathing room– a weight I didn’t even know I carried, lifted.

Breathing room. Space. Leeway. Margin. However you say it, I need it.

I’ve never had breathing room. I’ve lived the last 8 (at least) years in a confined space, a box, a little square drawn in the sand. I’ve lived stuck. Stuck in a tight spot. Claustrophobic but afraid.

Eating disorders, many mental illnesses and compulsive behaviors leave no breathing room. They are the tightest-of-tight boxes and the smallest-of-small spaces. There is no room for anything but the rules, the expectations (of self or others), the behaviors. There is no bending from anorexia to go to a birthday party. There is no pausing over-exercising, self-harm or purging just because there is an opportunity to travel. No. No, because there is no breathing room in any of those situations. There is no room for error, no room for a change in plans. You do not stray from the black line. You do not change plans. You do not change your mind. You simply do not, because there is no room for that.

There is no room, because room, margin, leeway. They all mean mistakes, errors, mess-ups, mishaps — failure. Room to breathe means room to fail. And I have never allowed room to fail. Perfection, yes. Failure, absolutely not I’d rather die.

Perfection leaves no breathing room. Anything outside of the realm of perfection, of the expectations placed upon us, is utter catastrophe, sending the world into a dizzy.

I grew up sticking myself in that little box out of fear, desire to please, perfectionism. No one had to put me there. I didn’t need anyone to draw those black lines of my “allowed square inch.” I did that myself.

Strangely enough, I have always hated tight things, anything that confines me physically. I am seriously claustrophobic, yet I am drawn towards this tight confining life. The life that says when and what you can eat, who you can see, what you can do and say, unwritten rules galore.  Rigid, unrelenting, changeless, unforgiving.

So when I heard those words — breathing room, give yourself breathing room– I thought “Can I? Can I really?” All the confining I had done on purpose. All of the restricting I had inflicted upon myself. All of the rigid rules. I did those things. I inflicted it, enforced it. I gave myself a life of confinement, a life without air, without any room to breathe, to fail.

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I gave myself that kind of life, but now I’m choosing to give myself a life that breathes. I need  to give myself room to have hard or bad days. I need room to get overwhelmed and cry. I need room to be imperfect. Because life is not perfect. My family and friends are not perfect. College will not be perfect. There will be overwhelming, hard, straight up bad days where I just want to throw my hands up in defeat. Without breathing room those days are too much, unrecoverable. Those days are failure and make me want to quit. But, insert some breathing room, stretch that square inch a bit, and that same day can be called good. I can laugh at that day. I can pause, breathe deep and say, “this too is good.”

That extra room means that what would have been failure in my teeny-tiny perfect box can instead be called grace, growth, good. That extra room means release of the pressure to be good enough, an end to the proving and the living up. That extra room means God has room to move. Room to change me, bend and break me, mold and challenge me, love and grow me. In my confining life there was no room for anything “else,” not even God.

As I have thought and prayed over this need for breathing room, God gave me this — You don’t need more breathing room. You already have all the room you need. I gave you all the room you could possibly need on the Cross. Just take it. Use it. 

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(image via Pinterest)

Talk about dumb-struck. Of course I have all the room I need. Jesus gave me all the room in the world to fail and fumble and fall on the cross. He gave me so much room, grace (unmerited, undeserved favor), to mess up that I will never be able to use even half of it. It’s immeasurable the grace He has bestowed upon me. James 4:6 says, “But he gave us more grace.” He didn’t just give grace, He gave more grace and even more on top of that. His grace has no constraints. It is freely given to all. Titus 2:11 says, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” Not just the good or the perfect or the tall or the thin or the pretty or the smart or the talented, but to all. Yet this grace was not given because of something I did. No, this grace is a gift. It’s a gift that God gave in His Son. It’s a gift that cost more than we will ever be able to comprehend. And it’s a gift that we choose to breathe in and live out of daily.

I will leave you with this question — do you need to use more of your gifted breathing room?

What if God isn’t Good?

Okay friends, prepare to have a little look-see into my heart. Bare with me as this post will be long, jumbled and jumpy, but hopefully I can get years of life sorted into a somewhat cohesive post that you can understand. Here goes!

I’ve had this post on my heart and mind for weeks now, pondering and sitting with it, writing about it. I want you to know that I only post real things. Things that have hurt, helped, lifted. Things that I’ve sat with. Things that I’ve wrestled with and cried over. Things that have been important in my growth as a young Christian and a brave girl. From the very beginning, I decided that I would only post when I felt the nudge from God towards a certain subject. I never want to post for the sake of posting and I pray that anything I write on this blog would be real and vulnerable, because I’ve learned (through trial) that vulnerability brings about depth, growth and connection. The act of being real with others immediately links hearts and tells stories (more on this in a later post). All of that being said, this post is going to be a very real (and probably chaotic & rambling) one.

If you’ve read my previous post, then you know I struggle with failure and fear. I have anxiety and the future usually looks like a whole lot of scariness that I can’t do anything about right now. I’ve heard over and over again, “God has a plan for you.” I’ve told myself that very thing to chase away the fears, but there was always more to it. I just didn’t know what.

After a really hard, vulnerable, eye-opening session with my therapist I was left with some baggage to sort through, some thoughts to decipher and bring before the Lord.

After talking about eating disorder stuff, changes and fears in college we stumbled across this very real, raw fear: What if God’s plan isn’t good?

I had no idea that thought was in my mind. It just came. I don’t know where it came from, but there it was.

What if His plan for college, for friendships & dating, for my body & weight & eating are not good plans?  What if I don’t like them?

At the root of the question lies this one overarching question: What if God himself is not good?

Buried, disguised somewhere deep down, this question comes unannounced and I wrestle with it. It’s living and I’m not prepared to handle its writhing alone. It seems wrong, unchristian to think such a thought. Of course God is good! That phrase is repeated every Sunday and I live in and by His goodness daily, yet the what if God is not good remains.

Thankfully, I was not left alone with this question, this fear. My therapist had an answer to my question. The moment the words settled in the room, her voice countered with this. “God is good. There is NO darkness in Him. None.”

God is light [he’s pure, holy & good] there is NO darkness [no evil, sin, failure, or mistakes] in Him (1 John 1:5).

Wow. I sat with that for a minute. I love the imagery of light versus dark. I think it’s beautiful, especially when it makes things click in my head. God is light and light is good. If God is light (and He is) then He can not be darkness, because darkness can’t be where light is. It’s impossible. They’re opposites. They do not, can not coexist.

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Side note: I’ve learned that everything can be traced back to something else. My anxiety can be traced back. My depression can be traced back. Anorexia can be traced back. All of the trails lead back to fear, to lies. This question is no different. I can trace what if God isn’t good back to fear and lies. Even the fear and lies can be traced back. Those trails lead to the father of lies himself.

Satan knows God is good. He has seen first hand how good God is and thus knows how bad he himself is. He knows he stands no chance against the God of all good. He knows that he is going to die. He knows that he is forever separated from all goodness, and is bound and determined to see that you and I face the same fate, an eternity spent separated from the goodness of God. He will stop at nothing. No temptation, no evil, no seedling of fear, and no lie are too despicable for him. Not even a lie about God is below Satan. In fact, I bet he likes planting lies about God the best. He must throw a party down in Hell when we willingly believe the lies he feeds us about God.

Back to the story, so this lie boils down to me being afraid that what God has for me isn’t good. I’m afraid that God wants me to fail again. I’m afraid that what everyone tells me about the “freshman 15” is true and that I’m doomed before I’ve even begun. I’m afraid that the friendships in place will wither when people actually meet me in person. I’m afraid that the future husband I’ve prayed for (and my parents & grandparents have prayed for) is just imaginary. I’m afraid that my weight will be unsteady in college and that my eating will have to change due to the cafeteria scene. I’m afraid of not dancing anymore and having to find my niche in another physical activity

All of these fears receive the same answer, “It’s in Gods hands. He has a plan.” Yes, I know He has a plan….but what if it isn’t good? What if I don’t like it? What if it looks different than my plan?

The truth is, it will look different than my plan. I may not like it at first, but it will still be good. It will always, every single time be good. In fact, it will be better. My plan may look good to my fallen eyes, but His plan is good, because He sees and does through untainted eyes. His eyes see more than my glory, my comfort, my desires.

For some reason, I have this idea that God wants to hurt me, is out to get me or something. It’s silly. I know that is the furthest thing from the truth, but for every “I’m afraid” listed above there is a real fear that God is going to give me those exact things that I’m afraid of. My therapist is slowly getting through to me that God’s plans were not designed to hurt me. He knows that friends are important to me and is not going to leave me without community. He knows that the food thing in college is going to be hard and He doesn’t have a secret master plan to make it even harder or to make my fears come true. Hurting me is never His plan.

God heals. He doesn’t hurt. The hurting happens when I, in a desperate attempt to control, foolishly make my own plans. The hurt happens when I choose darkness over light, choose to live outside of His plan.

As you all know, I like lists. So here is a list to speak over my life (& yours) when the goodness of God seems unbelievable.

  • Everything God is and does is good (Psalm 119:68)
  • God’s goodness lasts forever, it is unchanging (Psalm 107:1)
  • Everything God makes is good, He makes no mistakes (Genesis 1:31)
  • God has goodness saved up for us, not harm (Psalm 31:19)
  • Everything from God is good, even the hard is good so give thanks (1 Timothy 4:4)
  • Every good gift is from God (James 1:17)

“For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless” (Psalm 84:11).

Before I leave, here are a few final thoughts for you if you never feel good enough:

This right here, whatever you’re doing, wherever you are, is good. And good is good enough.

When you let good, not perfect but good, be good enough, you’re living brave.

Shedding layers, digging deeper, separating light from dark, countering lies with truth, asking real though ugly questions, that is good. All of those things are good and God has His hands in all of them. Because He is good. 

Chapter 2: Fat

I’m going to attempt to shed some light on the “fear of fat” that people with eating disorders have. It’s a fear that comes with a lot of questions and stigma. I’d say most people dislike fat and want to avoid it. So when they hear that it’s a symptom of anorexia they think one of two things: “I don’t want to get fat, so I must be afraid of fat. Oh no! I must have an eating disorder” or “No one wants to be fat, but why would anyone actually be afraid of something so silly? Eating disorders are just made up because no one would be stupid enough to be afraid of fat.” Do either of those ring any bells?

The fear of fat that anorexics and bulimics have is so real and so raw and so deep that I’m not sure I can even describe it, but I’ll do my best to bring those who aren’t “in the know” into this very real fear that so many face day in and day out.

Let me begin by making something clear. To most people with anorexia, food equals weight gain, weight gain equals fat, and fat equals ______. That blank is filled in with something that may vary from person to person, but in my case, that blank was filled in with these words: failure, lack of (self) control, worthlessness.

Fat signifies failure, lack of control, and shame. Gaining weight means that one has failed and lost all control over themselves and the world around them. Gaining weight is the ultimate fear because it symbolizes the crashing down of all security, comfort, protection and control.

Let me try to help you understand this insane fear of fat. Imagine your worst fear with me. I mean your absolute worst fear (not a little fear like my fear of cockroaches). It may be swallowing all your teeth in the middle of the night, getting your limbs gnawed off by a shark, or falling off of a cliff into a lake of lava where you burn to smithereens. Do you get my point? It has to be your worst fear that will probably never ever happen. How do you feel when you imagine your worst fear happening to you right now? Terrible, right? How would you react? Now imagine that the threat of that fear happening to you exists every second of every day. The threat of a shark attacking you or your head being blown off exists every day and you can’t get away from it. How does that make you feel?

You’re probably thinking I’m exaggerating, but sadly, I’m not. The fear of becoming fat is the kind of fear that leaves you in tears, hyperventilating, panicking. It’s the full on adrenaline rushing, fight or flight, cold sweat, searching for any sort of escape kind of fear. It’s the kind of fear you feel when watching The Call times a million, except you can’t push pause or close your eyes to make it stop.  The fear it induces is the kind of fear that causes reactions such as lashing out or fleeing the scene.

It’s not that people with eating disorders are dangerous or crazy (although some people like to argue that they are), but if you were being forced to jump off a cliff, wouldn’t you fight against it, lash out, try to flee? YES! That’s exactly how it is for someone who is terrified of gaining weight. Someone making them eat, is equivalent to someone making you jump off a cliff or walk into a den of hungry lions. You’d be insane to do either of those things willingly.

Fat becomes a curse word. Its utterance is not allowed in treatment. The avoidance of it becomes an idol, a reason to live. The gain of it becomes a reason to die, to disappear.

The thought of it, is enough to bring one to tears. I remember being in treatment and seeing the buttered bagel on my plate (the bagel that I HAD to eat) and crying because I simply could not, could not, put it in my mouth. I could not let it touch my lips. I could not let in to my body, for I knew that it would ruin me. I knew that it would leave be worthless and unlovable.

Before you start thinking, “Wow, people with eating disorders are psycho” let’s look at why this fear exists.

The fear of fat or of weight gain has so many factors, many of which are highly biological and linked to ones genetics and psychological makeup, but I don’t want to focus on those today. Instead, I’m going to focus on the fear itself.

The fear of fat is deeply rooted in lies. It’s rooted in lies about ones identity and worth. The intense fear of gaining weight can only take over if your identity and worth are tied up in lies. An identity that is rooted in what the world says will be vulnerable to the fear of gaining weight. If ones worth is found only in earthly things then only earthly things will grow.

Fear is just a lie

Fear is just a lie. The fear of gaining weight stems from the lie that you are unlovable if you gain weight. The fear of fat stems from the lie that you are unworthy of good things if you are fat. The fear of fat stems from the lie that you are a failure if you gain weight. Don’t you see? Fear is just a lie. The fear of fat, the fear of gaining weight and becoming healthy is just a lie. A big old lie that Satan is trying to make you believe. Because, the second you and I believe that lie we are left powerless, which is exactly where Satan wants us.

The very first thing Satan did in the Garden of Eden was deceive Eve. He told her a lie, she believed it and that lie left her powerless, so she ran and hid from God (Genesis 3:3-13).

Jesus says this about Satan in John, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Satan is a liar. He just is, but you, you are not of Satan, you are of Jesus Christ and therefore can have victory over his lies.

We have now covered what the fear of fat looks like for someone with an eating disorder and what this fear really is, a lie. Now we have to ask, what is there to be done about this fear? About this lie?

I wish I had a three-step, fail proof solution, but I don’t. In fact, nobody does. No doctor, no therapist, no dietitian, no psychologist, no one has an easy solution to overcoming the fear of fat that is an ever present lie. That statement should not leave you feeling hopeless. While no MAN has an answer, GOD most certainly does. He has all of the answers and he longs for you and I to tuck in close, breathe deeply and to trust Him with our fears.

Because when we seek the Lord, he answers and delivers us from all of our fears (paraphrased Psalm 34:4).

Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we do not have to fear evil (food, fat, weight gain, failure, loss of control, anything) because He is with us (Psalm 23:4, emphasis added).

When we are overcome by these fears, we need only put our trust in Him. In God whose word we praise — In God we trust and therefore are not afraid. What can mere mortals (what can fat, food or weight) do to us when we have GOD on our side? (Psalm 56:3-4, paraphrased, emphasis added).

This topic is an extensive one. Each sentence could be expanded upon and books could be written, but I hope that you, my reader, have learned a few things from this post.

I hope you’ve learned that:

1. The fear anorexics (and bulimics) have of food, fat, weight gain is so incredibly real.

2. These fears are lies placed deceitfully by the devil to leave Gods children powerless.

3. No fear, no lie is too small or too big for God. He can and will overcome them all as we seek and trust Him…run to Him.