Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Mental Health Series during September, which is National Suicide Prevention Month. Eating disorders are another mental health issue that is highly-prevalent on college campuses, and not just among women. Every story is different, but we hope Britney’s story encourages you in your own battles and as you seek to minister to students who are dealing with eating disorders and other mental health issues.
In case you missed them, here are the articles in the series so far:
- Mental Health is Raging on Our College Campuses – Are We Prepared to Deal With it?
- “Help, I’m suicidal”: How to Respond to Suicidal Ideation
- A Minister’s Experience Finding Help Through Professional Counseling
- 8 Tips for Helping Students with Anxiety
- Loss, Hope, and Healing: My Journey in Recovery from PTSD
- The Gift of Asaph: A Blueprint for Spiritual Crisis
“We need to run some additional blood work,” the doctor said, her face grim. “With how low your weight is, your white blood cell counts could be off…”
Shame washed over me as she continued to recount the many issues that could be wreaking havoc inside my self-induced starved body. How could it have gotten this far? I thought I had this under control. I thought I wasn’t like those girls.
I didn’t dare make eye contact with my mom as we left the doctor’s office. I knew that I wouldn’t find anger on her face, nor condemnation, chiding, or disdain. No, I would only see sadness, confusion, worry, and love. In my shame-filled state, those things were almost worse.
I moved through the motions of eating more normally over the coming months. Maybe the doctor had effectively scared me. I couldn’t bear to put my parents through any more. Or perhaps even my compliance was a prideful attempt to ensure that I didn’t become like “those girls” who ended up in rehab facilities. I could see the lines of worry lessening on my parents’ faces as my weight slowly climbed into a safer range. But I knew nothing had changed inside.
I was lost. I was broken. I was confused. I was numb. I didn’t know if I would ever be free. Hope seemed just beyond grasp. I had been praying about this for the past several years, after all. Asking God to take away this struggle. I had done the “right” things: sharing my downward cascade into an eating disorder from the first moments I suspected it, praying, reading Scripture, all of it.
But here I was. Numbly facing the realization that despite my best efforts, I was losing this battle. I was not in control, not even remotely. I couldn’t just “put on the brakes” whenever I wanted as I had so desperately convinced myself.
A couple months into the numbness, something did change inside. For the first time in my life as a believer since accepting Jesus at a young age, I was angry at God. Fuming, railing, cursing angry at God. He had the power to take this away. His Word promised that His Spirit was transforming me into the likeness of Christ. His gospel spoke of freedom, not bondage. So why did He sit back and do nothing?
In one pivotal moment driving home from school, I threw all of those thoughts at my Beloved God in a forceful thrust. Part of me—a big part of me—wanted to be done with my childhood faith. Where had it gotten me, after all? Questions I had never asked before rushed through me. Is this worth it? Is God worth it? What if I just walk away from it all?
I know that the Holy Spirit touched me in that moment, much like the Lord touched Jacob’s thigh after Jacob wrestled with God all night long, gently beckoning Jacob into submission. I broke down, my anger softened into the raw realization of my need for Him, as I bowed my head over the steering wheel and cried out, “God, I need you too much and I love you too much to let you go.” I belonged to Him; I couldn’t walk away.
That was the turning point for me. Flash forward a year and I stood before my entire school and shared my testimony of God’s deliverance from my eating disorder. I was back at a healthy weight, I was thriving in my walk with God, and the lies which once thundered so loudly in my mind were now little more than whispers that quickly scattered when confronted with God’s truth.
I would be lying if I said that I have never struggled with body image since then, or that Satan hasn’t tried to lure me back into the trap of an eating disorder. But I can say with 100% confidence that God truly did deliver me from the clutches of anorexia nervosa. I’m more than fifteen years removed from that turning point in my life. I’ve gone through four pregnancies (currently on my fifth) with all the body changes that come with them. Never once have I relapsed.
If you know anything about eating disorders, you know that just doesn’t happen. Eating disorders have a very high relapse rate. They are often lifelong battles in the same way that alcoholism is. It took something supernatural, something far greater than human effort, for me to overcome anorexia. My story isn’t a testimony of anything but the power of God at work in my life.
God used several things as part of that process. I want to share them with you with a caveat: they aren’t a formula for your own struggle with an eating disorder or another mental health issue. Please don’t try to use them that way. And please don’t let my story discourage you if you find yourself in the tight grip of a struggle that you can’t seem to overcome. While I believe that hope and freedom are possible for you, and I would love for you to experience a radical and rapid transformation like I did, I can’t promise that your story will look just like my story. But I do hope God uses these to encourage you and to help you look at your struggle through a different lens.
That day in the car was transformational for me because it was a point of surrender. I was faced with a choice: walk away and be king of my own life, or wholly surrender my entire being to Jesus. I had to realize my desperate need for God. I had to face my lack of control over the situation. I had to admit that I was past the point of no return but for God’s intervention. I wanted to believe I was better than every other girl who struggled with an eating disorder—that I had the power over the enemy and my flesh in and of myself. But I didn’t.
It’s true that I confessed my struggle to my parents and a couple close friends shortly after the onset of it. And it’s true that I had been praying about it. But I only shared what I wanted to share, just enough to admit my struggle but not enough to admit how bad it was. I prayed, but not from a place of surrender. I wanted God’s help and I wanted to stay in control at the same time. I was too immature in my faith to realize that those two things are incompatible.
No matter how much I prayed or invited others into my struggle, I could not overcome it until I was flat on my face before God, admitting my total inability to dig myself out of that hole. We can only experience the supernatural power of the Spirit at work in us when we surrender to Him. And we know, deep down, just as I did, that true surrender is total surrender of every aspect of our lives and the deepest places of our hearts. I had stubbornly resisted that surrender for a long time, trying to juggle my walk with Christ with my control of my life, and as a result, I wasn’t experiencing the fullness of life in Christ. I was still living in bondage when Christ had set me free.
Surrender is a terrifying step to take, but it’s the only one that ushers us into the fullness of joy and freedom of life in Christ.
Takeaway: I urge you to take time to go earnestly before God and assess your own state of surrender when it comes to your whole life but particularly the struggle in question. Have you admitted your desperate and total need for Him? Are you relying on yourself or other human sources of power to dig yourself out of the hole? Where might He be calling you take the scary step of surrendering your entire heart and life to Him so that you can experience the rush of His power and the fullness of life in Christ?"Surrender is a terrifying step to take, but it’s the only one that ushers us into the fullness of joy and freedom of life in Christ." @britneylynhamm #collegiatedisciplemaker My Story of Miraculous Recovery from an Eating Disorder Click To Tweet
At times since then, I wrestled with the question of whether I was truly a believer before that day of surrender or not. I may never know the answer 100% for sure, but the more I have wrestled with it, the more I believe that I truly was saved as a young child. There is fruit to evidence that. I had a genuine love for Jesus, a close and intimate walk with Him, and a passionate desire to serve Him and be used by Him.
I do, however, believe that my faith was woefully immature in one very key area. I believed Jesus had saved me from my sin, but I mistakenly believed that I had to sanctify myself. I understood His saving grace in salvation, but I didn’t understand His saving grace in my ongoing sanctification (being made more like Christ). I thought it was up to me to “be a good Christian”. So I did the “good Christian” things and stayed away from the bad things.
I was missing out on the true source of power for the Christian life—the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit to make me more like Jesus and empower me to live for Him. I was pursuing perfection for some of the right reasons (to be more like Jesus and honor Him) but for a lot of the wrong reasons (for my own glory and confidence) and by the wrong means (my own effort). That pursuit of perfection is ultimately what led me into an eating disorder.
During that season, He taught me that just as I needed Jesus to save me, I also needed Him to sanctify me. He showed me what it meant to lean on His grace, not just as the entry point into salvation but in the daily, ongoing process of sanctification. He revealed that I was just as dependent on Him each moment of each day after being saved as I was at the moment of salvation. He uncovered that I was no more capable of achieving goodness by my own effort post-salvation as I was pre-salvation.
One key resource He used to spark this part of my journey was Natalie Grant’s book The Real Me in which she recounts her fight against bulimia. Reading her story was like reading my own. Her book was a huge part of what God used to show me that the roots of my eating disorder lie in my misguided pursuit of perfection. He ushered me into a different way of living, one that is dependent on the grace and mercy of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit rather than my bootstrap effort.
Takeaway: Have you experienced God’s grace and mercy in salvation, or have you relied on your own goodness to save you from your sin? If you have come to saving faith in Christ, have you continued relying on His grace and power to transform you, or have you taken it upon yourself to “be a good Christian”?
I don’t know about you, but spiritual warfare wasn’t something my churches taught about when I was growing up. Other than the occasional Sunday school armor of God lesson and random mentions of the devil, spiritual warfare was kind of a hush-hush thing no one really wanted to acknowledge. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Scriptures, and let’s just not talk about the Spirit or the devil or the cosmic battle that’s taking place unless we have to, right?
I’m eternally grateful for my mom, who received solid teaching early in her walk with Christ on spiritual warfare and the power of the Holy Spirit. She is one of the most Word-studied people I know, and she passed much of her study on to me. She also gave me a book during that season of my life titled Lord, Is it Warfare? by Kay Arthur.
That study taught me how to actually engage in the battle we are fighting against the enemy. I learned that the mind is the battlefield of the enemy and that I had to learn to take every single thought captive to make it obedient to Christ. Friends, this ain’t no picnic. It’s hard work to assess every thought that pops into our minds and ask ourselves “Is this from the Lord? Is this consistent with His truth? Is it a lie from the enemy? Is it my flesh?” It’s painstaking work to identify the lies and the desires of the flesh and pair them up against the truth of God’s Word. It doesn’t just happen.
I had to start with surrender, and then I had to understand that my sanctification could not take place apart from the Spirit’s power. But that doesn’t mean that I was off the hook, either. Jesus said to cut off the hand that causes us to sin, to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him. Paul said to fix our eyes on Jesus, strain toward what lies ahead, press on toward the goal, put off anything that doesn’t belong in God’s Kingdom, and take every thought captive. Those are active commands.
The power doesn’t belong to us; it belongs to the Lord. The battle doesn’t belong to us; it belongs to the Lord. But we have to be engaged in it. God revealed that for more than three years, I wasn’t even in the battle. I was just letting the enemy trample all over me. He had to pull me to my feet, suit me up in His armor, and teach me to fight. He gave me the tools I needed to overcome the enemy’s lies and replace them with His truth. He gave me the power to change old habits into new habits of thinking, believing, and living. He gave me the confidence to know that the victory was already mine, no matter how discouraged I might feel at any given moment, because I am in the Lord’s army, and the devil has no chance against that.
Takeaway: in whatever struggle you are facing, do you understand that your battle is not ultimately against your brain, your body, your emotions, your past, or any other earthly force but rather against an enemy who seeks to devour and a sinful flesh that wants its own way? Are you proactively fighting the spiritual battle? I urge you to dig deep into the Scripture to understand spiritual warfare and how to get in the battle. A book like Kay Arthur’s book is a great place to start to walk you through Scripture on this topic.
What You Need Most to Fight Your Battles
There are many other things God used in my life, but those three were and are key. I am still constantly learning those same lessons over again. I find myself battling my pursuit of perfection, my self-reliance, and my lazy soldier tendencies in new ways all the time. There are areas of my life where victories feel few and far between and growth feels painfully slow. But I’ve seen God do the impossible in my life before. I’ve seen Him eradicate an eating disorder from my life. I’ve watched His truth dismantle the enemy’s lies. I’ve experienced the joy of surrender and the freedom of relying on the Spirit. That keeps me surrendering, depending, striving, and fighting with each new (or old) struggle I face in my life.
I don’t know what you’re facing. You might be in your lowest, darkest valley as I was that day in the doctor’s office. You might be in the midst of a tiresome battle under heavy fire. You might feel like you’re in a pit there is no way out of. You may be ready to walk away from God entirely.
Whatever the case may be, I want you to read my story and take away with one central truth: your victory from whatever you are facing begins and ends with the God who is bigger than it all. That doesn’t mean there won’t be other sources of help along the way (I went to Christian counseling and nutrition counseling, after all). But it does mean that the one thing you need most is Him. Surrender, lean on Him for your sanctification, and get in the battle. He is with you, He is for you, and the battle belongs to Him.