My Eating Disorders

Brant‘s got me thinking about eating disorders.

My mom has been worried about my weight for as long as I can remember.  It drove her to drive me to a few different doctors in hopes of being prescribed some magic pill or issued a cookbook of bulk-creating recipes capable of righting the wrong that is my stick figure body.

Dr. Brown moseyed into the room on his bowed legs ad asked in his gravelly Texas drawl, “What do you see when you look in the mirror, Shone?” (That’s how my name is pronounced in Texas.) I knew what he was getting at and quickly proved his theory wrong.  “I see a head with very good hair on a very skinny body,” I answered.  “O.K. then,” he smiled and turned to my mother, telling her he and his tests found nothing at all wrong with me.  “This is just the way the good Lord made him, mamma,” he reassured.

I don’t have an eating disorder.  I see my body the way everyone else does, the way it really is.  And I eat well, especially if what’s on the plate is of Mexican decent and/or contains large quantities of guacamole, cheese, butter, chicken or fried onions.  I like food.  And once inside me I like it to stay there.

Not so when it comes to my spiritual appetite.  It all starts when I look into the wrong mirror to get a sense of how I look.  I compare myself to you, the rest of society, the nutjobs in the headlines, the me I once was.  I’m stuffed, I think, a little too full of goodness even.  I better take it easy. And then I go in one of two directions.

Spiritual bulimia.  Certain I’ve arrived, that I know all I need to know, I keep imbibing spiritual food and drink regularly anyway – going to church once, twice, three times a week.  Reading this book.  Reading those twelve blogs.  Working through this bible study.  Attending that conference and that one and that one.  Listening to those podcasts and that stack of CDs and those radio stations.  Ingesting spiritual nourishment at a rate I can’t possibly digest and, to make matters worse, living a double life of pursuing God knowledge and pursuing life on my own terms and effectively purging my system of any nutrients that may be in all that good stuff I take in daily.  Do I keep eating at this rate to appear more spiritual?  As a replacement for true relationship with God and God’s people?  To make myself feel smart and superior to you?  All of the above at one point or another.

Then there’s the rest of my days spent as a spiritual anorexic.  These phases of spiritual living are spent refusing to eat.  I don’t want to look too smart, too spiritual, to no longer fit in society-at-large’s pants.  Or, more often, I think I’m as fat as I need to be, I’m mature as I can get, I’ve got God and life figured out, so I push away from the table believing I’ve arrived at perfection.  I stop attending church, stop learning, stop asking questions, stop wrestling, stop believing there’s anything I don’t know worth knowing.

Both disorders leave me nearly transparent spiritually.  And, worse perhaps, believing I’m anything but.

But in my all too few spiritually healthy moments, I see myself the way the Mirror does and I feast, not only on books but on community and living and art and music and disappointment and questions and answers and mystery and outlines and everything else at the banquet table.  It’s all prepared by the same hands right?  And it’s dilicious.  And I ingest at a rate I can digest, so as to not induce vomiting.  And I eat regularly so it’s a healthy habit, a part of living like getting up every morning.  And I don’t just eat alone.  I’m told gently and not-so-gently by others at the table that I’m being a big pig or living a little thin.  Time with them is like being asked “When you look in the mirror what do you see?” and being told by my mother “Have seconds.”

There’s debate from time to time about knowledge, hand wringing over whether we need to learn, and how much, and how, and if learning is complimentary to or in conflict with “childlike faith.” My experience as a bulimic and anorexic makes me think all this debate is often far too black and white: knowledge is good or it’s bad for Christians.  It’s not so easy as that.  Seems to me we can approach knowledge like we do food.  We can eat well-balanced diets at a table packed with friends and then put those calories to good use living and loving and working and playing together.  Or we can binge and purge and starve ourselves, become gluttonous or apathetic, and make matters worse by doing this alone where we’re less likely to notice our unhealth and get help.  Or, as I’ve done, we can bounce from health to unhealth and back again, and again, and again.

No matter which phase I’m in thought, I can’t blame food.  I blame the way I relate to it.