What Makes You Beautiful

I had an eating disorder for six years. Anorexia was the name of my game. I never threw up; I couldn’t bring myself to do it. And it never got so bad that I had to be put in a rehab center. But it plagued me for years. You never would have known. I mean, you may have known if you were familiar with eating disorders, and if you spent any time with me during mealtimes. But I loved Jesus. I was a leader in the church and on my school campus. I prayed, I read God’s Word, and I trusted Him. And yet when it came to my body, somehow I’d separated it from my soul. Or so I thought. In reality, that separation was destructive to myself and to others. It wreaked havoc on my heart, my mind, and my soul, and it broke others’ hearts around me.

It’s so easy to compare our bodies to other women’s bodies — especially those of celebrities and others on social media.

Why can’t I look like them?
Why can’t I lose the weight like she did? How does she do it?

It’s nothing new. Same struggle. Same lies being thrown at us. And we have to fight our thoughts. For me, that’s daily. I daily have to turn it over to the Lord. I daily have to tell myself the truth of who I am in Him and that God’s truth prevails. Yeah, I do want to get rid of some of these pregnancy rolls. But the truth is that God loves me, that He gave me a body to live in — not to starve. Or to diet to death. And now more than ever, I realize that how I view food and my body affects others.

The other day I was walking my dog and pushing my five-month-old in a stroller, and I caught myself starting to open that dark door again. I just want to lose some weight around my middle. And my thighs. And my butt. I’ll walk now. Then tomorrow I’ll do my workout videos. Maybe I should cut out sweets? Or just add some vegetables at dinner? Maybe no more eating out —

No!

“No, I won’t do this. I’m not going there. Lord, I need You.”

I stopped and cried out to God. No, I wasn’t going to go down that path. I wasn’t going to start planning my food for the rest of the day, or put myself through a strict plan, or give into the lies about areas of my body I don’t like and wish were different. That’s exactly what Satan wanted me to do, but I knew it was toxic. That wouldn’t lead to life, but rather to death.

In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul talks about how he pleaded with God to remove a thorn in his flesh several times, but God didn’t do it. We don’t know what Paul’s thorn was. Paul calls it a “messenger of Satan to harass me.” Why in the world would God not remove it? Paul was crying out, pleading with God to remove something that was not of Him.

Eating, along with my body image, is one of my thorns in the flesh. That and anxiety. Super fun, right? This is my thing. Not to say that I don’t sin and struggle in other ways, because I totally do. But eating and my body image, and all that goes along with it, often seems to be a struggle for me. I’m not identified by my past eating disorder, but it is a big part of my story that still affects me. I may always struggle in this area, but God has brought healing and freedom in this area of my life, and I continue to grow in it daily.

I can agree with Paul that God says,

‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. — 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

My awareness of how easily I could fall into this trap again makes me rely on His grace, and it makes me empathetic toward other women who struggle with the same thing. I won’t tell you to just get over it, because I know it’s not something you “just get over.” I get it. I’m right there with you. I’m clinging to God’s grace and power, and that’s all I have. But it’s sufficient.

He’s right there with me.
He is the Victor.
My hope is in Him.

Identity plays a huge part in our relationships.

How you view yourself will flow into every relationship you have, especially a romantic one.

Often guys wonder, Am I good enough? and girls wonder, Am I worthy? If those questions aren’t rooted in Jesus and what He says about you, then they can bring some heavy baggage into a relationship. They can cause you to feel like you constantly have to prove yourself, or devastate you when you mess up or fail. They can cause you to be manipulative or clingy, or perhaps even lead to an eating disorder.

What questions do you ask yourself late into the night, and what answers are you feeding your soul? Lies? Or truth?

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When I began following God the summer before my freshman year of high school, I realized that life was all about Him, not me. I became more reserved and quiet after that. I didn’t really put myself out there when it came to guys. I loved languages and was good at school. I loved interacting one-on-one with people, too, but none of that necessarily made me stand out to guys.

I know now that I could have kept my bubbly personality while still pointing to Jesus, but when I became a sophomore in high school, I thought I had to act and be a certain way. I took aerobics as an elective and loved it. Then I got really sick for a couple of weeks and lost a lot of weight. I liked my new size and started to notice other girls in my aerobics class talking about their weight and how to lose pounds. I quickly caught on and soon became very aware of how much I weighed.

I began to obsess with what number on the scale to target. It was fun to lose weight every week and to have to go shopping for new clothes because the ones I owned were too big. I started to think that beauty equaled being thin. Surely my new size will attract a guy, I thought.

As the months wore on, my “perfect” size kept getting smaller and smaller. A size six became a four, which became a two. I loved working out and started to think of creative ways to eat less and less. I didn’t starve myself completely and my obsession wasn’t totally overwhelming, but soon what became a desire to look beautiful and maybe turn a guy’s eye became a control issue for me.

Whenever something in my life was difficult or hard, something that I had no control over, I turned to food. Or, rather, my goal was to avoid food. It became the one thing in my life that I could control.

Hard test coming up? Watch what you eat. Conflict with a friend? Cut back on carbs. Not sure which college to attend? No sugar. Heartbroken over a crush? Salads only.

I would turn to Jesus and pray and seek Him, I would ask for His help and surrender, but as soon as I finished praying, I would form a game plan in my head of what to eat and what not to eat. I longed for control.

My best friend would always tell me to eat more. She was concerned about me. And my parents started to encourage me to eat too. They could see an unhealthy habit forming in me, but I just shrugged it off. It’s really not that big of a deal. I didn’t see how it was slowly destroying me.

This went on for six years — two years in high school, and it flowed into my whole college career. In fact, when I went to college, it got worse. For the first time, I was away from all my family and friends who loved and cared for me. I was on my own. I made new friends. Friends who didn’t know my past or my struggles. I wasn’t coming home to home-cooked meals anymore, and I could choose what to eat and what not to eat. I could even take the food to go, so no one really knew how much, or how little, I was eating. It was only between me and God, and although there was a check in my heart, I didn’t think what I was doing was really that bad.

On the outside, I was this girl who loved Jesus. And I did really love Jesus. I woke up every morning with my coffee in hand to read my Bible. I would go running and pour out my heart to Him. I was an RA (resident assistant) and taught girls in Bible studies. I led a missions group to South Africa. But on the inside, I was slowly dying. I felt so alone. Like no one really knew me. They didn’t know my thoughts. The thoughts that taunted me almost every hour.

You’re fat.
Your thighs are too big.
Can’t you have a stomach like that girl?
Look at her arms; they’re perfect.
No cookies today.
Maybe I can just have an apple and some toast for dinner tonight.

I compared myself with every girl I saw. How did I measure up? I woke up in the morning with my first thought being about what I would eat that day, and I planned out every meal. It wasn’t about counting calories anymore. It was more about how little I could eat. I didn’t tell anyone about my hellish thoughts. I couldn’t. I didn’t want them to know that I wasn’t perfect, or rather that I actually had a huge problem. I mean, I was a leader on campus; how could I tell anyone my very real problems?

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Finally. After all those years of trying to appear perfect on the outside, of stuffing this struggle down, of not letting anyone into my darkness, of carrying this heavy load, I finally was done. Tears poured out. I was broken. I realized that what I was doing was a sin. It didn’t please the Lord; in fact, it deeply hurt Him. I was consumed with my outward appearance and trying to control so many things in my life, instead of truly resting in Him.

I had believed the lies constantly thrown at me about who I was and who I should be.

You’re not beautiful.
You’re not worthy of a guy’s affection. You can control things.
You should be a size ____.
You’re all alone.
There’s no escaping.

I was done. I wanted freedom. I wanted to be fully known, to be okay with not having it all together. To understand that I was loved anyway. I wanted to be healed. To have my mind set free from my consuming thoughts, and to think on things that were true and right and lovely. I wanted to truly trust God. To know who I am in His eyes.

Things certainly didn’t change overnight, but slowly the struggle eased up. Slowly I learned what God says about me and clung to His truth, not my own distorted views. I realized that I was formed in His image, that I was made with purpose and goodness and beauty. I reflected God.

I clung to the truth that God formed me in my mother’s womb, and I was fearfully and wonderfully made. He knew me and loved every part of me. Every part of my body was made by Him. He didn’t leave it to chance or look away or forget about a certain part. No, He made each part intentionally. He wanted me to have brown hair and green eyes. He gave me thighs that were perfect for me, no matter what their size, so that I could hike, run, and paddleboard. He gave me a bigger bottom because, well, I’m sure there are other reasons, but one of them is that Jeff loves it.

And I learned that the Holy Spirit lives inside me; I’m His temple. Therefore I need to take care of this body that He’s given me. In our Christian culture, it’s easy to buy into the philosophy that our bodies are separate from our spirit and perhaps aren’t “spiritual.” But we’re connected. My body, spirit, and soul are all connected, and each affects the other. My whole being is spiritual.

~ Alyssa

Excerpted with permission from Love Is by Jefferson & Alyssa Bethke, copyright Jefferson Bethke and Alyssa Bethke.

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Your Turn

Addiction is just another way the enemy steals from us. He’s a liar and a thief. What questions roll around your head at night? And what answers are you listening to? Ask yourself whether or not they line up with the gospel truths and God’s view of you! Come share your thoughts with us. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

Jeff and Alyssa Bethke live in Maui with their three-year-old daughter, Kinsley, and one-year-old son, Kannon. They are the authors of the books Jesus > Religion, It’s Not What You Think, and Spoken For. In addition to writing, they make YouTube videos and host a podcast that can be found on iTunes. They also have a yellow lab named Aslan and enjoy reading good books and drinking good coffee during their downtime. http://jeffandalyssa.com

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