by Dale Ryan
I remember when I first heard about people who were anorexic with respect to food. I was confused by the whole idea. Why would people refuse to eat? Why would people refuse to eat even when they were hungry? Why would people refuse to eat even when they were dying of starvation? But it does happen. Some people reject physical nurture. Sometimes, ironically, they reject it as if their lives depended on this resistance. It is as if food were the enemy. People can literally starve themselves to death in a world full of food. This made no sense to me at first.
As I now look back on those early reactions to anorexia, what impresses me most is the intensity of my interest, my fascination, with anorexia with respect to food. There was a resonance of some kind at work. A recognition. A commonality that I was unable to fully appreciate at the time. Over the years I have learned that the anorexic process is, unfortunately, not a problem limited to people who reject physical nurture, to people who refuse to eat. The underlying dynamics of anorexia, the anorexic process, is much more general than that. It’s not just about food.
Just as some people reject physical nurture, others of us reject spiritual nurture. In spite of living in a world that is full of the love and grace of God, we can find ourselves starving for God’s love. Why would anyone refuse the love and grace that is readily available to us? Why would we resist God, sometimes as if our lives depend on it? Why would we live as if God were the enemy? Why would we resist spiritual nurture–even to the point of spiritual death?
Some Metaphors for Anorexia
Because anorexia in all its forms can be confusing, I find it helpful to keep in mind some visual metaphors for the dynamics of the anorexic process. What follows are three images of very young, hungry infants. These simple images have helped me understand what it feels like to be caught up in the anorexic process.
Happy baby. The first image is of a nine-month-old infant who is resting peacefully. I call this the happy baby image. She is starting to get hungry. She doesn’t yet know she is hungry. She just gradually begins to sense that something is wrong. After a while she starts to squirm a little. Then she starts making some noises–not yet crying but just making agitated noises. Then the noises become a little more agitated and the body movements a little more dramatic. Then the noises become louder. The infant is gradually escalating her efforts to communicate her needs. If she has attentive caregivers, they are starting to problem-solve at the squirming stage. They are asking questions. Does she need her diapers changed? Is she sleepy? Does she need to eat? As the infant’s efforts to communicate gradually escalate there is a corresponding escalation in the caregivers’ efforts to be responsive. As a result of the child’s efforts to communicate and the caregivers’ attentiveness, the need is eventually identified and the child is fed.
As adults we can still be like this. Few of us know what our needs are right away. Often we start with squirming and making noises. We gradually escalate our efforts to figure out what we need, and we communicate these needs effectively. But it still takes us some time. If we are in a community of people who are attentive to our needs, then the process eventually works. When we communicate our needs and our needs are responded to, we get fed–physically, emotionally, or spiritually–depending on the nature of our needs.
Now, it is my suspicion that very few people in recovery would say, “This happy baby image is a perfect metaphor for my life.” Very few of us experience life as a simple process of figuring out our needs, communicating them, and having them met. It would be nice if this were what our lives were like. We would be a lot happier. But most of us have found that the whole process is much more complicated than that. Many different things can get in the way of this simple, healthy communication. The next two metaphors help clarify two of the most common complications.
King Baby. Imagine another infant who is resting peacefully. But he is starting to get hungry. He does not yet consciously know he is hungry; he just knows something is not right. So he starts to squirm. Then he starts to make noises. These efforts to figure out what is wrong and to communicate gradually escalate. The squirming and the noises increase. Now suppose that this child’s caregivers do not respond. What happens? The escalation continues. Soon you have a red-faced child who is gasping for each breath and screaming desperately. It’s as if the child is saying, “There is one thing I need. And I need that one thing right now. Your needs do not matter now. It does not matter if you have been up every hour all night long for the last five nights. I still need what I need. And I need it right now or I’m going to die.”
Is it appropriate for an infant under these circumstances to respond in this way? Of course it is. It is a normal response to what is hopefully an abnormal situation. As a metaphor for us as adults this image can also be instructive. In Alcoholics Anonymous you will sometimes hear people talking about King Baby. It is the part of us that says, “I need what I need right now. Your needs don’t matter. If I get the one thing I need, everything will be okay. If I don’t, I am going to die.” This King Baby kind of narcissism is a common part of the experience of addiction. The red-faced, gasping for breath, screaming child who can’t see anything beyond his immediate needs is a familiar metaphor for most of us who have struggled with addictions. We can see ourselves in this image. And although that red-faced, full-bodied screaming may be a helpful thing for a child, we have learned that it is part of the problem for us as adults. The adult King Baby does not get his needs met. He just gets deeper and deeper into the addictive process.
Now, I am not suggesting that addiction is caused in any way by how we were responded to as infants. Addiction is not caused by inattentive caregivers. Most of us spent a long time practicing how to be addicts. We spent a long time nurturing the King Baby part of us. We worked hard to get where we got. My point here is not about what causes addictions. It is about metaphors of the experience of addiction. So King Baby is not only a metaphor specifically for the anorexic process. For many of us, it is also a pretty accurate metaphor for the addictive process.
Anorexic baby. For our third metaphor, imagine another infant who is resting peacefully. Then she starts to squirm and make noises. Gradually, she escalates these efforts to communicate. Then she goes all the way to the red-faced, full-bodied, desperate screaming. She screams. And screams. And screams. But no one comes. So she keeps on screaming. What happens then? Eventually, after a long time, the child stops screaming. She becomes silent, perhaps from exhaustion. Perhaps she recognizes the futility of continued efforts. It is less painful to give up than to live with the pain of the hunger. It is less painful to despair than to continue feeling the unmet needs and longings.
I remember several years ago watching a documentary film that included some footage shot in an orphanage in Bosnia during war time. It was a room full of perhaps 30 or 40 very young children. And the room was absolutely silent. I remember at first being amazed that an orphanage in Bosnia during a war could have a room full of such contented children. The truth, of course, is that it was not a room full of contented children. It was an orphanage that was almost completely unstaffed and that lacked even the most basic resources. It was a room full of children who had cried and cried and cried until they could no longer cry. They had exhausted themselves with crying. They had come to the end of wanting to be nourished. Why continue crying when there is no chance of getting fed? Why scream when hunger now feels normal–not like a problem to be solved but a condition of existence? It was not as I first thought, a room full of contentment. It was a room full of children who had forgotten how to want to be nourished.
Unfortunately, many of us recognize ourselves in this metaphor. Our lives are like this. We know what it is like to be unable to long for spiritual nourishment. We have cried for nourishment, prayed for nourishment, asked for nourishment, and our efforts have not worked. We know what it is like to have given up all hope of being fed spiritually. We can see ourselves spiritually in these silent orphans. It is, of course, a very painful image. It is a difficult metaphor to embrace. But this kind of inability to want nourishment, this inability to cry anymore, this inability to hope for nourishment is the central feature of spiritual anorexia. It might help to flesh out this metaphor a bit by looking at some characteristics of spiritual anorexia.
Some Characteristics of Spiritual Anorexia
Spiritual anorexia has several characteristics. Three that we’ll talk about here are resistance to nurture, a distorted self-concept, and control issues.
Resistance to spiritual nurture. People who are anorexic with respect to food resist physical nurture. What is confusing about this kind of anorexia is that people who live in a world full of food can starve to death. In the same way, people who struggle with spiritual anorexia are resistant to spiritual nurture. What is confusing about spiritual anorexia is that people who live in a world full of the love and grace of God can spiritually starve to death.
It is important to remember that people struggling with anorexia do not always look anorexic. People who are anorexic with respect to food do not always look like they are starving. Similarly, people who are spiritually anorexic do not always look like they are starving spiritually. I have sometimes visited churches and thought, This looks like a congregation full of contented people. Only later did I realize that the congregation that seemed at first to be filled with contentment was in reality a congregation full of people who had lost any capacity to ask for or receive spiritual nurture. The wounds of trauma or some kind of abuse had led them to the conclusion that nothing better was possible for them. They had asked, prayed, prayed harder, prayed more sincerely, prayed earlier in the morning–all to no effect. And eventually they had concluded that no additional spiritual nurture was available to them. They had to make do with the little they had. When their meager spiritual rations ran out, they didn’t know what to do. A kind of lethargy gradually emerged, a resignation, a passivity, a hopeless waiting for things to be different.
What resistance to spiritual nurture looks like can vary a lot from person to person. For some people, like the congregation I just mentioned, spiritual anorexia manifests itself as a kind of resignation. Having lived with spiritual deprivation for so long, we conclude that passivity and reducing our expectations is less painful than continuing to experience the longing for spiritual nurture. For other people, spiritual anorexia becomes intellectualized as various forms of atheism or agnosticism. And for other people, spiritual anorexia may manifest itself in various kinds of dissociative behaviors. For many years I would go to church on Sunday morning, sit down, and “check out.” I could not have told you later in the day what was said in the sermon or which hymns we sang or anything else about the service. That kind of dissociation was not a conscious choice I made. It was just what happened. I have no doubt that I performed this vanishing act because at some level I experienced a threat and a need to protect myself. Let me be clear: There was spiritual nurture available to me in those services. But I could not receive it. I responded as if an enormous danger were present, and I desperately tried to protect myself by disappearing spiritually, emotionally and mentally. If you talk to people who are anorexic with respect to food you will find that they often experience food as dangerous, as a kind of toxin. In a similar way, those of us who struggle with spiritual anorexia often experience religious or spiritual situations as dangerous or potentially toxic. We may see God as the problem rather than as the solution.
Another face of resistance to spiritual nurture is closely related to ministry addiction. If I have given up on finding the spiritual nurture I need, I may conclude that my job in life is not to receive from God but rather to give to God. I may focus my spirituality on giving to God in service. Is there anything wrong with serving God? No. Sometimes, however, people with spiritual anorexia–people who are profoundly resistant to receiving spiritual nurture–try to cover up this deficit by extraordinary efforts toward spiritually nurturing others. Like any effort to give away what we have not received ourselves, this strategy for life ends poorly.
I spoke several years ago to a woman who had given many years of her life to serving the poorest of the poor. She had worked in AIDS hospices in Asia and with food distribution programs in a number of countries. I admired her. She was, for me, a model of what the Christian life could look like. In midlife, however, she found that her life was just not working. She was deeply depressed. When we talked she expressed confusion about how her life of dedicated service had not led to the spiritual maturity she had hoped for, but rather to spiritual exhaustion, spiritual frustration and anger at God. When I asked her what it meant to her to be a Christian she said, “Well, basically, I think every Christian should find someone who has less than they have, and then it is their job to give to that person. Our job is to serve others.” As we talked it became clear that for her it was as if the whole population of the planet were lined up in a single line, with the poorest of the poor at one end and the richest of the rich at the other end. Wherever we found ourselves in this line, our job as Christians was to turn to the person next to us and give to them. This woman and I talked about that image, and I asked her, “Is there any Christian anywhere in that line whose job it is to receive?” She did not respond for quite some time. Eventually, she said, “Yes, there is one person in the line whose job as a Christian is to receive. The very last person–the person who has less than everybody else. Their job is to receive.”
It’s tragic that this dear woman, as gifted and committed as she was, believed that receiving from God was somehow spiritually dangerous and must be avoided in favor of service. It is another face of the anorexic process. She had decided early in life that no one would take care of her, no one would respond to her needs, so she would spend her life taking care of others. The result of this resistance to spiritual nurture was exhaustion, depression, anger, and spiritual anorexia.
Distorted self-concept. The second major characteristic of anorexia is a profoundly distorted self-concept. People who are anorexic with respect to food have very distorted physical self-concepts. If you hold up a mirror to a person who is anorexic with respect to food, they may say, “I’m fat. I’m way too big. I need to be smaller.” They say this no matter how much objective information is available to suggest that they are in fact not just smaller than normal but smaller than is physically healthy for them. Often the language used to describe their attitude toward their physical body sounds like, “If only I could disappear, then things would be as they should be” or “I don’t deserve to eat. I don’t deserve to live.” This will-to-disappear, to be small, to vanish, is often a sign of a linkage to early abuse. A common response to abuse in children is to feel that if they could disappear, they would not be vulnerable to being hurt again. The will-to-disappear is the way that many of us attempted to protect ourselves in our dysfunctional homes. We struggled to have as low a profile as possible. Showing up on the radar screen of the family meant we were the problem, or worse, the target. This is a perfectly understandable survival-response to childhood trauma. But in adult life this same instinct can lead to severe relational and physical problems, including anorexia.
In the case of the spiritually anorexic person, you find the same kind of profoundly distorted self-concept. If you hold up a spiritual mirror to a person with spiritual anorexia, they will say something equivalent to, “It would be better if I were smaller. It would be best if I disappeared completely” or “I don’t deserve God’s love. I don’t deserve to even exist.” This conviction persists no matter how much objective information is available suggesting that they are loved by God and do not need to disappear to be safe in God’s presence. Perhaps you know someone who seems profoundly resistant to acknowledging any meaningful role for themselves in any situation. I know several very generous and kind Christians who are incapable of doing the smallest act of kindness without repeatedly emphasizing, “It’s not me; it’s Jesus.” This insistence that there be no role for “me” in life may perhaps sound like humility. But in all probability it is a humility that has been deeply distorted by the anorexic process. The passion to not be present, the fear that any reference to “me” is sinful, the deflection of any praise–these are all signs that spiritual anorexia may be at work.
Probably the best example of this how this anorexic, will-to-disappear can become confused with Christian teaching can be seen in a particular way of talking about the Christian message. Let me briefly summarize this little bit of anorexic theology: “God is holy and cannot stand to be in the presence of sin. But we are sinful. So if we were in God’s presence, we would be annihilated, because of the incompatibility of God’s holiness and our sinfulness. Fortunately, Jesus stands between us and God. As a result, God doesn’t see us. He sees Jesus.” I suspect that many readers of STEPS have heard sermons based on this schema or have been taught that this is the orthodox understanding of the Christian message. It may even be that some readers have no alternative way of understanding what God has done for us in Jesus. But I also suspect that most readers of STEPS understand at some level that the Jesus-who-helps-us-disappear is not really the kind of Higher Power who can help us in recovery. I find it very difficult to imagine a more anorexic version of the Christian message than this one. This version envisions God’s family as a profoundly dysfunctional family. The father not only can’t stand to see bad children; he will destroy them if he does see them. So, bad children need to disappear to be safe.
Is this the Good News? Not even close. Jesus was very clear about this. The God of whom Jesus spoke is a God who searches the horizon looking for the signs of our return. God is like a woman who lost a precious coin and who looks for it and looks for it and then lights up with joy when she finds it. Does this sound anything like a God who can’t tolerate being in the same room with you? Absolutely not. God’s face lights up with joy when he sees you! The prevalence of anorexic versions of the Christian message contributes to the problems faced by Christians who are spiritually anorexic. How can you recover from spiritual anorexia if “disappearing” is presented as the Good News? Anorexic theology is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Unless we find a more grace-full way of understanding the Good News–a more biblical way of understanding the Gospel–we find ourselves working harder and harder to disappear spiritually. And that is a pathway to spiritual death, just as working harder and harder to disappear physically leads to physical death.
Control issues. The third common characteristic of anorexia with respect to food is the presence of complex control issues. The main issue for people who are anorexic with respect to food is often, Who controls what goes into my body? Even the language suggests that boundary violations may lie near the surface of the anorexic’s insistence on control. If someone else has been in charge of what goes into my body, then I will understandably be very vigilant to protect myself from unwanted boundary violations.
In spiritual anorexia you see something very similar. I suspect there is a significant relationship between childhood spiritual abuse and the development of spiritual anorexia later in life. If you were force-fed spiritually as a child, if your personal relationship with God was not honored, if independent thought about spiritual matters was unacceptable, if what you believed was controlled by others, it would not be too surprising if as an adult you find yourself struggling with control issues related to spiritual matters. Unfortunately, many of us were raised in families where parents felt called by God to control what children believed and what children did in their spiritual lives. How much healthier we would be today if our parents had instead focused on creating an environment in which we could learn for ourselves the depth of the love and grace of God!
Another kind of control issue that is almost always a part of anorexia with respect to food is the drive to control our bodies in an impossible quest for physical perfection. The underlying belief is that one’s value is directly tied to having a perfect body. Anything less than perfection leads to deep feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing. In the same way, spiritual anorexics can be driven by an impossible quest for spiritual perfection. The underlying belief is that we must be “good” (or even perfect) to come to God, that God will reject us if we are in any way short of perfect. Because a state of perfection can never be achieved, a person with this belief system never feels free to approach God to receive the caring embrace from God that is our deepest longing.
What Doesn’t Help
People with spiritual anorexia choose from a number of recovery strategies in an effort to improve their spiritual lives. Most of those strategies, however, do more harm than good. I’ll discuss three strategies here: forced feeding, binging and shame.
Forced feeding. The first thing that doesn’t help is forced feeding. If you force-feed someone who is anorexic with respect to food, you do not solve the problem. All you get is a food anorexic who has been force-fed. That person may be fed for the moment, but in the process you may aggravate underlying injuries. The act of force-feeding is a boundary violation and may be a reenactment of previous abusive experiences. Force-feeding usually makes things worse.
The same thing applies to spiritual anorexia. Spiritual force-feeding does not work, whether other people are trying to force-feed us or we are trying to force-feed ourselves. No amount of forcing myself to be a good Christian, to pray more, to worship more, no amount of trying harder, is going to solve this problem. The result is often a graceless, performance-based spirituality of perfectionism that only increases the struggle with anorexia.
Binging. The second thing that doesn’t help food anorexics is binging–or addictive eating. When those with food anorexia decide to comply with all the social pressure to eat and force themselves on an eating binge, they may consume enormous amounts of food to prove to themselves and to other people that they don’t really have a problem. Sometimes they alternate between seasons of binging and seasons of near starvation. It is clear that none of these strategies bring healing to the anorexic. They are just different faces of the same problem.
Similar nonsolutions are often tried by spiritual anorexics. We may try to solve our spiritual anorexia by going on a spiritual binge. Weary of the impact of spiritual anorexia, and full of shame over our perceived spiritual inadequacy, we may force ourselves to consume an enormous amount of spiritual nurture to prove that we don’t have a problem. We may try to cure our spiritual anorexia by becoming religious addicts. If too little isn’t working, we will try too much. We may go to church every time the doors are open, or we may pray longer than anybody else or earlier in the morning than anybody else. We may seek out a spiritual high–a retreat experience, a spiritual intensive or other kind of short-term fix. But spiritual binging–trying to take in enormous amounts of spiritual nourishment in a short period of time–does not work. For people with spiritual anorexia it just leads to increased disappointment, increased resentment and increased hopelessness. It does nothing to address our root problems. Binging is just another version of trying, trying harder and trying our hardest. In the end it leaves us exhausted.
Shame. Shame is a huge issue for people struggling with food anorexia. The shame about one’s body. The shame of having a problem. The shame of not being perfect. It is a long list. Strange as it may seem, we often think that shame is the solution to shame. It doesn’t make any sense when you put it into words: If only I shamed myself a little bit more, maybe I would be ashamed enough to get better. While it makes no sense, it is often the first thing that occurs to us. And, of course, other people suggest this as a solution as well and increase our shame in the hope that it will somehow help. But shame is not the solution. If shame would make things better, all of us would have been better a long time ago. Shame does not help us get closer to God.
The dynamics of shame are also a central feature of the struggle for people with spiritual anorexia. People seem eager to blame us for our spiritual struggles. I recently saw this slogan on a church sign: “If you are feeling distant from God, guess who moved.” The subtext of this slogan is “Guess who is to blame” or “Guess who has been bad” or “Guess who should feel ashamed.” None of these messages are helpful to people struggling with spiritual anorexia. Shame does not make things better. The same is true of various “explanations” for our spiritual struggles: Maybe you haven’t prayed enough or worshiped enough; maybe you’re not sincere enough; maybe you’re just having a pity party and should get out there and help someone worse off than you. I think of this as a kind of shame chorus. We must take our first difficult steps in the recovery journey in spite of the accompanying chorus of shaming voices–voices that know what we have done wrong, that think we should have been better a long time ago, that are impatient for us to have a good testimony again. Unfortunately, most of us have worked hard for years to internalize this shame chorus. We don’t need anyone to say anything shaming for us to experience shame. Ours is the loudest voice in the chorus. But whether the shame is from others or from ourselves, it does not help. Shame does not lead to healing.
What Might Help
Thankfully, there are some things that can help us in our recovery from spiritual anorexia.
Tell the truth. If you are undernourished spiritually, if you are so damaged spiritually that you have lost your ability to even cry out to God, then tell the truth. Tell the truth to yourself. Tell the truth to one other person. Tell the truth to God, if you can. Telling the truth is not easy. We are accustomed to trying to look good. Telling the truth doesn’t come naturally to us. I remember a staff meeting several years ago in which we were discussing something difficult. I don’t remember the specific issue, but we spent hours talking about how some people would experience a decision we were making and how other people might experience it differently. What I remember is that after several hours someone said, “Why don’t we just tell the truth?” It was a shocking suggestion. It had not occurred to us, any of us. We were working hard on “spin” and perception management and public relations. Telling the truth? What a radical idea! The conversation ended almost immediately. We knew what to do. Everything got real simple: We’ll just tell the truth, and then it’s done. We will have to live with the consequences. People may experience it in a variety of ways, but that’s not our problem.
Telling the truth is so much easier than the alternatives. Trying to manage other people’s perceptions of us is exhausting. Pretense and image management won’t fix spiritual anorexia. Until we have some capacity to experience the truth about our situation and to tell that truth, we will stay stuck in the anorexic process.
Accept the problem as your own problem. There was a long period in my life when I was convinced that my spiritual anorexia was someone else’s problem. I would go to church and be unable to receive spiritual nurture. I would conclude that something was wrong with the church. So I would go to a different church and experience the same thing. I would conclude that something was wrong with the pastor. And then a different church, and another, and another, all in the hope that I would find one healthy enough to provide me with spiritual nurture. As you can imagine, I went through a long series of churches only to find that there was no church where I could be nurtured. I was frustrated and angry and consumed with the question, What is wrong with all these churches? The truth is that many of these churches were toxic environments in which no one could grow in the love and grace of God. Not all of them were toxic, however. There was spiritual nurture available to me. But I could not take it in. One of the slogans you sometimes hear in A.A. is, “Wherever you go, there you are.” That was precisely my situation. I was carrying my spiritual anorexia with me from church to church and being surprised that what I experienced in each place was an inability to receive spiritual nurture. Nothing changed until I started to accept the fact that my spiritual anorexia was my spiritual anorexia. It may be related to the spiritual abuse I experienced earlier in life, it may be made worse by other kinds of shaming experiences, it may be made worse by shame-based churches and toxic theology of various kinds. But the problem is my problem. Until we accept full personal ownership of our spiritual brokenness, we find it very difficult to make much progress in recovery. It is far too easy to spend our time and energy feeding our resentments and avoiding the hard work that needs to be done.
Take baby steps. The third thing that might help is taking baby steps. If God were to take one of those infants from the orphanage in Bosnia that I mentioned earlier and entrust it to your care, what would you do? The baby has forgotten how to want nurture, forgotten how to ask for nurture. I think I know what you would do. You might try all kinds of things. But eventually you would put something sweet on the tip of your finger and rub it on the baby’s lips. And if there were any response–any response at all, even the smallest sign–your face would light up with joy. You would know that recovery is possible. The slightest sign of response to nurture would be great joy. If we who are damaged and broken people know how to be good parents to children who have lost the capacity to receive nurture, how much more will our heavenly Father be a good parent to us who struggle to receive spiritual nurture? If all the spiritual nurture that we can take in right now is a little honey on the fingertip of God, God’s face lights up with joy.
What do baby steps look like? Well, they’re different for each of us. If particular spiritual disciplines are associated with the spiritual force-feeding we experienced as children, then we may need to try different spiritual disciplines for a while. Fortunately, the Christian tradition contains a rich variety of spiritual disciplines that we can try to help us get started again in spiritual growth. If Bible memorization, for example, feels like part of the problem, we can try meditating on biblical texts instead. If public worship feels like part of the problem, we can try less social forms of spiritual nurture. If doing things feels like part of the problem, we can try being still. The main thing is to try something that doesn’t lead to increased shame, and something that we don’t turn into another perfectionistic adventure.
In the long run, baby steps are easier and far more productive than all the desperate efforts that come from spiritual anorexia. But that does not mean that baby steps are easy. They can be terrifying. If I’ve been trying to control my relationship with God by being really, really good, then it will probably be pretty scary to try to be still. Taking time to “be still and know that I am God” is far more spiritually productive, but it’s anything but easy. Our anxiety may go through the roof. Feelings of being out of control may frighten us. So we need to do it in small doses. We need to do what can be done. If we find ourselves lapsing into doing such a good job at being still that God must be pleased, then we need to tell the truth about that. Acknowledge the problem. Ask for help. And move on. We are not going to “get this right.” The best we can hope for is to learn from our mistakes. Writing “Progress, not perfection” on a bunch of 3″ x 5″ cards and putting them everywhere can help. Reminding ourselves regularly that God accepts our limited faith and our spiritual poverty can also help.
The God Who Loves to Feed His People
Spiritual anorexia is a form of spiritual poverty. It is a dis-ease rooted in terrible distortions of our self-concept and of our concept of God. We have believed that we are not good enough, that we are bad and that we are without value. We have believed God to be rejecting, demanding and even abusive. The thought of being cared for and nurtured by God may seem too good to be true.
It takes time, but we can eventually learn that God loves us. The history of world religions is full of examples in which people are supposed to feed God. For people of biblical faith, the emphasis has always been exactly the opposite: God loves to feed us. Think about the manna in the wilderness. Think about the loaves and fishes that Jesus turned into an abundance. Think about the Eucharist, in which God feeds us with spiritual food. Think of all the stories Jesus told that end with a feast. “Come, all you who are hungry and thirsty,” says God, “and you will receive spiritual nourishment.”
My prayer is that God will give you the courage, spiritual humility and patience to receive a little nurture from God today.
May your roots sink deeply in the soil of God’s love.