Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith (2014)
University of Notre Dame, Class of 2015
I was born a perfectionist. As an ambitious older sibling, I was always eager to prove myself. I got straight A’s, played sports, sung in musicals, and competed on the academic team. I planned to attend an Ivy League college, go to medical school, and make more money than my parents. Success was my main desire.
I was baptized in the Mennonite Church and believed that I was in complete control of my faith and my life. I believed that I was strong, but the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Instead of depending upon God, I became like the foolish man in the Gospel of Matthew who built his house on sand.
My control came crumbling down during my senior year of high school. When I returned from my summer vacation, the twin brother of my best friend, who was my high school boyfriend, had transformed into an angry stranger. Our relationship became physically and emotionally abusive. He began to flirt with my friends and mocked me for my looks, my grades in school, and my Christian faith.
I could not tell my best friend how hurtful her brother had become, and, instead of turning to God and his love, I retreated into silence. I ate lunch alone and hardened my heart. I began to believe that I was worthless, not worthy of God’s grace. I refused to confide in my friends and family and continued with the motions of my put together, perfectionist’s life. I focused even more on college applications and scholarship competitions. I continued to attend church but refused to allow the Word of God to comfort me. I blamed myself for what had happened and sometimes blamed God.
I was ashamed of myself for staying with my high school boyfriend for as long as I did. My body became a thing that was ugly to me, something apart from myself. I did not view my body as a temple of the Holy Spirit. Rather, my body became the one thing that I could completely control. Although I was already slightly underweight, I began to skip meals and exercise at every possible opportunity. Anorexia became my idol.
As I lost the pounds, my friends complimented me on my appearance, but their compliments only fed my eating disorder and my disordered pride. As I counted calories obsessively and developed rules for what I could and could not eat, I could not escape feeling disgusted with myself. No matter how many pounds I shed, I believed that I would never be good enough to be authentically loved, to merit God’s grace. I lived like a prisoner within my own body. My life was forcibly focused on school, not eating, college applications, not eating, and avoiding my ex-boyfriend.
Without God, I would have not survived. Since my baptism, I had taken communion at my local church but had never seriously thought through what it means to take the Eucharist and accept the body and blood of Christ. As my pastor said Christ’s words of institution, “Take and eat; this is my body,” I began to reflect on the importance of the Incarnation, of God having a body that could suffer like mine. Through Christ’s death and resurrection his human body was glorified. Not just Christ’s spirit, but also his human body was freed from death.
As I took the host from my pastor’s outstretched hands and placed it on my tongue, I began to adopt a new definition of beauty. I realized that my body is a temple where the spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwells. That Holy Spirit also brings life to my mortal body. I realized that if my body is a holy temple and an inseparable part of myself, then I needed to take care of it. In light of God’s love I am beautiful. I am God’s beloved creation that he molded into his likeness.
I decided to stop counting calories and gave up my control over how many ounces I weighed. I realized that I had allowed what had happened to me to harden my heart and turn it inward upon itself. I had starved my heart and locked it away. I made it impenetrable to God’s salvific love.
I told my family and my friends the truth about my high school boyfriend and my eating disorder. I have learned to not blame God for my suffering, but to see Christ suffering beside me. I have begun to forgive myself and am learning to rest in God’s grace and steadfast love.
In light of the Eucharist even my physical act of eating was transformed into a sacrament and a participation in the life of Christ. My body was no longer disgusting to me, and I no longer felt separated from that part of myself. Although I do not believe that God wills such suffering upon his children, I believe that he has used my pain to teach me how to authentically love. I have learned to view all of creation, including myself, as an undeserved gift. There is freedom in living in the love of God’s grace, a grace that I can never earn or deserve. God cares for me like he cares for the rest of his creation. I can trust in God, and, with God as my strength, I don’t need to worry about my weight or my reputation. Only Christ could heal my brokenness.