A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” — John 4:7-10
A woman shared with me her personal testimony about the years she suffered from bulimia, and how faith in Jesus helped her to form a new self-image and overcome her self-loathing. She gave me permission to use the outlines of her story as a witness to others.
She described her upbringing in a broken family — divorced parents, shared custody, a narcissistic father and needy, anxiety-ridden mother. Both parents, she said, were incapable of nurturing her as a child. In fact, they seemed to “feed on her” for the attention, support and adulation they desperately sought. As a result, she said, she turned to other things for comfort and security. Especially she turned to food, and eventually to the binge-purge cycle characteristic of bulimia. As she increased her food intake and weight, her parents became critical and concerned, which only reinforced her grasping for comfort and accelerated the development of an obsessive concern with body image fueled by self-hatred.
There’s a lot more to her tragic story, but what I would like to describe here are two simple, yet profound insights she shared.
First, she emphasized the power parents have in shaping their child’s deepest identity, which sets for them a rudder into the future, for better or for worse. She said, “It’s so important for parents to communicate to their children as they grow up: I am here for you, not you for me. Parents who use their children abuse their children.”
Second, she shared how in college she found faith in Jesus in an evangelical church (although she is Cathoic now), and discovered in that relationship something that upturned her world: “Jesus taught me that God did not need me. Instead He loved me. And there’s a big difference. That realization was more releaving than I could describe. Growing up under parents who take, take, take, and then suddenly you discover that God gives, gives, gives. Just living in that relationship with God has allowed me a safe place to find peace and security and helped me let go of the fear that no one was looking out for my best interests. Suddenly you see that your need to control or possess starts loosening its grip … I let God change my body image and came to see my body not as shameful but as God’s gift. So many women I know who’ve lived under hard or abusively demanding or needy parents are filled with some sort of self-hatred or rage. Lots of times they cover it up with obsessive work or the need to please or sexual promiscuity or have a hyper-critical sense of humor. Or have food addictions like me, always trying to prove their worth and get affirmed and fend off criticism.
“If they’d just allow God to love them and fill them up. But it’s really a vicious cycle. Since they can’t conceive of intimacy like this, they just hide from it or run from it or rage against it. All this instead of inviting Him in to love them as they were made to be loved … One of my co-workers said to me once, ‘How can you love God as your Father when your dad was so crappy?’ I told her that once I felt God’s love the associations all melted away. My faith actually redeemed my bad experience of men in general and helped me forgive my dad. I finally came to the conclusion that my dad just couldn’t be what I was really looking for, which was God. And I needed to stop harboring resentment toward him and my mom for that.”
At the end of our conversation, she added: “But don’t get any illusions. This has been a long process and I know it won’t ever end until heaven. But it gets better. You just always bear the scars. Take one day at a time.”
Let me end with a video that my wife sent me the other day. It’s about the power of parents in their children’s lives. Especially the father-daughter relationship. Click here.