Faith Talk: Once I was a list maker

Faith Talk: Once I was a list maker

I love Kikki-K, but had to break up with the list.
As former colleagues of mine would attest, I was once a super-organised office sleuth of the most infuriating kind. Quite obviously, in hindsight, this stemmed from a childhood need to exercise control in my little world and my Type-A first-born profile. Perfectionism was my operating mantra.

This hyper-organisational activity continued when I went freelance and it permeated every single aspect of my life making me completely unbearable to live with. Hell hath no fury like a list-maker when she cannot finish her tasks. This rigid devotion to work completion extended to other controlling-of-life behaviours, such as grooming, finances, exercise and diet, which by extension turned into anorexia (if you're going to do something, do it extremely well was my operating mantra... though I should not jest. Anorexia is no laughing matter).

In the initial stages of my recovery, I was assigned the onerous task of recording every single thing I ate in the day as well as all physical activity. Another list! On reflection, that probably wasn't helpful to me, though I know it was done with the best of intentions. The thing is, you can LIE to the list, which makes the whole exercise null and void while forcing you to think about the one thing you don't want to think about – ergo, the consumption of food – but become a slave to nonetheless. Trust me, despite appearances, the number one thing on an anorexic's mind is food. Better to make lists of other things, like all animals starting with the letter G, probably.

Without wanting to take you through all the gritty details of the recovery stages, I am happy to share that I got to a point where using my own energies was so completely and utterly futile that I just had no other option but to Give The Hell Up and let go of all that controlling. Hell being the operative word; because that is what an eating disorder as extreme as anorexia is: a living Hell. Part of that process was getting on my knees and saying, "You know what, God, I tried to do it on my own, and failed miserably, so I'm going to let you take the wheel."

But all the while there was a niggling voice in my head saying, "Pull your socks up, girl, and get on with the show – enough of this wallowing and naval gazing an self-flagellating behaviour!"

How very cruel.

For someone who prided herself on self-sufficiency and perfectionism and generally being a good, law-abiding citizen, going through the painful stages of surrender wasn't easy. Ironically, it took losing everything to let go. My looks were gone, my marriage a minefield, my work not satisfying, my friendships flailing, my everyday life mired in a dark cloud broken intermittently by bright glimpses of hope.

And then came the apathy. It's humiliating to be at that stage, but it was a necessary humbling one for me, I think. It saw me neglect my appearance and other regular-people duties, such as answering emails and paying bills, and wallow in a cloud of self-pity. But then that was replaced by a new mind-frame of self-nurturing, personal responsibility and a deep desire to get the most out of life, my work, my relationships and my body in all its functionalities, unhindered by past mistakes and troubles.

Still, it can be hard to let go of the idea that one's life's CV has been blemished. "Out damned spot!" said Lady Macbeth, wandering around blindly in her misery, all her guilt and shame and mistakes conspiring to entrap her in a dark world of self-hate. BUT, to be aware of one's faults, the roots of emotional trauma and motives for actions and beliefs, and also the environmental context in which these were developed, is a healthy thing, I think.

We don't get to determine the seasons in life or skip to the head of the class without developing the necessary emotional or spiritual maturity, or doing homework on anything from the past that has the potential to hold us back, to deal with the next stages that are to come... and inevitably they will include challenging times, which we don't value nearly enough in the mistaken belief that life must be all happy-la-de-da if we are progressing.

It's hard to consider tough times a blessing and easy for resentment and bitterness to set in, with its unattractive associates whingeing, whining, complaining and a miserable sad-face countenance, or self-loathing and its friend self-destructive behaviours. Paul clearly articulated his own torment, the wrestle with the self and his desperation to want to be true to God, in his letter to the Romans but also His great joy at being able to rise above his circumstances... and this was a man who spent time locked up in goal in conditions quite unlike the provisions made for inmates today.

I think that says a lot about where Paul was deriving his sense of security, not tethered to lists and achievements and applause from others for a job well done, but to God and the sense that heaven was within him and not to be found out there in the world. Achieving that was not a matter of external validation but of recognition of man's powerlessness to be the master of his own destiny (unless the destiny you're choosing is to not be living in communion with God, which is a valid choice to make). 

Paul's is the sort of deeply ingrained assurance of salvation I had to find before I could get back on track... a track designed completely and utterly for me but that is still occasionally like an obstacle course because there are days when it's easy to fall back into bad habits, or to desire to wrestle control, or to want to please people, because things are off-kilter or you've made a mistake, and who doesn't want to be liked, and, my, there are so many choices to make!

Part of the problem is also the templates we're given for successful living by the media, which is not always adaptable – or positive – to the self. Discerning which "self" is really you, and how you would like to live your life, under the influence of outside messages and influences that often conform to vague stereotypes is no easy feat. This makes media that represents people in their mutli-faceted forms most valuable.

For me, the empirical reality of reliance less on self and more on God, with a moral code underpinned by the Bible, shows in the good things I've seen develop from that in my life, which includes, coincidentally, a greater sense of proficiency and efficiency and dedication to craft (not knitting, writing), because it has greater purpose and more clarity.

There is nothing wrong with being a perfectionist in a Christian sense if it is based on wanting to be a God-pleaser or friend of Jesus and it is seated in peace rather than a frenzied approach to productivity. As A. J. Gordon once said, "It ill becomes Christian worldlings to throw stones at the Christian perfectionist."

A true believer delights in the law of God while also being humble enough to see that he or she is perfectly capable of messing up, though hopefully less so – and not deliberately or with ill intent – as you mature, and is therefore in need of forgiveness and grace, which should in turn be extended to others (something that's hard to master if you are into self-loathing, spitefulness or revenge). Which is not to say there's not room for correction; oftentimes it takes someone else to show us where we went, or are going, wrong.

In fact, it was only after becoming a Christian that all my faults were brought to light (not all at once, thankfully – that would have been unbearable!) making me all the more keenly aware of why I needed Christ. In God's eyes, no amount of human virtue can win the battle with the self. It's grace, not self-righteous goodness, that's needed, in addition to an eternal perspective that's not desperately fixated on today's To-Do list. In that context, carrying out assigned tasks have a tinge of delight rather than an overwhelming foreboding that sucks the pleasure out of work and life.   

"What does a worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure for ever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so men will revere Him.
Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before,
And God will call the past to account." (Ecclesiastes 3: 1-15)

Girl With a Satchel


Anonymous said...

Argh! Lists! I too, used to be a gigantic list maker, mapping out my meal times, alotted calorie allowance, when to exercise, yadda-yadda. You know the drill. I ended up having a nervous breakdown and moving to the other side of the country. Such is life!
So good to have more brave girls opening a dialogue about EDs though. Gold stars and high fives for you! x

Jo Hayes said...

What in inspiring, humble, relateable piece. My day has been blessed by reading this! So important to get such topics out into the light (of christ), where he can reveal his beautiful TRUTH on the lies of the enemy. I'm reminded of the scripture, 'what the enemy intended for our destruction, the Lord will use for His and our glory' ... i believe the story of your struggles are being transformed into something that will glorify Him and help many many girls (young and old) with their own struggles. Keep up the great, beautiful work that you're doing! You're blessed. Jo xo

julialow said...

Thank you so much for this honest post, Erica. I particularly liked how you quoted Ecclesiastes.

Although I struggled with something different altogether, Ecclesiastes really helped me through some dark times when I struggled with life and its lack of meaning to me. I could really relate to the author of Ecclesiastes because to him, everything was meaningless. I felt relieved knowing that even as a Christian, we can sometimes lose our way and even authors of the Bible have also felt that way from time to time.

In the end though, God reminded me how life is indeed meaningless -- but only when we do not have Him in our hearts. Thank God for God, really. He is the one who brings purpose to our lives, and that is a blessing.

Your post has reminded me that truly, we can plan and make lists, but ultimately, it is God who saves and makes everything worthwhile.

julia x

glady_4 said...

Thanks for this post. I too, make lists of things that need to be done, in order to increase productivity, to have goals and checklists for each day. But yes, there are those times where it all is too much and we have to rescind control to God. It sure is reassuring at those times to know that God has that bigger plan than any of my lists could even capture!

Anonymous said...

Thankyou Erica, this post has really helped me today.