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A new name

August 2012 | by Emma Scrivener

A new name

Emma Scrivener has written of her life-threatening experience of anorexia as a child and an adult. She says, ‘Although I sought and received professional medical help, it was my faith and a loving church community that finally changed my life’. Here is an extract from her book (with permission).

I sat in front of the fire, staring past the flames as they licked and spat in the grate. In trying to save myself, I destroyed everything I said I loved. I had come to the end of myself: I knew nothing.
    Clothes and possessions hadn’t worked. Academic achievements felt empty. Morality — my rules — seemed to offer redemption, but choked me instead. The rituals that promised my salvation were iron-forged manacles that took me to hell.
    I’d made my home in the darkness. I’d forgotten everything but myself. When the light came, I shrank from it. But without God, I had no self to speak of. This was it: the end. There was nowhere left to go.
    In desperation, I cried out to the God I’d fought so hard to escape. ‘Lord,’ I said, ‘I’m done. I give up. I’ve been running and running and I’m tired. I’m not in control. I want to be and I’ve tried to be — my whole life. It doesn’t work. I can’t do it anymore. If you’ll have it, take what’s left and do with it whatever you want’.
    And then, I waited.
    
The God who is there

I’m not sure what I expected. Anger, maybe. A thunderbolt from above, to finish what I’d begun. The weight of divine silence — or perhaps, nothing at all.
    In any case, there were no fireworks. No angels or sudden flashes of light — at least, not ones that I could see. But there was something else. Something completely unexpected. I felt a sense of God’s overwhelming love. I felt his presence. I felt like he was there. Like he cared for me.
    As the wind howled down the chimney, I encountered something that I had never experienced before. A deep, internal quiet. A sense of stillness: like pressing mute on all the background noise.
    The day before, I’d been helping my Mum pick readings for [my grandmother’s] funeral. The Bible still lay on the table. I picked it up and opened it at Revelation chapter 1, verse 14. The passage describes Jesus, standing in the throne room of heaven. It sounds fantastical, but these pictures are a way of putting into words a vision that’s bigger than speech.
    ‘His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance’ (vv.14-16).
    As I read, the words burst into life. For as long as I could remember, I’d been far too intense. More than anyone could be expected to manage. Too concentrated, too needy, too much. Yet here was someone else. Someone more passionate than me.

The God who is in Christ

Here was a vision that caught my breath. Radiant, terrible, beautiful. Irresistible. A face like the sun. Uncontainable. Blinding. Whose intensity swallowed mine, like candlelight in noon-day brilliance.
    Eyes that blazed like fire. Who could dare to meet his gaze?
    A voice like rushing waters. What words could I add?
    Before me stands the living God. Those eyes. That voice. No masks or performances can keep him at bay. In the power of his gaze I see myself and I want to die. He penetrates every defence, every veneer. He sees me — but he doesn’t frown or flinch.
    I’m pinned before him. He sees me as I am and he doesn’t walk away. He stares me down and he doesn’t blink.
    I am known. Perfectly and entirely. I am known.
    And so, like John, I fall on my face before him. Yet he’s not done. He picks me up. He lifts my chin and looks me in the eyes. He touches me, like he touched John, and this is what he says: ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last and the living one. I died and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and hades’ (Revelation 1:17-18).
    Here at last is a God who’s bigger than my drives. A person, in whose intensity I can rest. Here is the answer to every question. Does life matter? Yes. Have I any value? Yes.
    Can I know forgiveness? Yes. Can I be known and loved? Yes, yes, yes. A million times, yes!
    Here is a Lord who stoops down; who stretches out his hand and who whispers, ‘Fear not’. Here is Jesus!

The God who breaks

Shaking, I turned the pages to Revelation 5. I found another picture of the Saviour — one that was just as compelling, yet utterly different. It reads: ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah … has triumphed’ (Revelation 5:5).
    My fingers gripped the page as I prepared to meet this lion, a glorious, roaring conqueror. But that’s not how the passage continues. Verse 6 says this: ‘Then I saw a lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne’.
    It’s the same person. But the lion is now described as a lamb.
    So who is this Jesus? He’s the God who defies our expectations. He’s the Creator of the universe — and he’s a bleeding and bow-legged lamb. He’s the embodiment of strength and glory — but also of frailty and pain. He’s Jesus as Lord, the conquering lion. And he’s Jesus as lamb, sacrificed and broken.
    He’s a monarch, brooking neither rivals nor resistance. He’s also a servant, stooping below the lowest station. He’s the Son of God and he’s the Son of Man. He understands how it feels to be weak and ashamed and lonely and despised. He’s the lion who dies as a lamb.
    At the centre of the Christian faith stands a very strange symbol. The cross. It represents weakness and torture and shame: the death of a criminal, not a king. It’s a picture of the God who comes to die. Isn’t this slightly — well, obscene?
    Why choose this death? Why not another? One that’s a little safer. More — sanitised. Or, even better, tucked away, out of sight. In fact, why die at all? Surely success is about power and glory? Who wants a God who dies in disrepute?
    Who wants this God? Me. I do.
    For someone like me, someone broken and crushed by sin and shame, he’s not just a good option. He’s the only possible Saviour.
    Driven and self-willed, I thought that I was passionate — but before this great lion, I’m the one who looks away. In my self-inflicted misery, I thought I’d plumbed the depths but the slain lamb goes deeper than I can even fathom.
    A lamb who meets me in my brokenness. A lion who vanquishes all my foes. A God who turns his face towards me and says, ‘You’re mine. I’ve bought you and that’s enough’.
    ‘That’s enough’. What does this mean? Enough fighting and striving and hiding and running. Enough starving. Not a question. Not a request. An unalterable fact.
    
The God who gives

Moments earlier, such words would have filled me with terror. Now, they were accompanied by the thrill of hope. For the first time I felt that I had an identity. I had a purpose.
    It wasn’t what I’d thought or expected, but that was okay. I wasn’t in charge — but I’d met the One who was; the God who could satisfy all of my longings, and all of my hungers. Before him, I could hand over control and not be destroyed. He was enough and he wanted me.
    I thought that strength meant refusing to serve. But this Jesus confronted me, not as a tyrant or heavenly taskmaster, but as a gift. He came offering himself. And everything was changed by this truth.
    On the cross, my badness and my goodness were taken away — rendered irrelevant by his sacrifice. He didn’t want apologies, resolutions or assurances that I would do better. He wanted me.
    Instead of making me perform, he lifted me clean out of the arena. In return, he asked only one question: Would I receive him?
    I thought for a moment about what this meant. I’d tried to ring-fence my world with rules and rituals — systems to make life safe. But I’d never understood what it was to receive.
    I was the girl who always said no. No to people, no to relationships, no to marriage and health and family and food. No to risk and desire and vulnerability and need. No to a gospel that I couldn’t earn. No to a God who was bigger than me — who wanted my heart, not my good intentions.
    In the past, I’d turned over a thousand new leafs. I’d made a hundred new beginnings, each doomed to failure. These resolutions were all about me — my rules, my strength, my gospel, my way.
    In the end, I lost all I tried to keep. I got exactly what I asked for: religion without relationship, and law without love. But it left me hungrier than before.

Real repentance

In Romans chapter 2, there’s a verse that I’ve never understood. It says this: ‘God’s kindness leads you to repentance’.
    My version of repentance had no room for kindness. Instead, it was about fear, pride and self-will. My version said, ‘Pull yourself together. Try harder, do more, make it better. Fix your own mistakes — or face the consequences’.
    But real repentance looks very different. It’s the product of God’s kindness, undeserved and poured out without limit. As I stood before the Lord, I expected a fist. He gave me a kiss. What finally floored me was grace. This is what brought me to my knees.
    God’s kindness leads us to repentance. I couldn’t understand it. I couldn’t explain it. I couldn’t control it. But I couldn’t resist it either. Like rain in the desert, it flooded the secret, painful places and left me trembling and changed.
    My heart thrilled at his voice. ‘I love you as you are’, he said. ‘But I won’t leave you that way. I’m giving you a new start. I’m giving you a new name’.
    ‘Shameful’, ‘useless’, ‘weird’, ‘fat’. That was my old name. My new name is something very different.

A new name — grace and healing for anorexia was published in July by IVP (176 pages, £7.99; ISBN: 9781844745869; www.ivpbooks.com/9781844745869). The author’s blog is www.emmascrivener.net