In 2004 I found treatment for my daughter’s eating disorder and mental illness. She is alive and living her best life now. I can hardly express how close we came to losing her. As a woman of deep Evangelical faith and practice, I first looked to God for guidance. When I determined to seek experts for her care, many in my circle pushed hard against me. Nonetheless, I ignored their guidance and sought to understand her illnesses instead of imagining I was going to be excluded from the suffering because I belonged to Jesus. My daughter was dying right before my eyes and the advice from the faithful was not helping.
The professionals at Children’s Hospital in Omaha helped unpack her eating disorder and discovered that her story began when my water broke at 13 weeks and my pregnancy was threatened- 15 weeks later after being in and out of the hospital – she was born viable but not without unseen major trauma to her emotional brain. In other words there were physiological reasons for her illness. It was not a lack of faith or an attack from Satan that made her ill. There were realities that I had to face if she was ever going to have a chance at a healthy adult life. Everything in our lives was touched by the hard work it took for her to reprogram her brain and learn to live with it and beyond it. I am beyond grateful for every medical and psychological expert who was there with guidance and direction because without them we would surely have buried her at 17.
I know that it’s frightening to live in a time where a rogue virus is wreaking havoc in the world. I also know that well meaning people want to believe that their faith is more powerful than the virus. I get that. If that’s where you are consider this. Sometimes it’s important to evaluate whether you are experiencing actual faith or are instead living with a conditioned presumption that you are excluded from reality because you are in and others are out. Maybe you believe that you and your community of believers have found the one right way to live and those outside of the faith have not. Think about that like I did 20 years ago.
What has too often been lost is that discovering real faith, the kind that allows us to risk something unusual and succeed requires that we pursue God with real effort, hard personal reflection and the willingness to change ourselves. I’ve been required to do some pretty significant turning around (known as repentance) before being able to gain any inspired perspective. Even then, as a human being I’m always aware that I can be more driven by my ego than any kind of genuine faith. That kind of faith in my life has come almost exclusively from places of significant brokenness.
I’ve learned that as a Christian living in a western country, I’ve had the privilege of a life lived without the threat of death from most respiratory illnesses. Pneumonia = antibiotics and IV support. H1N1 was kept at bay by a well functioning CDC with government support. Many people didn’t even know that it too could have blown up here when it hit our shores. We are used to life without threats from these diseases. We have been equally privileged to travel to foreign countries with access to vaccines for the illnesses we don’t even have here like Yellow Fever. Our freedom from these diseases has made us vulnerable to the belief that we are special and beyond the scope of these viruses. Covid 19 is proving that we are not.
It’s hard to face this. It’s hard to grasp that what you have embraced as faith might not be faith at all. It’s very hard to face what is real and find the willingness needed to alter your life. It can cost you as you move away from the life you thought you knew. Letting go of the security of a religious devotion you believed would hold you secure forever is very difficult. But if you can, trust me when I say that life lived with genuine faith grounded in the real world is way better than any life lived with a presumptive one.