emma

There is a way that seems right to a man,
but in the end it leads to death
(Proverbs 14:12)

Emma Scrivener’s anorexia nearly killed her – but whilst she was starving herself and over-exercising it seemed like the right thing to do. Trying to understand how anyone could deliberately behave in such a destructive way can be hard, but Emma’s account of her own eating disorder is incredibly insightful, and so strikingly honest, that she helps us make some sense of two decades of fighting anorexia. Although she doesn’t at all consider her own experience to be a ‘blueprint’ of what most anorexics will go through – she has great understanding, compassion and wisdom that will help anyone struggling with eating disorders, or who knows someone who does.

However, I think the thing that gripped me most about Emma’s story was not even the starkness of eating disorders, but her incredible insight into human nature, and her blunt assessment of her own personality and nature. Emma begins her story by telling us:

“Jesus Christ calls himself a Doctor for sick sinners. And I am both. I’m sick – helpless in the face of a condition that overpowers me. I am also a sinner – deliberately choosing my way over his. Despite this, he loves me just the same. So this is not just ‘my’ story. It’s the story of his work in my life.”

As she takes us through the things that shaped her life from childhood, through adolescence into adulthood, she picks out thought processes and feelings that led to her actions. Not just when she was obviously ill, but in the intervening years, where she appeared to have recovered.

“I have always felt hungry… Not just for food, but for everything: from money to recognition. I’m a human chasm, a vortex of insatiable longing.”

I love Emma’s honesty about what we really find when we look inside ourselves. Our culture seems to be such a mix of mantras – ‘believe in yourself’, ‘fight for your rights’, ‘don’t be a victim’.

“Therapy involved looking for the answer ‘within’. This sounds good, right? But what if, when you look inside, there’s nothing there? Worse still, what if what’s there is really rotten? What do you do with that? And where do you go when the experts can’t help?”

What a breath of fresh air! I can read this book knowing that I don’t have to pretend my motives are always pure, and my confidence is firmly rooted in Jesus – when really I regularly try to plant my confidence in my own weak efforts.

I wonder if sometimes we think it’s possible to hit a level of christian maturity where we’ve really got our heads around the gospel, and the growing that still needs to be done is far outweighed by other people’s need for us to teach them.Yes, of course I needed to hear that sermon on grace, but not because I didn’t already know it – I’m just thinking how I can encourage the person next to me to really take it on board.

Emma’s relapse occurred when she was a children’s worker in a church:

“From the outside, I looked like a great Christian. Glossy, high-functioning and motivated… [but] at the heart of a thriving ministry beat a commitment to proving myself… Idols, you see, are not always easy to spot [and] they’ll flourish as readily in churches as in temples.”

Emma’s relapse was more severe than her initial illness. Not only did she come incredibly close to dying, she was also so affected by the illness mentally that she thought she had everything under control. So what finally got through?

“At my very lowest ebb I opened the Bible and came in brokenness before the Lord.  In Revelation I met Jesus: someone I had never really seen. He’s the Creator of the universe (Revelation 1) – and He’s a bleeding and bow-legged lamb (Revelation 5). 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.”

This book is for:

those struggling with eating disorders, or who know someone who does
those struggling with idols in their lives
anyone searching for recognition and acceptance from those around them
anyone who thinks Jesus has lost his appeal a bit
anyone who isn’t amazed at grace anymore

Reviewed by Naomi Grindey