Q & A with Justin Smith - Those Who Hunger + Thirst

This interview is special to me in particular because it was done by my dear husband (the original dear in "Chasing after dear" incidentally), Justin Smith. I honestly didn't think he would ever do this both because it is awkwardly transparent (no one likes that, let's face it) and time consuming. He's been so incredibly busy at work--without even a moment to himself--that I was stunned when he sent me this completed Q & A last week. It was such a joy to read his thoughts and see his beautiful heart on display. I know this will move and encourage you as much as it did for me. May God use his words to heal old wounds and grow us in maturity and faith in Christ!

1: What unique challenges do you face as the husband of a recovering anorexic / bulimic?

Well, as anyone who knows me would tell you, I’m particularly fond of food and cooking in general. Since I do nearly all the cooking for our family it’s something I have to think about constantly. I try (and often fail) to balance my desire for gastronomical innovation with the desire to make food that is satisfying but not worrying for my wife, Jenny. What I mean to say is that I try very hard to make her food that will just barely make her feel satisfied, full, without crossing the tipping point into what I call the Holy-crap-that-was-delicious-but-unhealthy-and-I-shouldn’t-have-eaten that-oh-no-what-am-I-going-to-do-now doom spiral. I’ve found that I often have to abstain from or at least moderate ingredients I would otherwise relish – heavy cream, real pasta, red meat, oils, garlic, etc. At the end of the day I have to remind myself of a few verses: Luke 12:23 - For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 1 Corinthians 8:13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. Not that we never have meat but you get the idea. It’s not a hill worth dying on – and if we have to eat more vegetables – well…it won’t kill me.

One other big thing I try to do is help my wife combat lies that she tells herself – sometimes out loud – ex. “I look ugly”; “I feel fat”, etc. I typically like to do this by pulling back the curtain and just stopping for a second, getting her to acknowledge that she tells her brain, her body is lying to her, that it’s not true, and let’s talk/think/discuss something else.


2: How have friends and family members traditionally reacted when they discovered your wife's struggle with food?

· Typically, and I don’t think its isolated to friends and family, people in general just don’t understand. I think it’s hard for the average person to correctly think about addictive and cyclical sin in general. We’re all in agreement that we all sin (if not, well, then, ….there you go). Most of us are just diluted enough to believe that is something we can fix by trying harder; you know if we really HAD to…we could do it, we could get rid of it. I think the danger there is that most people will then hold up their sin in comparison to yours and say well, at least I’m in control of my stuff, unlike her. AND it’s just not true. While there are several noticeable exceptions in our close family and friends I think the tendency for people more on the “acquaintance” spectrum is judgment, followed swiftly by comparison, and a false sense of superiority. I think this is exactly what Jesus is referencing when he talks about Log-Denial syndrome in Matthew 7:3-5: Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

The other major reaction I see is…well, "why doesn't she just stop?" I think this reaction is in stark denial of the commonplaceness of this problem and shows a poor understanding of the grasp of sin on our lives. People don’t need to try harder…they need to give up more to Jesus.

3: Is it difficult for you to understand the temptation of eating disorders?

· Well, it used to be. But, having been married for 5 years (next April) to Jenny I’ve come to understand them pretty well. I think it’s about control. Sure some people do it for other reasons – self-effacement, etc. but I think by and large people who struggle with this are looking to “Control” their eating, appearance, lives, etc. in ways that they perceive they don’t have control over. Naturally this seems to be exacerbated in stressful seasons of life where control seems to be lacking. But what is control really other than self-reliance, the desire to rule over that which you have no claim to, to be penultimate. I don’t think it’s much different than any other sin except for the fact that its perhaps more possessive of your mind, more unconscious; then again other sins can be equally as automatic – habitual lying for example – on a per person basis.

4: Do you feel like this topic is discussed properly within the church? If not, what could be improved?

·I think the real problem is it’s not discussed enough. Not being open enough to admit our sin. Again there’s sins people aren’t adverse to talk about (pride, anger, jealousy for example) and there’s sins they can’t even fathom bringing up (eating disorders, sexual addictions, substance abuse). I think that for eating disorders/body image issues for women, and lust/porn/etc. for men are so much more pervasive that anyone really wants to admit. Not talking about them isn’t going to break the cycle for anyone. That’s the status quo. Thankfully I think it’s changing slowly as people come to better realize the seriousness of their sin. In general churches should help people (with conviction of the Spirit) better understand the seriousness and nature of their sin; encourage transparency, and connect them to a community that can struggle well with them.


5: What has the Lord shown you through this process about your own heart?

· I would say the largest thing I feel convicted about after reflecting on my wife's struggles and watching her constant attempts to put her sin to death is the lack of seriousness about my own sin. Bottom line is I don’t take it seriously enough; I don’t try hard enough to put to death that which I struggle with. I think we’re all familiar with the Satan-as-a-roaring-Lion simile. I don’t think that we realize how easy we’re making it for him when we don’t consider our sin the correct light – when we don’t attempt to put it to death. We’re wrapping ourselves in bacon and stepping into the Lions cage. 1 Peter 5:8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

6: What advice would you give to other husbands or wives married to someone with this addiction? (The Best things to do. The Best things to avoid doing.)

· Be Vigilant – watch their behavior; listen to their words, figure out when they are weakest, when they are lying to themselves.

· Speak Truth – Speak truth to them; Point out the lies they are telling themselves; remind them of the temporal nature of our current existence and struggles: 1 Corinthians 15: 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another.

· Speak Love – Don’t get angry or impatient when they fail; instead encourage them and remind them of God’s promises; show them love and grace

· Plan Ahead – Inasmuch as it is up to you – plan around tricky situations - people won’t be that upset if you have to bring your own food to an event. Leave some “safe” portable food stashes in different places (glove box, purse, laptop case, etc.). Avoid where possible situations that are dangerous – ex. We don’t eat out at a lot of Italian places because Pasta is not safe for my wife – instead find places with safe menu items – most restaurants have their menus online these days so you can and should plan ahead – ask yourself what would {They} eat if we went here

· Encourage transparency – Let them know that they can and should always come to you when they struggle and that your always willing and ready to discuss their issues. Side note here – foster an environment where this is possible or your words will be empty

· Sacrifice – Be willing to forego your personal/social desires if they are in conflict with your spouse’s struggles. This is usually pretty foundational to a decent marriage anyway.