The day I learned my daughter was battling bulimia, we were together in the car—an increasingly rare experience since she’d gotten her license the month before. I was excited to have her in my front seat again, because “car time” is when we have our best conversations. This day would be no different.

Yet what followed was a conversation I never expected.

Before I backed out of the driveway, the floodgates opened. Out of her mouth spilled the secret she’d been carrying: “Mom, I need help. I’ve been making myself throw up.” Through tears she described the worthlessness she felt. Picturing my baby girl alone in the bathroom, slouched over the toilet, undid me. I pushed back the sting of tears and the overwhelming desire to pull the car over so I could hold her tight. 

How could this possibly be her struggle? 

Obviously, as her mother, I’m partial. But my daughter is objectively gorgeous, smart, outgoing, talented, funny, compassionate, and well-liked. It didn’t make sense to me.

What made her confession even harder to wrap my mind around was knowing she heard the gospel week in and week out. I lead her small group Bible study, and my husband (her dad) is her pastor! How could she be wrestling with her identity in this way?

What did this say about me as a mom? Where had I gone wrong? How didn’t I know? We are so close; is she hiding more? What will people think?

I wrestled with these questions throughout the upcoming year. As a parent, we want to protect and prevent our kids from experiencing adversity. When they hurt, we hurt, and we want to take away the pain, to make it all better. But it was naïve of me to think I could fix it, fix her. I would soon learn the truth I always said I believed: What the enemy intended for harm, God intended for good.

He’s at Work in Your Child

God used an eating disorder to reveal himself to my daughter. Yes, she was a believer before, but she didn’t know the extent of her sin and her desperate need for a Savior. Now she does. What he gave her in Christ—his perfect and righteous record—she is growing to embrace as her true identity.

Jesus not her dress size, defines who she is. Not the number of “likes” she gets on a photo. Not her accomplishments. Not her failures. This doesn’t mean she’s free from the temptation to base her worth on false sources. But now she recognizes red flags, and knows when she needs to reorient her heart and mind back to truth.

He’s at Work in You

An eating disorder feels like a constant battle for the entire family: one step forward, two steps back. And often it is. Through the long process, I realize God had my sanctification in mind as much as my daughter’s. He used her eating disorder to change me. He works through the sin of one to accomplish his purposes in another. As hard as it was, I wouldn’t undo it.

I now recognize the ways I tried to manage our lives in an effort to secure perpetual happiness. Isn’t this the reason we hover over our children, give into their wishes, and even forego discipline? Life is easier (so we think) if we can control all outcomes to bolster our kids with success, shield them from hardship, and maintain perfect peace.

In his mercy, God stripped me of any control I thought I had. As I’ve seen his provision and goodness to us in adversity, I’m learning to rest in his ways. He’s given me new peace. And he’s increased my compassion for others as I’ve seen my own sin. We’re all in the same boat, needing the rescue only Jesus can provide.

Give Him Your Fear

I still become fearful when struggles arise for my daughter—frustration over how she looks, relational conflicts, loneliness, or circumstantial stress. Trusting God with our kids is hard. My first inclination is to protect her from anything that might rock the boat and cause her to slip back into disordered eating or depression.

Just as she must constantly go back to Jesus, so do I. By remembering his promises, meditating on his character, and believing his worth and work for me, I rest secure even when my world seems out of control. I can live broken and declare it is well with my soul. I look back and count it all joy. I can see his mercies as new every morning. And I can trust that, whatever comes, he’s at work in all things.