Anointing of the Sick/Body Image/Healthy Body/My Life

20 Seconds of Courage: How I Found Healing from Self-Hatred

For as long as I can remember I have struggled with my body image and perfectionism — a tough combo.

I was a dancer growing up and was told that I needed to lose weight. There were some days when my teacher told me to skip meals, and I listened. Even after I left that studio the idea of being skinny was always a priority for me. Once I got to college and I wasn’t playing sports it was harder for me to maintain a good balance in my life. Often, I would eat whatever I wanted until I felt awful about myself and then restrict myself until I felt good again. It was a really unhealthy cycle that led to weight gain, increased acne, and fatigue. I felt stuck. I didn’t have any balance.

However, in this past year I have learned how to love my body. It is a day to day choice for me to wake up and say “I love this healthy, strong, capable body I have been blessed with.” Most days it’s easier to say, “wow, ick.” Or pinch my sides. Or change my clothes 12 times until I find something that hides everything.

But, God has been showing me each day how to be more grateful for all He has given me. I have learned how to take it one day at a time and remember that things can’t change overnight. I have learned how to fit exercise into my routine in a way that is fun and healthy. I have learned how to discipline myself without depriving myself. These are steps forward in a journey that was slowly tearing me away from the Lord and from others in my life. These steps forward, this strength did not come from me. It couldn’t have. If I could’ve do it on my own I would have many years ago.

This grace came from the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.

I know, I was surprised too. I never thought that I would receive the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick unless I was having a major emergency. I thought it was a sacrament for those who are close to death, who are in the hospital. Then, one night on my college campus they were offering the sacrament at Mass. I wasn’t going to go up. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. But then I realized, while my symptoms may not have been visible they did exist, I was sick and I needed healing and grace. God heals all kinds of wounds. So, I went. It took an insane about of courage to go up but I did. I received an anointing. It was uncomfortable for me but sometimes in order to receive the grace of God we need to step out of comfort. That 20 seconds of courage changed everything. The Lord worked through the sacrament to heal my long inflicted wounds of self-hatred and His grace has continued to pour out over the last year as He has worked on my heart.

Anointing of the Sick is an incredible sacrament. It’s purpose is to give special grace to those who are experiencing difficulties related to grave illness or old age. Especially as our understanding of mental illness increases, the Church recognizes that grave illness takes many forms. To receive the sacrament there must be danger that exists because of the illness (danger of abuse of the body in the case of mental illness) but since Vatican II you do not need to be in imminent danger of dying to receive the anointing (Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy, #73).

God’s grace comes to us in many ways. We can be given grace through others, our experiences, and in prayer but the sacraments provide us with a special kind of grace. We can be confident that in the sacraments Christ Himself is working. As fire transforms anything it touches, so too the Holy Spirit transforms us in the grace we receive. As baptized Catholics, we have this transformative grace available to us in all seven sacraments. Christ works in each one to transform our hearts and give us His grace and strength.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder I encourage you to reach out for help. You are not alone and professional help can change everything. The freedom I feel from the lies that I am not good enough, not skinny enough, and not pretty enough has transformed my life. Not only is it easier to claim my title as beloved daughter of God but it has brought more peace and joy to my heart than I have ever experienced. Going to a professional for help does not mean that you don’t believe in God’s power to heal you. God has given us men and women to counsel and help us and He desires that we go to them.

I am grateful for my 20 seconds of courage but even more grateful for the love of God in His sacraments and His church. I am grateful for the opportunity to receive these sacraments in safety and peace and for the priests who offer them to me. I am grateful for this journey. For my heart. And for my healthy, beautiful body.

I really hope you can say the same.

About the Author

Sarah McMahon

My life radically changed after a retreat in high school and God keeps surprising me every day. I am a youth minister in Illinois and I’ve only met one kind of candy I don’t like. I hate flying but I love new adventures so if you invent teleportation let me know @sarah_mcmahon6.