By Don Meyer
WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 24, 2010) – It was her battle with anorexia that captured much of the media spotlight for 2008 Miss America Kirsten Haglund, but it was the inner struggle with personal identity and her relationship with God that consumed her waking hours, Haglund told hundreds of women gathered today for Triennial XIII at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.
Triennial XIII, sponsored by the Department of Women Ministries of the Evangelical Covenant Church, began Thursday evening and concludes with Sunday morning’s worship service.
Haglund, who grew up in Faith Covenant Church in Farmington Hills, Michigan, is pursuing a degree in political science at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Since winning the Miss America crown, she has devoted herself to empowering women and men to embrace holistic health and wellness.
In a message generously supported with scripture references, she recounted her dreams to become a ballerina star and find a career in the arts, explaining how that dream devolved into a nightmare that drove her to the brink of despair.
“Dancing was a passion,” she said. “I received the praise and adoration of the people around me – and I knew I was good at what I was doing and didn’t need God’s help.”
By age 12, she had decided to focus on a professional career, committing every summer to study and engaging in 12 to 15 performances a year – quite a stretch given her age, school, family and other commitments normal to a young girl. She soon learned, however, that ballet had what she describes as a “dark spiritual side” as she found herself consumed with concerns about her appearance – especially being thin – and pleasing others.
“Thinness, beauty, pleasing others, excellence in performance – I was terrified at the thought of losing all of that,” she confessed. So, she began to diet, setting her immediate goal at a modest five pounds. Everything slid downhill from that point and she found herself in the throes of anorexia, which she says falls into the same category as other addictions.
Therapy was not all that helpful – “just try to feel confident,” she was told. “The real problem,” she said, “was worshipping the love and the praise and adoration that comes from success.”
“My thing was being thin,” she said, noting that for others it may be a consuming passion for financial security, successful careers, or to be the perfect wife or mother. “When you put your identity role in front of God, it is idolatry,” she said.
“We have a desire to be appreciated, to feel valued,” she noted. “But, that can also be pride – we just don’t trust God to be fulfilling for us. “And when we persist, we get anxiety, stress, anger, guilt, and even addictions in return,” she said. “Satan is a powerful influence – he fills your head with thoughts that you will never be good enough. At night I would lie awake because I was starving – I felt so inadequate as a woman. Satan wants us to wallow in that feeling of inadequacy, because we then can’t be effective for God.”
Haglund drew four lessons from her experience that she says helped her to reverse course.
“First, I had to transform my worship, from worshipping things of the world to worshipping God as first and foremost in my life,” she said. “To do that, we have to first die to sin. We want control – Jesus says let it go. God said to me, ‘What if you just let go, Kirsten, and not be thin?’ What if . . . for the rest of us?”
Second, one must do self-examination. “I had to confront my own control issues,” she said. “Too often we think it is all about us to fix our little part of the world.”
Third, there is a need for surrender and then repentance. “For me, repentance felt like a warm shower,” she said. “We just need to openly say to God, I’m sorry. He wants to hear that from us.”
Finally comes obedience – following Jesus. For Kirsten, the biggest hurdle was learning to trust fully and completely. “I think that often we are reluctant to go to the Lord out of fear. And there is no reason for that – we are so indebted to the Lord, but have no debt to pay.”
Developing a wholesome and healthy understanding of what it means to be a woman of God has been a passionate pursuit for her, one that has equipped her to be an effective witness in speaking to other women and encouraging them on their own journeys.
To underpin her point, she creatively unpacked the Garden of Eden story, describing the sequence God followed in creating the world and everything in it.
“God started with the simple idea first – creating light and darkness,” she began. He then moved to move complex creations – like the birds of the air, life in the sea, and the incredible diversity of animal and plant life on land. Then comes man – who can walk upright with amazing intelligence and creativity of his own.
“And, after everything else, he creates woman, the final brushstroke on creation – beautiful, complex perfection,” she observed, much to the delight of her audience.
She encouraged her listeners to reflect and understand just how precious they are in God’s sight, focusing on his many promises to them:
They have no reason to fear
- He promises to teach us (Psalm 32:8)
- He promises to rebuild us (Jeremiah 31:3)
- He promises to give healing (Ephesians 5:8-13)
- He promises to give us a future (Philippians 1:5)
- He promises to carry his work in us to completion
“And, finally, he wants us to understand our identity in Christ, which allows us to carry out his mission,” she said, quoting Ephesians 2:8-10. “The only way we will be able to go forth and shine is by examining the idols of our heart, surrendering, and then following Jesus.”