The Key to an Abundant & Free Life

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Hi guys! Today I have the privilege of sharing a post from my friend and the founder of livinglikegolden, Sarah Johannesen. I asked Sarah to share her story with finding food and body freedom in Christ, and guys it’s so good— Enjoy!

Hey friends!

My name is Sarah Johannesen and I am a friend of Aubrey’s!  I am so honored to be sharing my story with you today. Let’s jump in!

I grew up dancing.  I started around the age of three when most kids are put into ballet class, but I just kept going and fell in love with it as the years went by.  Wearing the tights and leotard didn’t really bother me too much other than the fact that it took two years to put on. However, as I got older, I gradually learned the “rules” of what health looked like.  I was told there were foods that I “couldn’t eat if I wanted to be healthy”. I didn’t force myself to these standards though, because I wanted to live my life!

Then, I went to college.  In my spring semester of my freshman year, I fell into a deep depression.  Being a rather positive person, this was extremely painful for me. I just could not get out of the slump.  So, I tried to numb those feelings by working out and restricting my food.  I subconsciously decided that I would rather feel a sense of “accomplishment” from a workout or from “self control” from certain foods than feel the feelings of defeat and worthlessness that came with my depression.  *Disclaimer: This is what I thought at this time, but not eating certain foods or not listening to your body is NOT self-control.*

So, days went by and I lived for the workout and for the meal that I could manipulate.  Soon, I heard comments like, “You’re so healthy!” and “You’re so motivated!”. Being a people pleaser myself, I thrived off of these comments.  They kept me going in this lifestyle that was tearing me apart.

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How did I go from Miss Confident to feeling utterly worthless?  I believed lies. {Side note: Aubrey wrote an incredible post about the lies she believed and I feel our stories are so similar.  I know that is not a coincidence. It just shows you how pervasive those lies are! Read her post on my blog here!}  These lies became my thoughts.  Then, those thoughts became what I perceived to be truth, rather than the lies that they were.  

I feel compassion for that time in my life.  Why? Because there are SO many messages out there telling us we need to change.  There is an endless stream of opinions telling us what foods we shouldn’t eat. There are fear-mongering statements on the magazines at the checkout line, encouraging the idea that our bodies equal our worth.

This could not be further from the truth.  

During this time in my life where I felt chained to body image struggles--feelings of worthlessness, ugliness, dissatisfaction, I felt empty in more ways than one.  I dragged myself to the gym with absolutely no desire whatsoever to be there. I did not believe I was worthy of anything. Of love. Of food. Of hope.

But Jesus pursued me.

He spoke to me and He never gave up.  I’m sure there were times that He spoke to me that I still have never noticed to this day.  Today, however, I’ll share with you a time where He literally stopped me in my tracks. He saved me from myself.  It’s this part of my story that brings me so much emotion and feelings of “Wow, God, I am so in awe of You!”.

I remember, one day, I was in the bathroom of my sophomore year dorm, about to brush my teeth.  I pulled out my toothbrush and I felt God say, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” I really don't know how to explain it.  I just felt these words come to my mind and I knew it was God. Okay.  I thought. Thank you?

A couple days later, I was taking a shower after a run that I felt absolutely miserable during. However, I forced myself to go because if I didn’t, I feared I would feel worthless. Unhealthy. Unworthy.  Unlovable. Unaccomplished. Incapable. So, I ran.

I felt so broken.  SO empty. Physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.  I just cried. And cried. I was standing in my community bathroom shower at my dorm, wondering why I was even alive.  God, I cried out.  If this is really an issue, the food and exercise thing, then please let someone pray for me tonight at Bible study.

I kind of hoped someone would, but at the same time, I didn’t.  What would I do without the workout and food restriction? What would I live for?  Who would I be? Who would see me as worthy? What would people compliment me on if it wasn’t always my appearance or health/workout regime?  What was left?

That night, I attended Bible study and felt so on the edge of my seat.  Would He do it? Would someone pray for me?  As the night ended, I was surprised.  No one had. But then, we sang one last song, and the worship leader asked for people to pray if they felt called.  I felt called, so I prayed...for myself. Then, out of the corner of my left eye, I saw someone walk toward me and kneel beside me.  

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I looked to my right and met the gaze of a boy who asked, “Can I pray for you?”.  I responded, “Yes.” It was a gut instinct. I mean, why would I reject prayer? But, at the same time, I was in shock of what was happening. Jesus was doing it!  He really heard my prayer and He was answering.  

I left that Bible study feeling in shock.  The next morning, I got up and was like, “Well, now what?”.  I prayed asking God for something...an encouragement.  Boy, did I need it! I was super tired and relied on lots of coffee every morning since I didn’t have adequate energy from the food I was eating.  {Side note: Food=energy. It is SO important to listen to your body!} I went to a coffee shop on campus and picked up my pre-ordered latte. As I grabbed my cup, I noticed there was some writing on it.  But, it wasn’t just my name, it was long. I turned it around to find a phrase. It said, “God is working in you, even when you cannot see.”

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Wow, that was the encouragement I prayed for. Another answer.  Okay, God.  I see You. I hear You.

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I walked to a prayer chapel on campus and once I entered, I just fell to my knees.  I felt so so broken and empty and helpless. God, I surrender.  I don’t even know what to pray. Jesus, I surrender.  I surrender. I kept saying it over and over. Please help me God. I need help.  I don’t know what to pray.

He said, “There is no fear in love”.  Okay, I know that’s in the Bible somewhere.  I looked it up. Yep, 1 John 4:18.  Then, I was reminded of what He had spoken just days earlier saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love”.  Okay, so if God loves me with an everlasting love and there is no fear in love, why do I have so much fear?  Specifically fear around my body, food, and exercise. Fear is not of the Lord.

Then, I wondered, “Is this in the Bible too?”.  I looked it up. Sure enough, it is. Woah. I don’t think I had ever read that before.  God, You literally spoke Your Truth, Your Word to me! Jeremiah 31:3!

Okay, so, God, why do I have so much fear if I am loved by you?  It came to me. I’m not believing that He loves me. I am believing that I have to earn His love.  I am believing that I have to earn the love of every person on this earth. That is not how He intended me to live.  God, help me receive Your love. Help me receive Your love. Help me believe Your love for me is real and true.  I prayed it over and over again.  

I left that prayer chapel with a weight lifted off of me.  Thank You, Jesus.  It felt like I had just told my biggest secret ever.

However, I knew I still had quite the journey ahead. God had changed my mind.  I felt totally motivated to get help, but I needed extra guidance and accountability.  I knew that I could not get better on my own. I needed professional help. So, I called my mom and she made me an appointment to see an eating disorder doctor/specialist.  

I went home for that appointment, and I didn’t go back to that college.  I took time off from school to focus on my recovery, and I have never regretted that.  College is so much more enjoyable once your body (and mind) is in a place to enjoy it!  To live that abundant and free life is what I strive for.  That is what I am called to.

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You see, it really does not matter how many slices of pizza you eat, how many grams of carbs you consume, or how many workouts you do in a week.  God wants us to live for Him, first and foremost.  If we are consuming adequate calories to give us the energy to do that, that’s amazing!  I’m not ignoring health (see Robyn’s post about Intuitive Eating + Health here) but I am just saying that is not what we should be living for.  We are called to live a life that’s primary goal is to live for CHRIST and bring HIM glory. How can we do that when we are so preoccupied with the way our bodies look or the grams or calories etc we consume?  Darling, you were made for something so much greater. We are called and blessed with a life of abundance and freedom. That includes freedom from food rules and exercise regimes.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1


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