Interview with Jerusha Clark about Every Thought Captive, and Christian Book Previews' editor, Debra Murphy
CBP: Will you share with us your Christian testimony?
Jerusha: Absolutely. Growing up in California, there were a lot of things competing for my attention. The first of which was a heritage that didn't involve Christianity. My parents, five generations back on both sides, were Mormon. My mom and dad's ancestors were original pioneers to the state of Utah, and some of the prominent elders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. When my parents began realizing that they had a sin nature, which happened as they got married, it was really difficult to reconcile the teachings of the Mormon church with their own behavior. Basically, they recognized they weren't on the path to godhood. All this was happening while I'm still pretty young, but even from the time that I was very young, I think I was somewhat of an old soul. I don't know how else to say that. My mom, once when I was five years old, came into my room and I was awake at 11:00 at night, and she said, "Jerusha, what is going on?" "Well, mom, I'm just looking up at the ceiling thinking about the good old days." I don't even remember telling her this, but my mom says she said to me, "What good old days? You're five!"
I think that I imbibed a lot of the Mormon doctrine very deeply. Specifically, what is taught about the Holy Spirit, which is that if you're bad the Spirit leaves you. What that meant for me was starting a path of perfectionism from the time I was very little. The good little girl. I was the hostess when my parents' family would come over, or any of my dad's colleagues who I wanted to impress because they were Hollywood people. It was always exciting to me, but it also felt like an obligation, like if I didn't I wouldn't be loved. I have to interject, that wasn't because my parents were hoisting any expectations on me, they were very effusive in their praise. My mom will still give me a kiss on the lips, you know, we're just a very affectionate family. But at the same time, their roots in Mormonism led to a great deal of perfectionism. I think because my parents were not believers until their early 30's, they now have really investigated some of the ways our whole family had been exposed to the lies of critical spirit and judgmentalism and perfectionism. A lot of the truths that I tried to bring out in Every Thought Captive came out of this battle between a heritage of try, try, try. The truth, that in God's grace, we're given the ability to do that which he's called us to, but not to strive unto perfection.
So having this perfect little image was very important to me. I got to high school and pretty much accomplished anything a girl could hope. I was very blessed. God had given me a lot of opportunities, and I acknowledged him in ways that were safe for a perfectionist: not letting him get to close to me, but knowing all the right answers. Of course, important to a perfectionist. I would win all the Bible quizzes. It helped that God had given me a good memory. And I would go and I was always musical, my dad is a composer and so I'd be very involved in worship. I still to this day have a very deep connection with worship because of my musical roots. So it may have appeared to some that I had a more intimate relationship with Jesus than I actually did. I definitely identified as a Christian, and my high school people knew. My behavior was set apart, I didn't engage in drinking, but I was also popular so people associated me with behaviors, even if I didn't do them.
Things started to get messy, I would say, in my freshman year when I started recognizing keeping all the plates spinning would be a lot more difficult than a public high school. There was a lot more people. I had gone to a private school in elementary, and then a private Christian in junior high. A lot of my friends would talk about their weight and their issues with guys. Two major factors led to a breakdown in my life of the perfection ideal. That was a striving toward a body image that ultimately led to a destructive pattern. I began to just watch what I ate and try to be healthy, which seemed fine, but then progressed to a very serious pattern of restricting my diet. Originally I had identified myself more with anorexia, but I think after doing a lot of the research God's enabled me to do, I really see that eating disorders are on a continuum. Every person's experience is so different because God was trying to break me of my perfectionism, calling me even in the depths of my control and my desire for something he hadn't planned for me. That was a unique experience with eating disorders. So I would say I would classify as an eating disorder not otherwise specified, because I engaged in some patterns like I would use exercise to purge if I ate. I was never a bulimic technically, because I would never purge through vomiting. It was very important to me because when I got to college I was trying desperately to stop the behaviors because I recognized I was a control freak out of control, and I didn't like that.
I was still faithfully attending church, and a Christian, but a feeling so condemned and brought down by the things I felt I needed to fix in my own life. I remember my mom telling me, when she converted to Christianity, the truths that were most freeing to her were the fact that the grace of God was lavished and free for all. She said reading Galatians was just this radical experience, like taking off glasses and finally feeling like this is what it's like to be alive. But still, the girl that came from that radical an experience for her parents' conversion, I never really experienced for myself the freedom of Jesus Christ. I think now it was that my ears weren't opened wide enough. But never having heard that concept, even from my parents, of freedom and that there was freedom in Christ, both to succeed and to fail.
CBP: Not being perfect, what did that mean to you?
Jerusha: I was afraid that not being perfect would mean mediocre. And mediocrity was not acceptable to me. But what I ultimately found in the balance between perfection and underachieving, was day by day listening to the Spirit saying, "I have this for you today, and this only." Because what perfectionism says is that it's never good enough. I mean, it doesn't come out and say that directly, because otherwise there would be a lot more people in mental wards. But all of the underlying ways in which perfection lies to you. In some ways I think the enemy starts you on a path and then you're telling it to yourself. Or it starts out from your parents, whatever input in the way it's meant. When I first exploring my perfectionism, if I got and A- on a test, instead of verbally or mentally beating myself up, it would mean accepting my humanity. An A-, most people would be "My goodness," but to me, it was unacceptable. It was like 98% was still not perfect.
I think that even into my early 20's, and even into my mid-20's on a different level, because after I became a parent there was some of those old habits that were difficult to break because they reared themselves in raising my kids, in a different way. Marriage and then children, you kind of start again, and you grow and you cry in such a radically different way. Am I at square one again? Maybe it's like 1A, 1B, 1C, you know, different patterns. In my life, A+B has never equalled C. It's always been Q or Y. I love that about God, because now I can recognize those. I've come out of so many of my destructive behaviors that the adventure is so much more radical than I could have imagined, radically beautiful, radically challenging, radically peaceful and uplifiting.
The idea that God was sort of a ruthless taskmaster/slavedriver, I don't know if I would have ever articulated that, but that's what the feeling was. I remember my father telling me, when I finally began to get help with my anorexia, or eating disorder not otherwise specified, whatever it was that I had, he would tell me, "Well, your feelings aren't valid all the time, Jerusha." And I would get so angry with that, because I would think they're my feelings. Yet now I've come to see the beauty of that truth that the thoughts that are behind the feelings are the things that are lies, and that's why I was so compelled to write this book. My journey, ultimately, to a passionate, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ started by confronting a lie. And that's where my testimony leads is to how confronting those specific lies that led to my distortion of my body image, that led to my drive to be perfect and to never stop for a minute to listen to the silence because what would that tell me. All of these things.
It was through that, through the Word of God, through deep prayer, through worship, through those areas where I was led into the green pastures and the things that the psalms describe, that I could never actually think were mine. I was kind of connected with "the darkness surrounds me" of Psalm 88 at the very end. And people would have never imagined that because I was very vivacious and bubbly and cheerleader and all this stuff.
CBP: So that led you to writing this book. But this isn't the first book that you've written, and with your husband, too.
Jerusha: No. We started out writing books about relationships. The first book that Jeramy and I cowrote was I Gave Dating a Chance, which centered around what is a relationship specifically? What is a date? Trying to help Christians understand both the responsibility and the freedom that comes with a relationship that's directed toward God and glorifying him. The second book came springing out of some of the ideas from I Gave Dating a Chance. Specifically, how do you find a person that's worth dating? And then ultimately worth marrying. That's called He's HOT, She's HOT. I remember when we were doing interviews for that book, we would get a lot of teasing about that title, because people would be, "Doesn't that imply some kind of not-so-nice Christian things?" Part of it was we wanted to capture the lingo that was being used, and to help people transform that word. So hot actually stands for the three characteristics of a healthy, God-fearing person, we would hope young believers would be interested in either dating or marrying: holiness, outrageousness (which we define as a grouping of different characteristics that set a person apart; when we looked up the definitions of personality and humor and some of these things that people write down a lot on their list of what they would like in a mate; it all kind of came together for us in that word outrageous; somebody that was remarkable), and trustworthiness. The point we try to make in that book, is that God has created us with those attributes, those marvelous and defining attributes that are only ours.
DTR: Define The Relationships was our third book on relationships, and I thought would be the last, but we'll get to that in a moment, DTR dealt with how do you actually proceed them in relationships. So we kind of saw it as a journey with our readers. After you've started in a relationship, how do you maintain it, grow in it, and then possibly end a relationship. The subtitle I think says it pretty well: Breaking Up, Making Up, and Dating Well. Because it talks a lot about how to deal with relationship issues that could well prepare you for marriage. For instance, how do you deal with conflict in a healthy way. That's a skill that will very much help you in a marriage. Also, how do you maintain healthy boundries. Physical boundries, a lot of Christians have had input on that for years and years, but we wanted to give compelling reasons that got outside of the box of just say no. Why has exactly has God reserved sex for marriage? What is the beauty of remaining pure before him? And then also, emotional boundries, which was a huge issue when we would speak at different places around the country about dating. People wouldn't even know what an emotional boundry was. Even all the work that Cloud and Townsend have done, teenagers often did not recognize the need for emotional boundries. So DTR dealt with those more advanced dating topics. A little bit beyond, "Is it okay to go on a date?" and into "How do you actually navigate a relationship?"
And then, my husband and I were invited to be a part of a group of authors who contributed to a book called Five Paths to Finding the Love of Your Life, and that was my first connection with NavPress, who then published Every Thought Captive. That was just a joy to do because we were able to come together with authors of differing viewpoints and see, (1) all of us were seeking to glorify God; (2) there's not a perfect way to honor God in relationships. The way that God has wired each of us individually, we will respond to different methods. Obviously, we disagreed. Some on the particulars with some of the other authors, but the beauty of that book is that everybody is working toward the same goal of honoring God with relationships. There was no animosity, we enjoyed very much that process. I think it's a great resource to help young people, up to their 30's, because there are so many more single 30-year-olds these days. Try to discern what path God might want them to walk down in order to glorify him through their relationships.
In the midst of writing that, Jeramy and I were also in the process of writing a book on youth ministry. My husband is a youth pastor, and After You Drop Them Off was just a joy to write. I think for a number of different reasons, but I think mostly because we wanted to give it to our parents at our church, the parents dropped their kids off every week with fear in their eyes, like, "What's going to happen to my teenager? He's 13, and I want him to turn out well. Can you help me?" Really, that earnest desire to maximize a student's potential in Christ, and also their experience at church, because so many students walk away from the Lord, even if just for a brief period. During or after their high school experience. That was just a wonderful book to write. We tried to make that a very practical book, including chapters on how to deal with disappointment with your youth pastor, because we recognized that's an important factor. How do you constructively criticize a ministry? These kind of issues which are somewhat more difficult for someone that wants the supportive parents to navigate.
That's been our journey. I didn't necessarily imagine that I would write on my own, but I recall when the idea for Every Thought Captive first came to my mind, it was at summer camp. I was listening to a young woman speak about her experience with a really broken sexuality, and ultimately having an abortion. She traced all of those experiences back to a pattern of lies that she had believed. It was like the final piece of a puzzle coming together in my mind, and "This is it Lord. I know that you've put this message on my heart." Because I see how it led to destructive patterns in areas of my life, not specifically sexuality, although I started to realize that every area that a woman deals with, any kind of distorted behavior or thought that takes her away from that love relationship with Jesus, goes back to a lie.
CBP: So that's were the idea for truth versus lies began at?
CBP: You have a ministry. Is it with women?
Jerusha: When I speak, for instance, if I'm going to speak to the young people in our youth group, I usually only speak to the girls. My heart is passionate about things that are pretty unique to women. So I would say my primary ministry is with women. I spoke in our group on different topics that I want young men to know about, eating disorders for instance. But I would say primarily to women. I lead a core group of girls because I think one-on-one mentoring is absolutely essential. I'm just a huge fan of it. I'll speak to younger adult women in our church, but the fact that I'm 29, I don't presume to speak to the older women of our church.
CBP: So how does your mind work? I know about your perfectionism. But what about other women? Are you finding that there's a lot of women that their minds are thinking all the time?
Jerusha: Yes, I think that in some ways I kind of draw the kind of people to myself that I interact with. But even those people that are radically different from me, they're experience in their mind may be unique, but the kind of way in which we're tempted, the kind of ways in which we're drawn to joy. There's such a universal beauty in how God has created the human mind. I think that there are a number of reason that I would say this book would be applicable to any woman. One of those things is because our minds are racing so much. Almost all of us. The sensory input alone of living today's day and age. The mental, emotional, even spiritual input, how do we go every week and hear a sermon and digest that? And maybe two Bible studies a week, whatever. How do we actually digest this and come out with a growth in our relationship with Jesus Christ? That's a challenge. It's a challenge I think because we just have too much coming in sometimes. And if you're already wired to have too much going on in the interior world, then you've got a double whammy. Women that don't maybe have as fast pace of a mind have to deal with that anyway, as I said, because of all the input that's assaulting us.
CBP: In this particular book, you talk about insights into handling some of the subjects. One is being offended and forgiving.
Jerusha: You know, this is a subject really tender to my heart because there's a lot of generational sin in my family in this particular area. Yet I feel like God has given me, in some ways, the ability to step back and look at that more objectively. I think it's only because he wanted me to bring some of these things to light. For instance, one of the biggest lies that I continue to confront with any woman that I talk to is that "I'm supposed to forgive, so I guess I will." That is such a toxic, debilitating lie because what it does is give you this, "Well, buck up and just do it" attitude is not what God would have for us.
CBP: It's not lasting.
Jerusha: No, it's not. It's a band aid that's hurriedly applied to a wound, and you think it's better, and that wound opens up again, possibly with greater force because it hasn't been treated. But along with that lie, there's the really pernicious lie that forgiveness is an act that I do, rather than a process or a dialog that you continue to go through with God. I think that in some ways, we look at the passage between Jesus Christ and Peter, talking about how many times should I forgive. In some translations it's seventy-seven, and sometimes seventy times seven, which I think I prefer that interpretation. Only because there have been times in my own life, where with one particular event, it's been a 490-page dialog between the Father and I, and the Spirit and I, of "Okay, here's one more layer, Lord, where I didn't realize the offense." I loved what Lewis Smedes talked about on that particular level, but that only shows us that the offense was real, and takes up back to the cross and reminds us that when a wound is deep, there is a pain that's deeper still that needs to be addressed. Sometimes forgiveness, we see that as something we give to somebody else, and this is an idea that was such a blessing to me in reading as I prepared to write this book. Like Smedes says, spiritual surgery on our own soul. It sets us free.
CBP: Another thing I thought was good that could be applied to many circumstances, not just if someone didn't stand up for you in a family. I thought it very freeing that you're not always angry at the person who did the offense, it's someone else for not sticking up for whatever.
Jerusha: Not protecting you, yes.
CBP: Can you talk about women who fixate on their body weight?
Jerusha: It's not just young girls. When I was writing this particular chapter, my mom and I discussed how in some ways the conversations have advanced in vocabulary and in humor about it. But between 15-year-old women and 50-year-old women, the lies are still so deep seated. There are so many reasons behind that, but I love capturing on the idea of beauty, and what that means. I read a book a couple years ago called Eve's Revenge. My girlfriend and I were talking about it this morning, how when the beauty was described in years past it was with words that any person cpuld interject themselves into. Say a poem Dunne wrote or Shakespeare, because the descriptions were not so specific. We live in a visual culture now, and when we compare ourselves to the people on Cosmo or even some of the people on Today's Christian Woman, let's be honest, we know we don't look that way. Maybe they should show not airbrushed models on at least Christian magazines. I don't know what the solution is, Debra, but all I know is that that constant visual reminder that we're not measuring up -- and it's not about being perfect, because at a certain point God reminds us all that we're human, on a daily basis usually -- but also the fact that we constantly have to face food issues because we eat three times a day. We have a plethora of wonderful options available to us, and food is a delight. I think that was a really freeing thing for me when I was coming out of my eating disorder is seeing that God created food for my joy, rather than as a constant temptation.
I loved the verse in 1 Timothy 6:17, which says that God created everything for our enjoyment. That's not the kind of view I had of God until he really grabbed hold of my heart, and allowed me to know him for who he was. Even then, you take on a different view. One of the things I loved as I prepared for this book was the idea that there's no perfect shape. There really is not. I don't know how to encourage women enough to believe that. I've always had the idea that there was one size, or one shape, or one hair color, or whatever. But I look at trees. Some trees have large trunks. Some trees have large branches. Some trees have little tiny leaves. We look at anything in nature that God's created and we can appreciate the variety. Or we can look at a gnarly tree and think of the character in that. Well, why don't we apply that to our physical, natural bodies? We can't just blame it on the media, but that's a huge problem. We can't just blame it on the enemy, but that's a huge problem. We can't just blame it on women themselves, because we talk about it way too much. So one of the things that I advice women to do is to stop talking about our bodies. Can we not get beyond talking about how much we ate at lunch?
CBP: Stop looking around and stop talking about it. In a way, it's so simple. The last one I wanted to cover if we have time, being overwhelmed with sorrow.
Jerusha: Well, this was an incredibly difficult chapter for me to write, because it was the one that was closest to home. I had overcome so many of the eating issues before I started writing Every Thought Captive. But even in the midst of conceiving the idea several years ago, because it took a while to find a home, even at NavPress, in part because I delivered my second daughter and went through, not my first, but second post-partum depression. That was in the midst of this wonderful experience of feeling like God had given me so much freedom from the first post-partum depression. This was a very painful, but cathartic chapter to write. I felt so excited to give women some of the tools that God had given me to deal with sorrow, and being overwhelmed. One, is that I'm not alone. I knew intellectually the truth that Christ will never leave me or forsake me, but I loved finding out that other biblical characters had experienced deep sorrow and deep despair. And then were rescued by God in such a way that radically changed their lives, and to use them for these amazing things that God had in store. For instance, I always loved the story of Hannah, but I never really connected until I started knowing the signs of depression, her comment that "I was not able to eat," or "I wept continuously." Whether or not Hannah had a chemical depression we'll never know that, but God did not describe that on accident. Those of us that have ever experienced depression, and some of us overeat when we're depressed and some of us undereat, some of us oversleep, some of us undersleep. Every person's experience is unique, but usually you bounce back between the two. Hearing her story, and seeing how Samuel came from her. Not just from her prayer, but her body. God redeemed her bodily experience.