Christa Black is a multi-platinum selling songwriter who has shared the stage with music icons from the Jonas Brothers to Michael W. Smith, Jordin Sparks to Israel Houghton. But there is more to Christa’s story than spotlights and screaming crowds. Despite growing up as a pastor’s kid, she endured sexual abuse and spent time in an clinic for people struggling with eating disorders. Black details these chronicles in her first book, God Loves Ugly: And Love Makes Beautiful, which is also the name of her multi-platinum selling song. In this interview, Black, 35, tackles the tough problems of addictions, perfection and accepting Christ’s love despite our faults.
JM: You were a preacher’s kid, so in a sense, you were on stage, so-to-speak, from an early age. How did this affect your self-image?
CB: Evangelicals can be interesting sometimes (said the evangelical). Instead of broken people being allowed to be broken, walking into the safe-haven hospital of unconditional love, Western churches tend to be performance palaces that perpetuate the cycle of perfectionism, secrecy and lies. I didn’t feel the need to be perfect for my dad’s congregation as much as I felt the pressure to be perfect for the God they were supposedly representing.
If Christians were judgmental and they were representing Him, then so was He. If Christians and their love were contingent on my perfection and spotless track record, then God must be demanding the same. We’re made in the image of God and are created to reflect what we see. That’s why worship is essential in the life of a believer—to see God, be changed and then act accordingly to the people around us. The problem is, when the God that you see is moody and inconsistent, when His love is contingent on your behavior and He’s looking down his nose at you waiting to zap you if you fail—that’s exactly what you become. I did reflect the image of the God I saw. And because that God was a negative taskmaster, demanding perfection and performance, then so was I.
JM: You had everything going for you as a young adult. Why wasn’t it enough?
CB: Our perceptions are so interesting. In fact, beauty isn’t a reflection issue—it’s a perception issue. If you believe that you’re unlovable as you are right now, then I guarantee you, when you look in the mirror, you’re always going to find something wrong. Because I believed that I was unlovable, ugly, shameful—a list of nasty little monsters based upon bad experiences and sexual abuse outside the home—that list was all I could ever see, even when the exterior was thin, successful, talented and beautiful. It was never enough, and it would never be enough, as long as I believed I was unlovable.
JM: Why do so many women struggle with issues of addiction, eating disorders and self-image problems?
CB: Every person on earth is longing for one very specific fuel, and that’s to experience the atomic-bomb-life that comes from unconditional love. We search for it in the bottoms of ice cream tubs, on pornography sites and in the pages of romance novels. We shop to fill the void, slave in diets and exercise and pray that money and success will numb the emptiness inside. But nothing ever works. Nothing ever satisfies. And though some counterfeit affections might numb the pain for a moment, they leave us thirsting for more. I rarely meet a woman who believes she’s truly lovable. You see, most people’s mindset is that if they’re beautiful, thin, successful and perfect then someone will love them. Then they won’t be rejected. Then they’ll feel secure and whole and confident. But we have it all backwards. You actually can’t feel beautiful until you know you’re loved. You actually can’t feel secure until you’re convinced that nothing you could do would ever separate you from affection.
I believe the Western world is suffering from addictions, depression, eating disorders and self-image problems because we’ve put the cart before the horse. We try to appear lovable in hopes to someday be lovable.
Which is why Jesus is the only solution to every heart problem. He’s the only one who says, “Hey sweetie, I’ve already covered it. And there’s actually nothing that you could do—or that you’ve ever done—that could ever separate you from my love. Now, come over here and get filled up so deeply that you abide in that love and that love abides in you. And once you do, you feel more beautiful, more secure and more confident than you ever have before.”
JM: You’re an author, speaker, and songwriter. How have words shaped your life?
CB: When God created the world, He didn’t send down a lighting bolt from heaven. He opened his mouth and He spoke. Words have the power to create worlds of life or worlds of death, which means there’s no such thing as grey speech. For years, I took the life-sucking words of wounded people and made them a part of my belief system, writing them on the tablet of my heart. Remember, as a man thinks in his heart, so is he, according to Proverbs. In order to change who I was, I had to change the words that had become a part of my heart and the words that were coming out of my mouth.
This is why declaration is so important in the life of a believer. So many times, our prayers are hopes—begging God for things that He’s already promised us in His word. The Bible is full of so many promises that I turn into declarations. In fact, if God says it in His word, than it’s mine to take hold of and He loves it when I jump on the faith wagon and start to declare the unseen into the natural world. If my words create, then I’m going to create the biggest kingdom atmosphere I can possibly create by simply opening my mouth and agreeing with heaven.
JM: As a performer with one of world’s most popular groups, the Jonas Brothers, you write about an epiphany you had on-stage. What was revealed to you in front of 50,000 screaming fans?
CB: There’s nothing louder than a sea of teenage girls! I looked into their faces and wished with all my heart that someone had gotten a hold of me at that age. I wished that someone had told me the truth—that messing around with boys isn’t going to lead to love. That burying painful experiences and shame will actually end up erupting like a volcano years down the road. That 50,000 people screaming for you won’t make you feel loved or happy! I started spilling all my secrets, all my jewels of knowledge, all my mistakes and failures in hopes that I could avert anyone who would listen from the hell that I had to experience.
I love catching girls as teenagers and equipping them with the truth. Because if they take hold of it at that age, they won’t have to go through the decades of depression, addiction, eating disorders, insecurity, self-hatred and substance abuse that I did.
JM: At what point did you realize you needed help, and how did you seek it?
CB: When you believe that you’re going to be rejected if you fail or show weakness, it’s quite the feat exposing your negatives to ask for help. In fact, things have to get bad. Asking for help meant I was less than the perfection I was working so hard to portray. Asking for help was admitting defeat, that I was less than the pristine example of strength everyone thought I possessed. I think I knew I needed help in grade school, binging like a mad woman to try and fill the void, but I definitely wasn’t going to ask for it. Help was for weaklings. Help was for the incompetent. And incompetent meant I wasn’t lovable.
Perfectionism is exhausting, and one day, it caught up to me. I just couldn’t get out of bed anymore. My lungs might have been breathing and my heart was thumping inside my chest, but my soul had slipped into a coma that I wasn’t sure could ever feel the joy of life again. That’s when I made the call—“Dad, I would never kill myself, but I just don’t have the strength to live anymore.” Best call I’ve ever made in my life.
JM: You have a lot of “famous” fans. What do you think everyone struggles with or not that resonates about your work?
CB: Our culture is set up on performance. In school, you must perform the right tasks in order to get a perfect grade. You receive accolades when you achieve success. Relationships are built around achievement. Acceptance is awarded with beauty, money and fame. And even though many of us were raised in the church around the truth, unfortunately, this way of life creeps its way into a lot of our thinking. The hardest thing for someone to come to terms with is the fact that they’re lovable for no reason. It’s much easier to partner with shame than it is to receive forgiveness. It’s much easier to welcome punishment for sin than it is to be bathed in grace, released from what we deserve.
I think it’s human nature to long for love with every fiber of our being. And anyone with a platform has an even greater obligation not to be defined by what we do, but by who loved us first (I John 1:9). The more we can receive love in the secret place, anchored in the foundation of unconditional love (that we can’t earn love!), the more we can give on our platform, as opposed to needing to receive applause from a crowd.
Famous people, or anyone on a platform for that matter, has experienced the applause of man and had to choose whether or not to be defined by it. I’m not defined by who loves me on this earth anymore. I’m defined by being loved by the One. When I get up in front of people these days, I don’t need anything from them, but I definitely have something to give.
Hear Christa Black sing the hit song she co-wrote, “One Thing Remains,” on LIFE Today: