Through starring roles in Underbelly, House Husbands, the Doctor Blake Mysteries and Picnic at Hanging Rock, Anna McGahan became a familiar face on Australian TV. But with the rise of her fame, her self-esteem was crashing.
She’d come into acting pure-hearted and trusting, but by age 23, she’d realised her industry treated her as a commodity. Despite her incredible talent as an actor, she was often offered roles because of her body. ‘I learnt everything the hard way,’ she said, ‘and it was brutal.’
Having left her home in Brisbane to pursue her career, Anna found herself in a dog-eat-dog world with very few people to support her. When she caught up with Mel on 180 recently, she admitted that though she wasn’t a minor, she was young at heart. Having battled eating disorders as a teenager, she struggled to deal with the way the industry sexualised her. ‘When I’d never even considered myself beautiful, I was suddenly having to represent this idea of feminine sexuality in movies. And I was like I don’t know how to carry this at all.’
She often worried she was part of something that wasn’t quite right but, without a moral compass to guide her, all she could do was justify her actions after the fact. ‘I was inventing my own morality as I went.’
Anna had always thought Christians were just brainwashed but, when she asked a Christian guy out, and he was reluctant to date her because of his religion, she was intrigued by his commitment to his beliefs. ‘I was repulsed and captivated simultaneously. I was like Christianity, yuck yuck yuck! But then, that was something I knew so little about.’
One night, Anna was complaining about her crush to a girl she’d met in a bar. ‘I’m a Christian,’ the girl said. ‘I don’t think you have a completely correct idea of what that means.’ The conversation that followed lasted hours and, at the end, the girl invited Anna to her Church.
When she crossed the threshold of the Church, Anna immediately saw a vision of fire in her hands, and drops of light falling from the ceiling. ‘I was overwhelmed by this feeling of there’s something pure and good here. For the first time, I felt safe, and yet terrified.’
Soon afterward, Anna moved to Melbourne to film a new series. She found her new Christian friends much more welcoming than her fellow actors, but she didn’t feel pressured or that she was the target of evangelism. Still, she was worried she was being subtly indoctrinated.
She was completely shattered and remade by the love she read about,
the sense of worth no one had communicated to her before
Knowing her hotel room would have a Gideons Bible, she decided to check it out, hoping to work through this phase. ‘Once I see those Scriptures myself, and I see all the messy and weird stuff, I’ll get over it, and I’ll move on, and this little quarter-life crisis can be done with.’
Of course, things didn’t go as planned. From the first words of the New Testament, Anna immediately understood she was reading the truth. Over the next two weeks, she felt like she was talking to Jesus, realising that a space she thought excluded her was actually built for her. ‘I came for people like you,’ He told her. ‘I’m your ally. I’m your friend. The entire reason that I have come is to help piece you back together.’
She’d always been at war with her body, trying to lose weight, wishing she looked different. When she read that her body was a temple in 1 Corinthians 6:19, she looked in the mirror, and for the first time, she saw holy architecture.
She was completely shattered and remade by the love she read about, the sense of worth no one had communicated to her before. ‘You don’t have to try and bargain for love this way anymore,’ God told her. ‘You don’t have to give yourself over. You can lock yourself and hide yourself in Me. And you can just heal.’
These days there are so many lost people like Anna, who need God, but are misguided by secular ideas about who He is. To reach them, Anna says we shouldn’t preach, but instead cultivate our own love for Him. That’s what captivated her about the Christians she knew. ‘God seemed to truly satisfy their souls. And for someone who didn’t have a satisfied soul, it’s so attractive.’
She says if we stay in a place of awe and gratitude towards Him, sceptics will see we’re not just in this because our parents were, or because we’ve been compelled or brainwashed. If we show His light, people will want to know where it comes from. ‘And I promise you the time will come where they ask the question.’
‘So that’s the real gift we can give, loving without agenda, both that person who doesn’t know Christ, and God.’