Hurting Yet Whole, Liuan Huska. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020.
Summary: When a vibrant young writer descends into a season of chronic pain, she discovers the disembodied character of much Christian theology, that she could be whole as a person yet hurting, and that pain and physical vulnerability can be a place where we are met by God.
It started as a pain in her left ankle. Soon she could not walk more than a few blocks before the pain became too great. Visits to orthopedists and an array of other specialist brought no relief. Unremitting and spreading pain and unanswered prayers to be made whole once again brought her to a crisis of faith:
“I struggled to patch my faith into the growing hole of despair in my core. There were no easy answers. I wanted to be healed. I wanted to be whole. Wholeness is a unity of parts, a fitting together of pieces into a seamless, coherent entity. I was anything but whole. I was falling apart on so many levels.”Liuan Huska, p. 8
As Huska confronts her despair, she discovers that much of Christian theology is split at the core between body and soul, influenced by ancient (and perhaps contemporary?) Gnosticism to see the soul as under assault by the fallen body. And when our bodies suffer from vulnerabilities of illness and pain, there is an urgency to restore bodily wholeness because this means spiritual wholeness. And if healing eludes us, there must be something spiritually wrong.
Huska discovered that while healing does sometimes comes, wholeness can come amid acceptance of our body’s brokenness. God may not spare us from pain, but God may give us something more–God’s own presence in which true wholeness is found.
Before unfolding more fully what this journey was like for her, she describes the myth of medical mastery as she worked her way through a variety of specialists, and found herself no better. She also talks about the particular vulnerabilities women face and the ways women’s experience of pain is often dismissed by the medical establishment. (This is one reason why this book should be read by men as well as women!)
Huska helps us see that all of us have vulnerable bodies. It just takes some of us longer to find out! Vulnerability can take us from independence to interdependence in which accepting the care of others while respecting their needs allows both them and us to flourish. Facing our limits becomes a place where we discover God is able to work his abundance through our broken bodies.
One area I’m surprised Huska didn’t address was the use of pain-relievers. Opioids have brought both blessed relief and the added burden of addiction. This does not appear to have been part of Huska’s pain treatments but have been prescribed (and sometimes over-prescribed) for others. This is also a part of bodily brokenness and one to be handled with sensitivity and without shaming.
Huska offers help in how we care for others in pain. Mostly listening. Open-ended questions. No nostrums. No fixes. Meals. Hugs. If welcome, accompaniment on doctor appointments. Her own story of helpful friends, a mostly supportive husband (caregivers get tired!), and her journey into a theology of embodiment, suffering, and wholeness is helpful whether we are suffering pain or care for someone who is. Perhaps the most significant message is simply that we don’t have to be healed to be whole.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.