Author: Liuan Huska
Publishing Date: December 8, 2020
Pages: 232 (Paperback)
One of the most classic Christian jokes is “Don’t pray for patience!” because we know the “sufferings” (Rom. 5:3) that will come our way as God helps us learn to wait on him. This applies to a variety of desired character traits; in addition to patience, we can add humility, wisdom, empathy, etc. We remember that our faith is grown, and we are made more into the image of Christ by God’s careful refining fire.
I don’t remember praying to better understand those with chronic pain and illness, but perhaps I did. Personally, I’ve dealt with endometriosis and attendant issues for most of my life, but my 2018 hysterectomy helped ease most of the symptoms and put me in a new place of health and thriving.
But doesn’t God have a funny sense of humor? Fast forward to December 2020, when I was wrapping up my seminary degree, publishing my first book, and having (unsurprisingly enough) stress-related stomach and back problems. As I was wrestling with the questions that most of the world was asking—”Where is God when there is so much pain and suffering?”—Liuan Huska’s book entered in as an unexpected gift. I had the joy of supporting and partnering with Liuan Huska in her December 2020 book release of Hurting Yet Whole: Reconciling Body and Spirit in Chronic Pain and illness. We bonded over both of our books being released in the same month, as well as in the overlap between stories of Mixed/multiethnic folks and those who live with constant illness and pain. It is a powerful book that doesn’t shy away from the questions, the sleepless nights, the grief and pain. And it doesn’t shy away from the fear that many of us struggle with in the midst of chronic illness—What if my faith has been a lie all along?
And therein lies the truly beautiful thing about Hurting Yet Whole—it’s a book primarily written for those with chronic pain and illness, but its message doesn’t end there. As we all try to make our way in the current world, this book has much to say to anyone who wonders what it all means. For folks who feel this contrast of the “here and not yet,” and the question of if it’s even possible to be hurting yet find some measure of wholeness in Christ, this book is a prescient and gracious guide.
Clearly, I am biased toward Huska’s book, but I am not alone in this. Professor Brian M. Howell (Wheaton College) offered a cheeky but enthusiastic affirmation that “if you have a body or know someone who does, this book is for you.” And Professor Karen Swallow Prior (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) said that “of all people, Christians should have an understanding and appreciation of the human bodies God created that bear His image… I’m so thankful for the way Liuan Huska tenderly and humanely stitches these two parts of our humanity back together in this wise, lovely book.”
“…we find truth and solace when we remember that Christ indeed meets us in our pain.”
Hurting Yet Whole is organized into two main sections: “Falling Apart” and “Becoming Whole.” In the first section, Liuan Huska shares her story and how it affected every part of her life: her relationships, her activities, and most of all, her sense of self. Here, she names the duality that pain creates as we feel at odds with Jesus’ resurrection (and all that it promises) and the false promises of a gnostic thinking that says we can rise above human frailty into a spiritual bliss. If our bodies don’t matter, then we can ignore chronic pain as merely an inconvenience.
But Huska offers a different path, and one which might cause some readers (such as this one, honestly) to struggle with a less traditional take on the Fall and its subsequent curses. She examines the idea that brokenness and pain were not caused by sin, but rather heightened in a post-fall state. Asking the reader to allow her to “creatively retell the first chapters of Genesis,” she imagines Adam and Eve “laughing as they lost their footing and splashed in the cool water below. They winced at the scrape, marveling as their bodies reknit the torn skin and flesh” (28). After the fall, Huska suggests, fear and shame entered in as we “realize the extent to which our bodies are not within our control, like Adam and Eve did, and we naturally want to minimize the risk. We shy away from that feeling of utter exposure. We cover our physical and metaphorical nakedness. We hide” (29).
This view of Genesis, she says, allows for the knowledge that “being fully human is to inhabit the wild mysteries of our bodies and trust that because Christ was a body, and still is a body, we don’t need to fear this place. We can say, it is good, because Christ meets us here” (29). And whether we agree with her whimsical take on Genesis or not, we find truth and solace when we remember that Christ indeed meets us in our pain. He took on the pain and sin of the world, and he bears those scars even in his glorified body. We can join Huska in asking: What if we embraced our pain and learned from those with chronic illness (whether as someone who also struggles, or as one without direct experience)? “How are we, in our own ways, grasping for fig leaves to cover our nakedness?” she asks, “What would happen if we put those fig leaves aside” (39)?
And herein lies the ministry of Hurting Yet Whole: an invitation to embrace our fragile states and find Christ in the longing for something more, something complete and healed. In the remainder of section one, Huska examines the specific issues of navigating the healthcare industry, especially for women. As she moves into part two, “Becoming Whole,” her intentionality to honor the reality of inhabiting liminal spaces gives ground for trusting that she will not merely jump from lament to joy. Rather, we can find joy in lament, finding some measure of wholeness on this side of eternity, because we are submitting to the reality of the here and now.
“…we can find joy in lament, finding some measure of wholeness on this side of eternity, because we are submitting to the reality of the here and now.”
In “A Different Wholeness” and “A Community of Wounded Healers,” Huska encouraged readers to sit with the truth that “Chronic illness is trauma” (155), which she counters with the idea that we can “come home to our bodies. We can recover. We can be whole” (158). The wholeness she describes is not one where our illnesses are instantly healed, our joy made complete. Rather, we look to the Jesus who “came to be one of us, in sweat and blood… carrying our aches and cries in his own body… is here, meeting us, past the point where we’ve given up and we thought it couldn’t get any worse” (158). “Because Jesus lives fully human, fully present in a body,” Huska tells us, “we can too” (159)
And as I am due for yet another round of scans and tests and a lack of answers beyond “something isn’t right here,” I am encouraged by the idea that we in the church can, and should be “A Community of Wounded Healers.” Because ultimately, listening allows those of us suffering from chronic illness and pain to find healing, but it also speaks to the late-night questions and fears that haunts all humans. Speaking of a friend who walked with her through family conflict, Huska relates that “her listening facilitated the soul work that precedes deep, interior transformation… I walked, with Katie, a few steps closer to wholeness. What soul work do we each need to do in order to provide this kind of listening to others” (184)?
And here we are reminded of our Savior who listened (and still does), who ministered out of brokenness (and has continued to do so), who wept (and who weeps still). Do we wait on the Lord, even as we pursue some measure of thriving in this broken world? Or do we try to force his hand and rush past the grief and uncertainty, missing the good work he is doing in the moment?
The truly good news is that although we all are guilty of the latter, the former is actually available in the here-and-now. It just might look very different than we think it will. I am grateful for this powerful, merciful resource and highly recommend it to anyone—to paraphrase one of the endorsements—who is human and wants to follow Jesus in being fully so.
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