The Journey Begins
by Liuan Huska
It has been ten years now since the pain first started. Since then I have finished a master’s degree, started freelance writing, and become a mother to three little boys. I still have pain, but it’s not nearly as much of a presence as it used to be. It comes and goes, though it never fully leaves. Certain positions, like sleeping frequently on my left side, and certain activities, like walking in flat shoes without support, bring it all back. When I get too physically ambitious, the pain is like an old friend who calls to say, “I know where you come from—dust and ashes. Ha! You can’t fool me!” I’ve learned to accept what my body is. Sometimes, even, like when I pushed a ten-and-a-half pound firstborn out, I marvel at it.
I have wondered in these years if the ways we understand healing might not have contributed to my falling apart. What is healing, when one has a chronic illness? Can a person still be whole (not just spiritually whole, but wholly whole) when her body is not functioning properly and she is suffering? I believe so, though it takes some unlearning of what we have assumed the good, successful life to be.
In fact, the Christian story has a lot to say to our pain. While some may think of faith as victory over pain and suffering (which it is ultimately), what we see in Jesus’ life is not an escape from the everyday drag of having a body, but an embrace. Including all the discomforts, inconveniences, and embarrassments that come with it. God became a human body. What’s more—God still is a human body now in the resurrected Christ.
Healing is not an escape from the limits, vulnerabilities, and suffering of the body, but rather, it is becoming whole— becoming who we are. We are souls in bodies, but we are also bodies with souls. We will never not be bodies, even though implicit messages we have heard in the church may have misled us to believe we will one day shrug off all physical encumbrances. The new creation, theologian N. T. Wright declares, will be “a new kind of physicality, which will not need to decay and die . . . more physical, more solid, more utterly real.”
To heal, to become whole, we must embrace the truth of who we are—a triune personhood of body, mind, and soul—in light of who our triune God is. We must learn to be fully human, not superhuman, by living within our embodied limits, not transcending them. We must make peace with our tenuous existence, susceptible at any moment to devastating illnesses and even death. We must realize that our vulnerability is what opens us to relying on others, and, through these relationships, becoming whole.