The wellness industry is booming. Americans spent $52.5 billion last year on products and services to improve their minds and bodies. We buy fitness technology to track every step; load apps to our phones, intent on measuring our food intake; seek out beauty products to erase any signs of aging; and spend significant amounts on self-care, from mindfulness retreats to yoga classes, all promising to make us more grounded, more calm, more whole. As a culture, we are obsessed with being (or becoming) well, often turning to external supports to help us on our “wellness journey.”
Amy Julia Becker’s new book suggests such pursuits forget a crucial aspect of healing and wholeness: “comprehensive personal, spiritual and communal restoration to a life-giving relationship with God.” To Be Made Well explores what that restoration might look like by considering the connections between mind, body and spirit and tracing those connections through Scripture. The result is an accessible, thought-provoking, deeply spiritual work suitable for any reader who has struggled to feel whole. (That is, most of us.)
To Be Made Well uses as its frame a biblical passage that will be familiar to most readers: the story of the bleeding woman found in Mark 5:25-43. Becker’s nuanced reflection on these verses informs her understanding of wellness. Jesus’ healing power in this story is not only a physical one. Instead, by healing the woman of her 12-year bleeding affliction, Jesus also restores the woman’s spiritual and personal health — as well as returning her to the community that rejected her as impure.
Each chapter considers aspects of this story, deepening readers’ understanding of Jesus’ healing in the Gospels, as well as challenging our perception of wellness. Becker examines the many barriers to our healing, including distraction, shame, anxiety and injustice. She says we are “all invited to receive God’s healing love, just as we are all invited to participate in extending that abundant love toward others.”
This invitation is crucial. So much of the wellness industry focuses on personal health and satisfaction, hawking products promising to enhance our well-being, as if we can be made whole on our own efforts alone. Becker emphasizes a more complex idea: Being whole happens through relationship, with others and with God. Our wellness relies on the healing not only of ourselves but of communities, which are unwell because of injustice, violence and separation from others and from God.
Becker uses examples from her own health challenges, and her family’s, to expand her inquiry. This is a strength of To Be Made Well: her willingness to be transparent about times when she needed healing, when she resisted healing, when her own desperation or anxiety or shame became a barrier to the wholeness she was seeking. Becker’s experiences illuminate the ways our understanding of wellness may not align with God’s understanding. Complete physical restoration might not be as important as other kinds of healing.
Vulnerability allows space for healing, an idea Becker explores at some length. Our culture values a certain image of wholeness. To admit being unwell requires giving up our defenses and recognizing our need for God. The woman in Mark 5 reflects this vulnerability as she fights against cultural expectation, shame and an unwelcoming crowd to touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak.
Becker’s larger body of work reflects her willingness to share her life and its challenges as a means of speaking God’s truth. She is a longtime disability advocate who seeks to reshape how we look at disability. She demonstrates that people with disabilities should be fully integrated into our communities, just as they are.
She has written in books and magazines about her daughter’s Down syndrome diagnosis and what it means for Penny to be whole, including in To Be Made Well. Spoiler alert: Healing doesn’t mean Penny no longer has Down syndrome.
This book is not only for those who need physical healing, though it will help such readers work through the emotional and spiritual challenges when our bodies feel broken. Instead, it provides a template for healing that extends far beyond the physical — one that challenges readers to consider what healing might mean for us personally, and for our communities, too.
In a time when communities are fractured, Jesus invites us to do the -restoration work of allowing our brokenness to be made beautiful by Jesus’ healing love — a promise even the $52 billion wellness industry cannot keep.
Melanie Springer Mock is professor of English at George Fox University in Newburg, Ore.