I wouldn’t exactly describe myself as a touchy-feely person. If you give me a 5 Love Languages test, physical affection just barely sneaks into the number three spot. I know I carry internalized messages for how to touch other people, from determining side hugs versus regular hugs to how many seats to leave between myself and strangers on public transportation. Marriage has done a lot to shrink my personal bubble, but if I’m honest, I haven’t always considered how meaningful touch can be when we avoid brushing against each other in a crowded world.
In this world, there’s no shortage of messages about touch: when to give it, how to give it, how to avoid causing pain, how to be sensitive to the pain others have experienced. And that makes me especially grateful for the wise, thoughtful, and generous perspective Lore Ferguson Wilbert brings to her new book Handle with Care: How Jesus Redeems the Power of Touch in Life and Ministry. Just be warned though, you won’t find prescriptions or answers here. Instead, she takes the best possible approach: musing on the complexities of touch while pointing over and over again to Jesus’ life and ministry.
God in flesh allowed himself to be made vulnerable so the broken might be healed. We cannot fully heal people by touching them, but we recognize their humanity, their story, their issue of blood, by allowing ourselves to be touched by them. Like Jesus, we should simply make ourselves within reach, available to however God might use us in his healing narrative.—Lore Ferguson Wilbert, Handle with Care
Lore has been writing for years at her blog Sayable on topics of friendship, singleness, marriage, and embodied theology, and she’s developed a voice that’s wise, strong, gentle, and filled with grace. And it all comes together in her first book. One truly remarkable thing about Handle with Care is the sheer breadth of the material, how she explores a wide range of topics on touch without it ever feeling like too much information, handling each one with gentleness and nuance.
To quote the great Mister Rogers, “Anything that is mentionable can be more manageable,” and everything is mentionable here. Handle with Care talks about the need for loving self-touch and care for our bodies, the longing for touch many of us experience in singleness, the need for self-control and mutual respect in marriage, finding a healthy balance for touch in between purity culture and #metoo stories, and understanding how trauma and abuse affect how we give and receive touch.
If our bodies matter to God, they should matter to us. And they should matter to us as they are, not only how they will someday be.Lore Ferguson Wilbert
If that sounds complicated, it is, but it doesn’t feel like too much. She explores each topic through the lens of Scripture and the reality of culture, challenging us to rethink how we offer and receive touch—in friendship, marriage, ministry, and parenting—while affirming the ways our experiences shape us. Every page holds the underlying reminder that we are embodied creatures, molded by “our stories and histories, vocations and stations,” and a hug, a hand on the shoulder, or a professional massage can be a holy gift that honors our beautiful, broken bodies. “If our bodies matter to God,” she writes, “they should matter to us. And they should matter to us as they are, not only how they will someday be.”
Alongside these contemporary topics, a much older parallel story runs. Throughout the book, Wilbert returns to Jesus and how he loved people with his hands. He certainly could have been an untouchable, mysterious holy man. He could have accomplished every miracle with just a word or a thought. But the reality is that in so many stories—whether he opens a blind man’s eyes with mud and spit, honors a woman who grabbed the hem of his robe, holds and plays with small children, or washes the grime from his friends’ feet—Jesus uses his hands to heal, to comfort, and to bless. And may it be so with us all.
I suppose the best way to describe this book is an approachable theology of touch, woven with stories, kindness, and respect. She isn’t going to outline a “who to touch” policy for you, but she might challenge you to at least give more hugs. And there is the root of healthy touch: giving with respect, not with the concern for what you receive. Honoring boundaries without making yourself untouchable. Learning to love and care for the one body you’ve been given.
But always, always at your own pace, honoring the stories your cells hold, and the mystery of Christ in you.
If you find yourself wanting to hear more from Lore, watch for next week’s episode of The Habit Podcast for a lovely discussion with Jonathan Rogers.
Advance reader’s copy graciously provided by B&H Publishers. Handle with Care releases on February 4th, 2020, and you can pre-order it now from your favorite bookseller. Visit handlewithcarebook.com to learn more.
Jen Rose Yokel is a poet, freelance writer, and spiritual director. Her words have appeared at She Reads Truth, CCM Magazine, and other publications, and she released her first poetry collection Ruins & Kingdoms in 2015. Originally from Central Florida, she now makes her home in Fall River, Massachusetts with her husband Chris, where you can find her enjoying used bookstores and good coffee.