“Healing” with Amy Julia Becker

~ing podcast Season 2 Episode 15
Full Episode Transcript

Season 2 Episode 16: “Healing”, with Amy Julia Becker was released on April 26, 2022. The audio recording is available on all major podcasting platforms. More information is available here.

Episode Description:

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Over the next few weeks we’ll sit down with folks who navigate spaces around mental health. In this week’s episode, ~ing producer Ben Wideman is joined by Herald Press author, Amy Julia Becker. Amy is an award-winning writer and speaker on personal, spiritual, and social healing. She is the author of four books, including To Be Made Well: An Invitation to Wholeness, Healing, and Hope. She is also the host of the Love Is Stronger Than Fear podcast. In this episode we’ll explore reflections on biblical accounts of Jesus’ healing work, providing fresh insight into both the nature of healing and the pathway to healing, then and now.

Michelle Van Loon, Amy Julia Becker, Ben Wideman

Ben Wideman  00:00
Welcome to Season Two of ~ing Podcast, a production of MennoMedia’s Leader Magazine.  What does it mean to authentically follow Jesus? Each week ~ing Podcast invites you to join us on a journey. Join us as we talk with people of faith who are creatively thinking, growing, and being… people who are reimagining and exploring what it means to enrich faith in a complex world.

Amy Julia Becker  00:27
I’m thinking also about the number of references to the body in scripture. There is, you know, a very famous verse where Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you.” And that is literally something I now pray when I feel my shoulders getting really tight, right? And I asked myself that question like, what yoke am I taking on myself right now that I don’t need to?

Ben Wideman  00:54
Our conversation begins now. Join us as we journey together.  Friends, welcome to ~ing Podcast. I’m really excited today to have one of our own Herald Press authors with us. I’m sitting down with Amy Julia Becker. And she has a book that came out not too long ago called To Be Made Well: An Invitation to Wholeness, Healing and Hope. Just from some skimming through her website, I know her that she is a podcaster in her own right. And so should be a fun conversation here today. Amy Julia, for people who don’t know you, how do you introduce yourself these days?

Amy Julia Becker  01:37
Wow, Ben, first of all, thank you for having me. It is great to be here. And I introduced myself, you know, it took a long time for me to say I’m a writer. But I do say that now and I and I have written a number of books and do a lot of you know, essays and social media posting and things like that. But I also introduced myself as a mom, because I have three kids who are all at home; 16, 13 and 11. And managing our household and just being their mother is definitely a big part of my life, our oldest daughter, Penny, has Down syndrome. And so she also has been, not just I mean, of course, a part of my life, but also a part of my thinking, and our understanding about what it means to be a human. What does it mean to be created in the image of God, lots of those kind of theological as well as parenting questions have come through in a different way for me because of having Penny in my life. So that mom part is also related to the writer part.

Ben Wideman  02:43
And hard to introduce yourself without that part.

Amy Julia Becker  02:45
Right, so that’s usually what I would say, to most people, writer and mom.

Ben Wideman  02:49
Yeah. Oh, great. I’m struck, just in the little bit I know about you, about your willingness to be authentic, and to create a sense of meaning and value through that vulnerability, that authenticity. Can you talk a little bit about your journey to doing some of these more public things like authoring books, podcasting, writing, sort of putting yourself out there in a in a more vulnerable way? And perhaps why you think that’s an important posture for you to hold?

Amy Julia Becker  03:22
Yeah, so I do hear that a lot. Just that people kind of respond to the writing. And speaking that I do. And I’m often told, like, “oh, my gosh, you’re so honest.” And by that they don’t mean most people are lying. It’s that sense of like, why are you willing to share that with me? And so my husband and I both (and thankfully, he feels the same way) like we’re not, you know… he’s not cringing as I tell a story about our family. And both of us have asked, like, what is that? Like, why do we feel comfortable with this? And I think some of it I’m sure has something to do with personality, and like being oldest children, or I don’t know what but um, I also think back to the first book I wrote, which was actually a self published book that came out in 2008, a long time ago, emerged out of an experience of caring for my husband’s mom when she was diagnosed with liver cancer. And it was before the internet, I mean, this was… like she was diagnosed in 2003. So I remember someone saying, I think we should create a website so that people can just post updates. So this is long before CaringBridge or, you know, blogs, or certainly any form of social media. And so I was kind of in charge of the website. And I one time when she was sick, I posted just a journal entry that I had written. And it I mean, it didn’t go viral in some like 200,000 people reading it type of way, but it was shared really widely. And it was the first time I kind of recognized that my own ability to I process my feelings through words. And that can be a problem for me, because it can mean I’m super rational instead of… and don’t have a sense of my emotions. But it also can be really helpful to people who have the emotions, but not the words. And so I need people in my life who are more in their bodies than I am, and don’t know how to feel and more than I do. But I think I can add something in terms of the like putting it into words. And so that was my first little glimpse that like, Oh, this is helpful to other people, it’s certainly helpful to me, because I’m able to actually learn something and process something. And that really was what led me I think, into more courage to share some of those vulnerable places and tell the stories that, you know, I feel. Like not to be too cheesy about it, that like God is writing in our lives. And to be in congress. Over time, I’ve gotten more and more comfortable with that, as people have come back and said, well, well, let me tell you what this meant to me.

Ben Wideman  05:57
I was struck a couple of episodes back, we talked with another Herald Press author, Shari Zook, who, who also writes from a place of real posture of vulnerability and authenticity. And she talked about an initial fear of like sharing some of the parts of herself that she wasn’t so proud of, but that this sort of amazing community, accidental community kind of opened up in the process of, of sharing so deeply, all of a sudden, there are other people raising their hand, saying, “Hey, I’ve gone through that too.” And, you know, suddenly, we feel more connected, we feel more cared for in our willingness to share. I know it’s not for everyone. I know, some people just do a better job of maybe being a little bit more stoic and carrying their burden themselves. But I’m really grateful for your willingness to enter into conversations like this in that way. As a way of transition, your most recent book, which I referenced as we began – To Be Made Well – can you tell us a little bit about your journey to, to that book and to authoring that most recent work?

Amy Julia Becker  06:59
To Be Made Well is a book about healing in a comprehensive way. So it’s… I’m writing about not only a sense of like body, mind, spirit, connection… but also the way that we as individuals, that our healing is dependent upon relationships. Relationship with God, relationship with others, and relationships, even with our own self. My… the way I came to that was definitely a personal one. So I guess the precipitating event was like seven or eight years ago, when I was having lower back pain, and had an experience with a yoga teacher, that in which she pointed out, I was saying, I think I have some problems with alignment. And she said, anytime I hear problems with alignment, I think, what’s out of line in your mind, rather than in your body. And as we talked over the course of that next hour, and all we did was talk there was absolutely no yoga involved. I just talked for an hour about really feeling a sense of a loss of identity, as a mother and a writer and not knowing who I was, and how to fit the different pieces of my life together. And I experienced, for the first time in probably over a year, a feeling of total relief and peace in my back. Which didn’t make any sense to me. Because even though I had talked about it, nothing had changed. Like I was still feeling like my life was a mess. And so why would this pain go away? And she said to me, you know, you don’t need to figure it all out. In order for healing to happen. You just need to acknowledge the source of the pain. And that led me on a journey of really asking questions about whether that was a physical pain, or even just like tension in my body, even illness, but also about emotional pain and about places of kind of spiritual disconnect and pain more broadly in our culture, not just for me personally, but the social divisions, the political divides the sense of Yeah, real hurt that we, I think, see, certainly in America, but really across the globe, and all of those things, led me personally but also to want to look at what does my faith as a Christian in a God who says that, you know, Jesus comes as a healer, like what does this have to do with my body, my emotions, my world? I’m living in divided world and fractured world. And that’s what led me to really want to personally investigate all of this and then eventually want to share it with other people in hopes that it would be a help.

Ben Wideman  09:36
There’s an acknowledgement, as I hear you speaking, in the ways that our individual selves are intertwined. The physical with the spiritual with mental and emotional. It also strikes me that perhaps in a lot of American culture, we don’t want to admit that sometimes. Is that Is that something you’re you found as you started down this pathway?

Amy Julia Becker  10:05

Yeah, I mean, I think from that was true for me. You know, like, again, I had back pain and I said, I’m going to try a new mattress, I’m going to strengthen my core, I’m going to take Advil, I’m going to go to a masseuse, I’m going to go to a yoga teacher, right?

Ben Wideman  10:19

Amy Julia Becker  10:20
And although none of those things were bad, like, it wasn’t as though I decided to rob a bank, and there was no moral problem with anything I was doing. But they were, if anything, they were interrupting the pain, but they weren’t actually getting at the source of the pain, which was a sense of like, anxiety, stress, confusion about my own life. And the more research I did, as I was writing this book, the more I recognize that that is so true for so much of our pain and illness, that there is not a medical fix, there might be a medical interruption, and that might be really, really helpful. So I think there’s absolutely a place for, you know, medication, I think there’s a place for therapy, I think there’s a place for antidepressants, you know, all of those things. And yet, even many, many physicians would say, we will never be able, there’s a difference between curing and healing. And healing is more comprehensive in nature. And I think that the stories from the gospel about Jesus as a healer, really point to this broader war, of personal and social healing, but also the way that we as humans, resist that, I think especially now, we really like quick fixes, right? And so we kind of have them between antibiotics and Advil, we kind of have quick fixes. So why not do that and keep going, when the deeper fix might mean, having to like actually take a hard look at pain in my life, and ask people for help and change or experience change.

Ben Wideman  11:56
I’ve never thought about it that way before. But I really, I really liked that concept that compartmentalizing something might help you in the immediate, but may not actually be addressing the sort of larger, larger, maybe systemic issue. I was in a bad bicycle accident in October. And, you know, it wasn’t… it was very physical, but all of a sudden, it because I couldn’t do a lot of the things that I normally would do. I started feeling a lot of the mental weight of my life in a very more acute way. And, and started being more aware of some of the physical parts of me that weren’t working as well, which were more apparent when I had to use other parts of my body more frequently. And yeah, it’s it’s, so you’re connecting some dots here for me that I hadn’t quite realized until this conversation. I think that’s really, really helpful.

Amy Julia Becker  12:59
Yeah, I think one of the really, almost mystical and yet very bodily or like earthy things that I’ve learned in these years is the ways in which our paying attention to our body can allow us to learn so much. And I guess how much both in our like, even in a world of like therapy and spirituality, how much we ignore our bodies. It’s kind of a weird thing. And yet, I have really found that, I mean, even just paying attention to like, Wait, my shoulders are tight. And I can say, oh, it’s because I’ve been typing a lot. But I was typing a lot yesterday, too. And my shoulders weren’t tight. So like, what? What’s going on? Like, what do I think I have to carry today that I’m not even conscious of and like starting to pay attention to that, or I think I mean, we I often talk about like tension and pain. But we can also experience great delight in our bodies that I think can connect us to sources of like gratitude, love and hope. But this doesn’t only go in the pain and hardship direction, I think it can go in the celebration direction as well. But I do think our bodies can be real conduits of information and invitation on an emotional and spiritual and communal level.

Ben Wideman  14:21
Our bodies are so interesting and that they often send us these little signal flares like tightness in our shoulders, or the way we’re breathing or the way our heart is beating, and yet, we’re quick to ignore them or, or assume there’s something else too. It’s so it’s so fascinating to just start down this pathway of considering that interconnectedness.

Amy Julia Becker  14:41
Yeah, I mean, I’ll give you an example. My sister was… has been in a really kind of stressed out place for a long time both in her job and her home life, COVID, small children etc. And she has been talking about sciatica and, you know, she similarly has gone to see multiple doctors has been on multiple medications… stopped running… stopped, you know all of these different things. And I talked to her about it, you can try to be gentle and not to say, oh, it’s your fault or something that you’re saying. But at the same time, like, I’m not sure that medication is going to help, like I can hear you talk about your life and how stressful it is. And that’s, I’m guessing has something to do here. Anyway, she resigned from her position, she didn’t even you know, gave like three months notice. So nothing again, changed in her life, other than a decision about the future. And she said it was gone immediately, like it was gone. And it had been debilitating for two years. And yet, that sense of like having to acknowledge that the stress of trying to do her life, the way she was doing, it was just too much. And her body had been saying, no, really don’t really, you’ve got to do something. And I think that’s true for so many of us, myself still included in this, where we just don’t want to I mean, I talk about it a lot, but myself live in reality, like these are the realities of like, the time I’ve been given the people I’ve been given the needs, I have the needs others around me have. And living in reality can be hard in a world of, you know, kind of superpowers when it comes to our technology.

Ben Wideman  16:15
Yeah. And it’s making me think of the weightiness that the context we’re in can place on us as well. Like, I’m guessing your sister did not want to let down people by leaving her position. Right?

Amy Julia Becker  16:28

Ben Wideman  16:29
I worked. I worked with students as a campus pastor who, just the, the crippling weight of being here at Penn State’s main campus, and the pressure and the tension that comes with that was was so exhausting that they would often take a semester off or transfer to a regional campus, and it would just feel like their whole world was all of a sudden better. And it wasn’t because their classes had gotten easier, or because they suddenly had less work to do or something like that. It was just the context they were in wasn’t right for them. And, and yet, you know, just navigating that I think so many students, so many people just put up with that weightiness, because they think this is what I’m supposed to be doing. This is what everyone expects me to be doing. Even if my body is sending out these warning signs, I just got to stay the course. Right? That’s how we succeed.

Amy Julia Becker  17:19
It’s hard to know, like, what does it mean to persevere at you know, and like. And, and I think there’s just in both our secular culture and our religious culture can be a sense of, if I, I’m, it’s this is blame and shame, if I admit that, like, I’m just getting too stressed out, or like, it’s somehow it’s my fault.

Ben Wideman  17:45

Amy Julia Becker  17:45
And I think that’s a big problem in like the wellness industry, as well as in kind of the idea of like faith and prayer, where there’s a sense of like, if you only if you just did it right, then you’d be all better. You know, even when we talk about the stress that those students are under or that my sister is under, you know, it’s like, well, there’s a, there’s a social dynamic that allows for these systems to be in place where students feel so much pressure that they’re, you know, as you said, like bearing a crippling weight, right? Like, I mean, just even the bodily image of that, or where I think especially, this has been particularly true for women, but for parents throughout the pandemic, that sense of like, I can’t do this. And that’s not their fault. That’s both the global catastrophe, and also the way our childcare kind of assumptions are structured in America, you know, so, it’s more than just an individual person who is, but we often bear pain in our individual bodies, even though there’s like, as you said, like whole systems that can be at work affecting those.

Ben Wideman  18:51
And we lean on old tropes, like “God will never give you more than you can handle,” or, you know, things like that, “that through through pain comes strength,” you know, that may be true or maybe not. But it makes me wonder, then how do we discern well, how do we know when something is gonna, you know, really be the correct path? Even if it’s difficult?

Amy Julia Becker  19:13
Yeah, I think that’s a great question. Because I think our body also can be afraid of things that are actually really wonderful and can almost like hold us back, you know, when we get kind of and so there is a discernment that it can be really challenging to work through. And I guess that’s where all of those things come in, though that mind body spirit and community, not just when it comes to healing, but also when it comes to a sense of wholeness or of of walking forward. And I do think I mean, this maybe is like an oversimplification. But the question of like, how does love relate to whatever it is that I’m you know, is this action that I’m considering a murder Just out of love or out of fear, or that’s one that I, I feel like I spend a lot of my life animated by fear and energize even by fear, like, I’m anxious. And so I will plan my day out in order to be sure that I have control over it, you know. And, and that’s it, planning is not bad. But at the same time, if I’m animated by love, maybe that gives me more ability to be flexible with my schedule. That’s a very simple example. But I do think in asking questions, what is animating the decision might be one way to begin discerning whether this is something that has been prompted by whether it’s like God’s love for me or my love for others, or a sense of the love that holds us all together, as opposed to achievement, productivity, not letting somebody else down, which I think is a different thing than loving someone, you know, those types of questions can be helpful to me.

Ben Wideman  20:59
You chose in your book to lean on some of the biblical narrative as a guiding principle, I’m assuming that would be something else that you would point to as a sort of measure for for how we move through the world.

Amy Julia Becker  21:12
Yeah, so absolutely. So in the book, I’m looking at Mark chapter five, there’s a story about Jairus, who is a synagogue leader and a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years, and they both are coming to Jesus in different ways for healing. And so I use that as just a central story and a way into what is healing. What are the barriers to healing? How can we participate in healing? But I think there’s so much in Scripture that speaks to the ways that not just we can experience healing, but also can be a part of that in the world. Like, I’m thinking also about the number of references to the body in Scripture. There’s a very famous verse where Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest Take my yoke upon you.” And that is literally something I now pray when I feel my shoulders getting really tight, right. And I asked myself that question, like, what yoke? Am I taking on myself right now that I don’t need to. And I remember having this kind of prayer experience around that, where I was kind of talking to God and saying, you know, okay, I need you to carry this with me. And what I, the sense I got back was, No, I will not carry that with you. Because we don’t need to carry that anymore. Put it down. And that was harder, right? Like, let’s carry this together, Jesus, that was easier, because I was still carrying something as opposed to like, we’re just gonna let it go forever. Like, I’m just putting it back down by the side of the road and walking away. But it was also a really good experience. And it was that like, almost that visceral, that bodily picture that came through scripture, that allowed me to have that thought, prayer, whatever, you know, experience with God about walking forward with a more with a lighter load. And one in which I was also, yeah, letting go of some control. And I think there’s many, many places in scripture where our bodies are, you know, the Psalms, talk about our bodies a lot. And I think those can be real guides to prayer and making prayer, not just some spiritual thing, but actually like a physical, wholesale, whole person experience as well.

Ben Wideman  23:34
A friend was just reminiscing the other day with me about the weird bragging that we sometimes do about never taking vacation. Yes, you know, for so many of the things that you’re saying in this conversation, I can think about anecdotally these other spaces in our world that need a little bit more critical assessment to say, is this really holistic? Is this really life giving? Is there really love at the center of this is this God? Is God present here. But I’m guessing, as you’ve reflected in this year, also seeing glimmers of hope not just all the awareness of the frustrating parts of our world, but where are you finding little glimmers of a better a better future out there?

Amy Julia Becker  24:18
Well, I think my own story is a part of that just in the sense of experiencing, yes, some physical relief, like my back pain, you know, for example, but also a sense of just like, greater joy in my life as because essentially, for me, that physical experience led me to a deeper question about like, shame, fear, you know, some of these different what I would call barriers to healing and really trusting enough to address those in terms of both some some therapy and some prayer and you know, just some walks in the woods with friends, but Um, but that sense of experiencing healing is not, we don’t look at pain and ask for help for the sake of the pain, we do it for the sake of healing, right. And like when you’re healed, there is actually this not only this beauty that we get to experience and wholeness and refreshment, but it was, I think, even more beautiful. Towards the end of the book, I write about the experience of bringing our brokenness to God experiencing healing. And then it’s often in that same place of brokenness that we get to participate in God’s healing in the world. And the image that I use in the book, which has come up in other places, is Kintsugi, which is a Japanese artistic form, where if a piece of pottery breaks, for example, they can very carefully and artistically place it back together using lacquer that has been infused with a gold. So it’s creating a new piece of pottery out of the old, the pieces that are broken, and newly beautiful, and it’s in those and you’re drawing attention, actually, to the brokenness, because you can see exactly it is you’re not trying to hide it, like well glue it back together perfectly so that you can’t see it ever broke, which is not going to happen, right. But instead, like, draw attention to that broken place that once was cracked, and now is healed. And I think that’s an image of what we are equipped to do when we have experienced healing, is to actually bring that healing into the world, not by denying or ignoring or forgetting the brokenness, but by actually bearing witness to it. And I think for me, that’s been true. And that goes back to your first question of like, “why are you willing to be so honest?” It’s like, well, yeah, as I’ve actually experienced hope and healing here, and I would so love that for other people, because I know what it feels like when you’re desperate and scared and ashamed, or just wondering, “where’s God?” and you know, all of those feelings. And I’m sure I’ll be back there someday, in different ways. But that sense of wanting to be able to bring to say, Yeah, this was a broken place that where there has been now this mending, and it now is actually a beautiful place. It’s a gift to be able to bring that out into the world.

Ben Wideman  27:18
Yeah, and I think something. So freeing for the individual to, to not have to pretend that we don’t have any cracks. Be to be honest about those, those things that we carry, just feels feels refreshing to me to, to be willing to enter into a space like that.

Amy Julia Becker  27:40

Ben Wideman  27:43
I’m excited by this conversation. And I’m guessing a lot of our listeners will be too. For those who want to follow your journey or follow what you’re up to, where do you direct them?

Amy Julia Becker  27:56
Yeah. So one nice thing about you asked me about introducing myself and I didn’t say I was introduced myself with this strange double name, Amy Julia. But the nice thing about having a strange double name is that it’s easy to find online. So AmyJuliaBecker.com. And it’s the same as far as like Instagram and Twitter. Facebook is Amy Julia Becker Writer. So I’m kind of on the social media platforms. And I’ve also got that website.

Ben Wideman  28:23
Well, Amy Julia, thank you so much for sharing your time with us today. Thank you for offering this most recent book to the world too. Friends, if you’re interested, I really encourage you to go pick up a copy of the book, To Be Made Well: An Invitation to Wholeness, Healing, and Hope. Thank you again, Amy Julia, for being here with us.

Amy Julia Becker  28:42
Thank you so much for having me.

Ben Wideman  28:45
The month of May is recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month and over the next several weeks, we will be highlighting some voices that do work in that particular area. Next week on the podcast, we’re joined by Harold Press author Michelle Van Loon,

Michelle Van Loon  29:02
There was a new field of study, relatively new field of study called epigenetics. The word itself means above the gene. The effects of trauma carry on top of the gene and can affect subsequent generations. But there is good news in that the effects can be mitigated and addressed if intervention is there, if good community is there, if some understanding is there, about the way that trauma does touch areas of our lives beyond just obvious for example, post traumatic stress syndrome kinds of things.

Ben Wideman  29:49
As always we’d like to thank our guests and all who support ~ing Podcast. Thank you for joining us on the journey. If you enjoyed the show, please leave us a review in your favorite podcasting app. And if you have something to share, send us a message at [email protected] or by leaving us a voicemail. ~ing Podcast is hosted by Reverend Allison Maus and Reverend Dr. Dennis Edwards. And produced by me, Ben Wideman. Views and opinions expressed on ~ing Podcast are those of our hosts and guests and may not represent that of Leader Magazine or MennoMedia. ~ing Podcast is a production of MennoMedia, a nonprofit publisher that creates thoughtful Anabaptist resources to enrich faith in a complex world. To find out more, visit us online at MennoMedia.org.