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Handle with Care author Q&A

Andy Whisenant | Jan 23rd

What prompted you to write this book?

As you’ll read in the book, I have a history around touch that felt confusing to me, and yet really, I think we all grow up confused about touch in some regard. We all have various experiences and then look to culture and the church to give us cues for how to engage other human bodies. For example, the side hug. What is that? Who invented it? Why? What is beneath our desire to keep our body from feeling another body or being felt by another body? Ultimately the answers are rooted in Genesis 3, the fall of man, and the shame that comes from being unclothed or revealed as fully human and not God. These are the issues I was thinking through myself and wanted to go back to scripture, which isn’t explicit in directives regarding most touch, but does show us the way our Savior interacted with the bodies of men and women. 

I wanted to talk not about what to do, how to touch, who to touch, but to incite thought and reflection around why you touch or don’t touch the way you do.

When you wrote this book, who did you have in mind?

The book walks through eight different seasons of life or circumstances, beginning with touch within the church, then self-touch to touch within single seasons, touch in friendship, dating, marriage, the family, and the world, so I wrote the book with someone different in mind each segment. 

However, my hope is pastors, leaders, and laypeople will read it and perhaps have empathy for their own stories and how those stories inform how they model touch within their lives and therefore are teaching others to touch. I also kept in mind my own story of sexual abuse and the story a friend was living in the reckoning of her own sexual abuse. I wanted the book to be tender to those of us who’ve been touched in harm, but to give a strong call to those who are called to touch with care, which is everyone.

What would a world with appropriate focus on touch look like? What would have to change for us to get there?

More than anything, it would be a world where we have empathy for our own stories and the stories of others. What has led to so much confusion is that we derive our clues for how to be either in reaction to culture or reaction to the church or reaction to our history or to the histories of others. We’re not getting down into the nitty gritty of our own stories. In the book I call these, “issues of blood.” These are the systemic issues in our bloodlines, our stories, our family of origin, and more. We’re all suffering from an issue of blood in that sense, and only the touch of Jesus will make us well. And his touch should inform how we engage the world instead of just react to it.

As for what would have to change, again, there would be an increase in empathy. Not being so quick to assume the worst about others or the narrative people might say about us or the fear of having regrets or any of that. We have to love the person in front of us as Jesus called us to love our neighbor. And that starts, in many ways, with knowing we ourselves are loved by God and he actually calls us to love ourselves. In Mark 20:31, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Or my favorite, from Ephesians 5:29, in instructions on how to care for wives, Paul tell husbands they are, “to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church.” What does it mean to care for the body of our spouse? First it means to care for our own bodies, provide for and nourish it. If we neglect to care for our bodies in very rudimentary ways, we’re unable to care for the bodies of others. If we neglect to think about our own stories of touch, we will either touch or withhold it sinfully.

How does this message relate to purity culture? To #MeToo? To #ChurchToo?

As I’ve said, we all interact with the world with our particular history behind us, for some that’s going to be a workplace where they were touched sinfully by a boss, for others it’s a severe lack of healthy touch in our everyday life, for others it’s a history steeped in purity culture that gave us promises for how marriages would be if only we followed these simplistic principles. 

My hope is readers are able to figure out what their “issue of blood” is early on while reading. What’s their kryptonite, the thing they fear will take them down, ruin them. Or what’s their forbidden fruit, the thing they want that won’t actually lead to life but looks like it will? What is the liturgy a pastor is telling himself when he refuses to hug a woman? What liturgy is he teaching her? What story are they living? Is it a true story? Or is it a cultural narrative they haven’t thought deeply about in light of Scripture? It relates to purity culture, #metoo, etc., in the sense that these things happened because someone wasn’t thinking, they were reacting. My hope is this book leads to thought around these things.

Why do you feel that this message matters?

In the introduction I share a story I read from John Piper years and years ago. He talks about how there’s this unmarried, lonely woman from his church who cuts herself regularly and goes to the hospital for it. He’s confused: Why? Why does she do this? And her response is, “I like it when they touch me.”

I’m sure there was probably much more going on beneath that response for her, but on the surface, she liked it when the doctors and nurses touched her. If you’ve spent much time in the hospital, you know there’s a procedural sense to the touch of medical professionals. It’s not necessarily warm or comforting, it’s rarely comfortable, and sometimes it downright hurts. Yet, this woman was so starved for touch, she would take it. She would do anything to get it. 

That story broke my heart because I think, in some ways, we’re all that woman. We’re all acting out or acting in ways to get the comfort we want. For some it’s the false comfort of a good reputation, for others it’s the comfort of a hug, for others it’s knowing we’re in a relationship, for others, it’s that we’re free from relationships. And this informs how we touch. That’s why this message matters.

What do you hope readers learn from reading Handle with Care?

I say again and again in the book: My aim is not to teach you how to touch, who to touch, when, where, or why to touch. My aim is to help you think about how you touch, who you touch, when, where, and why you touch. I don’t give any how-tos in the book, there’s no list of ways to interact with certain individuals at certain times. I just go to the stories of our embodied God, Jesus Christ, in his interactions with humans and the implications for us in today’s culture. More than anything, I hope readers end the book with a greater sense of who Jesus is and how his love for them informs everything.