Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Free Hugs

Dear Friends,

It happened just last Thursday during one of the recent thunderstorms in Southern California. High school sweethearts Dylan Corliss and Lexie Varga were walking hand-in-hand on a tree-lined street in Claremont. They were on their way to get a burger when they were struck by a bolt of lightning. Dylan said, “Suddenly out of nowhere, we just felt like we were getting hit over the head and shoved to the ground with a big flash and explosion sound.” Dylan woke up curled in a ball three feet from  where Lexie had fallen. The lightning hit Dylan in the back of the head and the electricity transferred  through his arm into Lexie before exiting through her foot. They felt a “tingling” all over their bodies but were otherwise unhurt and they continued on to get the hamburgers. When they got home, their families insisted they go to the hospital. The ER doctor said that because they were holding hands, the force of the electrical energy was able to dissipate between the two bodies and prevented  a serious injury. The doctor said that the only reason the teenage couple was still alive may have been because they were holding hands.

The next day, Friday, I was walking along Carpinteria Beach holding hands with my own sweetheart. It was a gorgeous day at the beach. A nice, low tide with calm, shallow waves made for easy walking on the hard-packed sand at the water’s edge. A marine layer of clouds had courteously kept the temperature to a comfortable 65 degrees. The overcast skies had discouraged the usual crowd of beach-goers and there were fewer people and more shorebirds on the sand. I saw a young couple with a small child walking along. Both were walking with heads down and focused on their phones. Both appeared to be texting. They were oblivious to each other, to their son and to the beautiful surroundings as they walked on the beach. I felt sad for them. They were not together on the beach that day, and I wondered how long they would be together as a couple. A few miles later, we came across another couple who looked to be in their seventies. They were holding hands, walking closely together and thoroughly enjoying their day. They stopped to watch two large brown birds who were poking their long curved beaks into the wet sand to look for lunch. They laughed at the bird’s antics. It was apparent that they had been walking hand-in-hand through life for many years and that was why they were still together.

Holding hands may not save your life in a lightning storm but it may save relationships. We are wired by God to connect with one another through touch and yet even the very thought of that is scary to some. A psychologist said recently that, “We have become a touch-phobic (American) society. We don’t touch strangers or even friends.” In Southern European, Mid-Eastern and Latin America cultures, affectionate touching between friends is normal. Women friends walk hand-in-hand and even men walk with their arm over a friend’s shoulder. Hugging and kissing are the norm when greeting one another. 

But in America, we get nervous when someone stands closer than five feet and a one second handshake is an adequate greeting. One outcome of our rapidly changing culture in America is the demise of the friendly hug between two acquaintances. Today, men don’t hug other men for fear of appearing gay. And a man doesn’t greet a woman with a hug out of fear that she’ll snap open her purse to grab the pepper spray.

A Christian Psychologist once said that, “The persistent cry of the human heart is to hug me and hold me close.” Many people today are over-whelmed with feelings of loneliness. A survey showed that 60% of married people experience loneliness. Many struggle with depression, despair and discouragement. Young and old can feel abandoned and rejected by family and friends and they walk through their days alone and forgotten.

Touch plays a critical part in healing those psychological and emotional wounds. We communicate and bond through touch. Our comfort level with touch is determined early on. If mom and dad didn’t hug and hold us in the first three years of our life, we will become anxious and stiffen up if someone hugs or touches us today. If hugs were lacking in our family culture, we are fearful of the hugs that cement warm, caring relationships. If we were not lovingly touched as a child, we can recoil at the healing touch of another person. And sadly, what we need the most, is what we have been taught to not accept. It’s no different when we come to church. A recent survey even showed that atheists/agnostics touch more than “religious types.” But if Jesus came to our church, He would be embracing people. 

Maybe during our hospitality time after church we all need to be holding a "FREE HUGS" sign, because the church today is filled with people who need one. If you need a hug, then give someone a hug this Sunday. Because, every time you give a hug, you get one back. Amen?

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