Wednesday, May 12, 2021

You Are God-wired To Hug!

Dear Friends,

It happened just a few years ago during a thunderstorm 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 day after that thunderstorm was a Friday and 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. 

We 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 and paying no attention 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. 

Then 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 society. We don’t touch strangers or even friends.” And she said this before the Covid pandemic physically isolated us!

In many cultures, affectionate touching between friends is normal. In Armenian, mid-Eastern and Mediterranean cultures for example, women friends often 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, even before mandatory social distancing, we got nervous when someone stood closer than five feet and a two second handshake was an adequate greeting. One outcome of our rapidly changing culture in America has been 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 overwhelmed with feelings of loneliness. A survey showed that 60% of married people experience loneliness. Many struggle with depression, despair and discouragement. And surveys show that the generation of Millennials (ages 23-38) are the loneliest of all adults today. They've replaced face-to-face relationships with texting and social media, and psychologists have called them the "broken generation."

Touch plays a critical part in healing those psychological and emotional wounds. We are God-wired to communicate and bond through touch but 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 may become anxious and stiffen up if someone hugs or touches us today. If hugs were lacking in our family culture, we may not welcome the hugs that cement warm, caring relationships. We may even recoil at the healing touch of another and then the hugs we need most are what we are most fearful to accept. 

Some churches like to hug and others don't, but a recent survey showed that even atheists/agnostics touch more than “religious types.” If Jesus came to our church, He would throw His arms around you and hold you tight. This pandemic has created both a craving for human contact and a fear of being close and touching another person. Whether safe loving hugs were your family tradition or not, you may need one of those today more then ever. Get vaccinated. Find someone who is also vaccinated. Give them a hug. Then hug them again. Because each time you give a hug, you get one back... AMEN?

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