in defense of hugging.


I’m a hugger.


If you know me, this is obviously not news to you.  And seriously, I apologize….kind of.  I often hug to say hello, and hug to say goodbye.  And if you’re only dropping by briefly, that has the potential for two hugs in like 5 minutes.  I know.  That’s overwhelming.  It’s not all my fault, though. My family of origin made me that way, and so they are certainly to partially to blame. I’m not completely out of control; I do usually have enough social intelligence not to hug someone who is petrified of human interaction.  Nobody wants to get slapped.  Actually, that’s more or less what this blog is about.  We don’t want to be slapped.  We want to be valued.  So, that being said…3486993182_0e7bf3568d

I’d like to make a case in support of hugging.    

Here’s why: touch is the most basic of human connections, and arguably the most important.  And slowly, inch by inch, we’re moving away from the ability to use touch in healthy ways outside of romantic intimacy.  Simply put: we’re becoming a culture of untouchables.  Now, I know all the arguments.  I used to be a pastor to high school students. While in that job, there was a general understanding that was present for all leaders in youth ministries across the country: don’t touch a kid–you’ll get sued.  The Jerry Sanduskys of the world have continued to erode our innocence, and now every touch is put into question.  Let’s be clear- keeping healthy boundaries to guard against abuse is absolutely necessary and appropriate…. but our hypersensitivity does come at a cost, well beyond young people. In a world where people are so isolated from one another, non-sexual physical touch has in many cases been completely lost, like ancient ruins that have been overtaken by jungle vines.  Is it possible to rediscover the beauty of holistic human interaction?

We live in one of the most oversexualized cultures in history, and ironically, one of the most isolated as well.  Statistics have never been higher about people feeling alone, feeling stressed, feeling overwhelmed.  And there has never been more scrutiny about the motives behind physical touch.
But can we step back for a moment and admit the truth? Sometimes people need to know you’re on their side, and an arm around the shoulder, a high five, or a hug can chip away at the despair.  Sometimes, when you find out your parents are getting divorced, or you think that you’re completely on your own in the world, or you’ve just had a really difficult day….. dude, you just need to be hugged for a moment.

I find many things inspiring about Jesus, but this is one of them.  Jesus had this countercultural ability to go out of his way to find the most untouched people in his culture- and offer them human connection.  He touched lepers, he touched prostitutes, and he refused to allow any stigma to stop him from showing love in the most basic human ways.  I love that about Jesus.  I love that in many of the mysterious miracles we read in the New Testament, Jesus didn’t just say something.  He took a hand, he touched a guys face to give him sight, he helped a lame man stand up.  More than words. He gave people access to his own humanity through touch, and I think we have the opportunity to do the same.

Jesus also told stories about the love of the father described through embrace.  There’s this story that many know as the “prodigal son” story, where a kid goes and blows his inheritance on stupid things and comes back expecting that he’s going to be disowned by his father–he’s become an untouchable– and guess what the father does?  Before a word is said, before any explanation, the dad throws his arms around his son and embraces him.  Why do that first? Do we even need to ask?  That motion communicates a more profound thought than a thousand words.  You are welcomed back.  You are accepted.  You are loved.  You are valuable.

That’s what I want to do.  I want my love to represent my father’s love.  Maybe not by running and throwing my arms around you every time I see you (let’s not get crazy here), but by refusing to play by the isolationist rules that are being adopted by most of us without even realizing it.

I remember back in 2005, during a month long trip to Zambia, when a young man about my age wanted to show me around the town we were living in.  He grabbed my hand and off we went, for the next half mile…. holding hands.  That was normal for him.  But not me!  It was both weird and eye opening, as I realized how my own culture was far less comfortable with physical touch than his was.  I learned quite a bit on that trip.

Now I’m not suggesting going out and hug bombing people (although this is awesome), or going on half mile walks holding your next door neighbor’s hand.  I know George, that would be awkward for me too. What I’m talking about is the enormous need in our culture to be connected- not through our phones, not through our text messages, not even through facebook–but through our humanity.  It matters.  And we won’t even get into all of physiological benefits of healthy human contact, like the oxytocin that’s released which boosts feelings of well-being.

The early church was in the habit, 2000 years ago, of greeting each other with a holy kiss.  I’ve yet to learn what makes a kiss holy, and I’ve got to admit that even I draw the line there.  I’m not suggesting we bring back the holy kiss.  Although to be honest I always find it kind of refreshing when I get to greet some of my Italian friends whom I haven’t seen in a while, and the lean in with the cheek air kiss, or whatever that thing is called.  I think it’s kind of cool.  I just don’t always know which way to turn my head, and that could get awkward real fast.

Maybe by choosing to intentionally practice healthy touch, we can move in a direction where we begin to break down the isolated, impenetrable walls that many of us build up to keep ourselves from admitting vulnerability.  It’s worth a try.

A hug is the opposite of an argument.  There is no winner in an embrace.  Wordless positive connections with people are becoming more and more rare, but there’s something about a simple hug that welcomes a friend into our presence; that says that you are accepted; that says that you are loved; that says that you are valuable. It’s one of the things that makes us and keeps us human.  And when we’re not comfortable or safe enough to allow someone to hug us, it can be symptomatic of a much deeper difficulty with letting people into our lives.  Maybe we start with family.  Maybe we simply admit when we need to be held, or we begin to be willing to hold one that we love when they need it.  It’s not rocket science, but it kind of seems life-changing to me.  Am I wrong?

So, if I see you sometime soon and you tell me that you’re not a hugger, I will absolutely respect that.  But guys, be aware that I’m awfully skilled at turning the man handshake into a quick bro hug.  Because brothers gotta hug, right?


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