I speak in the language of touch and I hear best when words, any words, are accompanied by a hand on my shoulder, arm against arm, or heads close together. I do not know why this is the language I speak best and I understand less why this is the language I receive best. It is not the language of the suburbs and I feel that acutely here. I take my hugs whenever I can. I give them because I want you to know that I love you, but I also want to feel that you could love me too. Cards, gifts, time spent talking or a surprise task finished, these bless me, but I quickly forget. Like all the times I've tried to learn Spanish. Whole semesters of conjugations and tutors and rote memorization and my grasp is still medial, at best. It is not my language and it does not come naturally to me. It does not even come unnaturally to me. It dances circles around me, taunting me with the secrecy of its word-speak.
A hand on the top of my head, a thumb rubbed into my weary shoulders, and my ache for love subsides. This may seem hyperbolic to you, and perhaps it is, but we are speaking different languages, that's all.
I want to love well. I do. But I also want to be loved well.
There is a part of me that would like to believe that the creator of the universe, the one who designed love and is love, that he would be beyond the need for our earth-encrusted affection and dirt-laden offerings, but it was he who pled before his father "Take this cup from me" and earlier finding his brothers asleep on their watch, "Could you not wait with me? Keep with me?"
I wonder if that perfect Christ, the sinless man, the creator in flesh, if he felt in that moment of abandonment, his utter humanness.
I wonder if it is in our need for love that we are most human. Here, with our knotted muscles, tired from the work of life, we know our need.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Good hugging runs in my family. At a family celebration recently I hugged a stranger, she backed right up and said, "You hug just like your mother." My mother has many great qualities, but of all the ones I'd be happy to inherit, good hugging is at the top.
A friend hugged me a few weeks back, he pulled my head against his chest and I felt shepherded and shielded—a rare feeling. Another friend hugged me that night, her arms tight around my neck, and a quick, choked goodbye was all I could manage. This morning I bought a wooden desk off of Craigslist for thirty dollars. I didn't have a twenty and a ten though, so she kept the change, ten dollars, and hugged me tight, tighter than a stranger should and I left.
I heard John Piper once talk about praying God would make him a good hugger and I wept right then. The ministry of a hug has meant more than any word ever said to or about me.
The importance of a pastoral hug cannot be overlooked. "Leaving room for the Holy Spirit," the "12 inch rule," and "side-hugs," can be moralistic rules put in place to avoid sin or the appearance of sin—but in our effort to put up boundaries, we've taken away the simple healing action of appropriate touch.
Some people have only ever known inappropriate touch—sexual, abusive, or unwanted. Some have never known any touch at all. But healthy touch is God's design and a perversion of it within the church and in the world is not reason to avoid it. Some will need to be taught the healthy way to interact with members of the opposite gender, but all people need hugs. Good, healthy, pastoral hugs.
Maybe some ought to check their motives before embracing, maybe some ought to refrain from hugging the opposite gender for a season, but if your motives are pure, your care is honest, and your surroundings are appropriate, then hug. Especially if you are in a pastoral role, hug your people.