Jesus could have healed everyone with a word. He had the power to do long-distance miracles, but when the time was right, he touched people. Because sometimes that is the love and healing we need.
Mike Foster, People of the Second Chance
I will never forget the first time my former pastor touched me. I’d told him the broken story of my childhood and how alone I’d felt growing up.
He looked at me directly in the eyes, “You’ve told me that before. What is it you really want?”
The pastor had called me a couple of hours before telling me the story of seeing a little girl hugged by her Dad at the barber shop, and how God impressed on his heart that that was something I’d never received as a little girl from her Dad. He told me with much sadness how it grieved his heart.
When he called me, I’d been having a really hard day. Memories of the past had been haunting me. I was sitting on the bathroom floor praying and staring at a candle and longing for freedom from the oppression I felt. It amazed me that he called at the perfect time, and I believed without a shadow of a doubt that it was a God thing.
We agreed on the phone that he would meet with me to counsel for the first time in person. He called his wife so he wouldn’t have to meet with me alone. She would keep my kids in the nursery while we met.
The first words that came out of his mouth when I sat down in front of him were, “Some people never get delivered, but I believe that you will get delivered.”
And as I knelt down beside his chair and told him that the reason I was really in his office that day was to be loved, deliverance was what I was hoping for.
He wrapped his arms around me and gently rubbed my back. Powerful emotions like I’d never felt before overwhelmed me.
In that brief hug everything that I longed for seemed to be present. Someone really loved me, and everything changed.
When we stood up he was crying. He said, “I don’t understand it, but I love you.”
I hugged him again and had never felt so happy in my life.
As I drove home that day something in me changed on a deep level for the better. I was no longer the shame filled freak who brought out the worst in people. I was loved by the pastor of the church, a man I looked up to and respected-a man who’d become a father figure to me.
If only our relationship could have stayed there.
But it didn’t, and the very next day he was telling me how he’d felt like he stepped on a rattlesnake when he hugged me. He said it could never happen again. That in counseling the counselor never came from behind his desk to touch those on the other side. Then he proceeded to tell me he’d told his wife and she was upset and wanted him to refer me. (I wish now that he had,even though I begged him not to that day).
And all my happiness came crashing down. Everything beautiful that had occurred had all of a sudden become dirty and forbidden.
But when he told me he didn’t want to refer me, that he’d work on his wife, my hope was restored. After a few days, he said his wife had reluctantly agreed to allow him to counsel me over the phone, but that he could never hug me in her presence. But he continued to hug me in her absence and the absence of others.
And in the darkness of our secrets, sin grew.
As I look back on that time, I cannot throw out the freedom I found in that first hug. I believe now after working at a residential treatment program for teens, that I’d been an unattached child with a desperate heart longing for love and acceptance. When he hugged me that day all of the lies I believed about how bad I was came crashing down. The fact that he was my pastor made it even more powerful. I connected with another human being that day, and even though it became sinful and abusive it still changed something in me.
Looking back on that time, causes me to realize how important outward expressions of love towards one another really are. And some of us are so desperate for this touch, because we didn’t get it when we were kids. Healthy touch produces oxytocin in our brains, a hormone that delivers positive emotions. Words of acceptance and love along with affection bring healing to our lives and the pain we experience in this broken world. I’ve never been a touchy feely person, because of the abuse I’ve suffered in my past has caused me to be afraid of touch, but I’m learning slowly to give hugs especially to my kids, because I know how important they are.
I still don’t understand all the reasons the pastor was so upset over that hug. But I do know that calling it dangerous only made things worse.
Loving one another out in the open where others can see is what God has called us to do. It is by our love that the world will know that we are His disciples. God’s love doesn’t need to be hidden. God’s love certainly isn’t a poisonous snake.
Maybe I’m oversimplifying things. Touch is a powerful thing, and scripture even says to be careful about who we lay our hands on. So we really do need to be wise. And all the more reason not to keep secrets. Pastors especially need others to share openly with and get advice from. Proverbs says the more people in our lives we can get good counsel from the better, and a psychologist should definitely be one of those counselors especially in cases like mine. We are not meant to do it alone.
And I believe because so many of us are doing it alone, that this is the reason so much abuse is occurring. We rush in and out of each others lives, smiling and pretending everything is fine especially on Sunday, while in the meantime we struggle to hold things together. And predators come along and take advantage of our weaknesses. And maybe those predators are just as desperate for love as their prey. We are worn out, weary, stressed out and pressured to be more than what God called us to be. We numb ourselves with whatever we can to deny the pain we feel inside. We too often are doing life alone when we really just need someone to tell our pain to and to hug and hear that we are still loved.
I wish I knew how to stop the insanity of how we live our lives. I wish I knew how to get people to slow down and listen and to really care. But I don’t. But I do know that taking the time to really care is painful and often calls us to take the time to do something when another is in pain. My husband reminded me of this when he came home last night from a job he’d done at a very broken woman’s home. She reeked of alcohol and cigarettes and lived in a house that was wrecked. It was obvious that her life was filled with great pain and hopelessness. My husband wept as he told me about her life and how much he hated how hard and hopeless our world can be. She didn’t have enough money to pay for the two hours of work that he and his boss had done, and they agreed to take less, since it was clear she had little to give. And my husband even agreed to decline the two and a half hours of time and a half pay he could have been paid to help cover what she could not pay. He’d never tell anyone but me that he did that, by the way. But I will, because what he did is really what it’s all about. It’s about simply taking the time to notice the pain around us and offer love. That’s what Jesus did, and that’s what He calls us to do.
God help me to slow down, to notice others and to offer love and maybe even a hug.
So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”