Beyond the Side Hug

sidehugOur cat loves to be stroked. When Glen and I sit too close, he huffs and then muscles in.  One time Glen was stroking my head and he started head-butting the window in fury. (I realise this reflects worse on me than the cat, but you take simple pleasures where you can).

Humans too, love to be stroked.  The baby, curling its fist around your fingers.  Toddlers, cocooned from the world in daddy’s arms. Touch matters: but it’s not something we grow out of.  If anything, the older we get, the harder it is to stay – connected.  We miss intimacy and life can get really lonely. Physicality grounds us.  Just a touch on the shoulder can be a reminder – you’re here.  You’re real.  I see you and you matter. This is not just a female thing. I remember hugging a friend at Bible college and watching in shock as his eyes filled with tears. ‘That’s the first time in months that anyone has given me a proper hug’ he said. ‘As a single guy, I can go weeks without anyone touching me’.

Of course there can be reasons – good ones – for setting boundaries in relationships. But Jesus seemed to be obeying a higher calling than ‘boundaries’ when He approached people. No-one thought He should lay hands on the children, or reach out to heal the leper, or let the prostitute kiss His feet, or eat with tax collectors and sinners. But He is the hands-on God.  And there are times when following Him means moving closer.


10 thoughts on “Beyond the Side Hug

  1. That’s funny – I was just thinking about people laying hands in prayer and what I made of it. I concluded quickly that it’s not necessarily about it being a sort of super-hero touch which transfers power, but it’s at the least a simple and powerful reminder of Jesus’ love for humanity, and our love for each other. Definitely sympathise with the point about single people not getting hugs enough (and also especially not in a professional work environment!) – I have to get my dose from my little brother when I visit my family!

  2. ^this. Awesome. I exactly agree that boundaries are necessary, but they have to take into account love.

  3. I like that – I wonder why we don’t put a hand on people when we pray with them….seems to me that that touch is so important and a kind of connection to God through the person praying.
    Its like the Spirit moving from one person to another in prayer. Powerful stuff!

  4. Interesting. It’s so hard for me to get this one right.

    I tend to dread churchy type gatherings with all their touchiness. We move in very touchy circles.

    Too much laying on of hands, too much in my space, too many boobie squashing hugs, too much back rubbing and too much hanging on shoulders.

    Unless you’re a child, or I’m weeping, I prefer the nice affectionate hand shake or heartfelt shoulder squeeze.

    Unfortunately, I am at times a huge part of my problem! I see every one I meet as a hurting soul and I reach out and touch people automatically without even knowing it or meaning to:

    “Why do you always hold onto someone when you talk to them?”
    “I don’t.”
    “Yes, you do. You touch with one hand and talk with the other.”

    Also, I tend to flee my body in social situations, so I’m not always immediately aware of the touch of others. For whatever reasons, I am seen as very “open” for hugging (side hugs, front on, coming from behind, etc) and this combination can get down right creepy:

    “Why was D— standing so long with his arm around you out in the hallway?”
    “He wasn’t.”
    “Yes he was.”
    “Oh, I didn’t notice.”

    Proper boundaries are hard for me.

    My husband always stands with arms akimbo and is regarded as a severe touch-me-not (except by children, who see him as a jungle gym.) I’m usually the only one willing to scale those elbows in search of a hug.

    I know we are to be His hands, I just don’t know what that looks like.

  5. Good point Caroline: inappropriate contact is equally distressing, (I say this as someone who likes hugs, but only if I know they’re coming).

    The comments you’ve received (‘why did X have his arm around you for so long?’) show how easily things can be misinterpreted, (which is partly why we put boundaries there to start with).

    Loving wisely eh? As usual, I got no answers. But especially for those without families or loved ones nearby; it’s something to think about. And side hugs are just wrong.

  6. Liz – that’s a great way of putting it.

    Beth and Maria – interesting points about prayer and laying hands. I agree: it can be very reassuring – but only if the person being prayed for is comfortable with it. There are times when people have laid hands on me and it’s been wonderful – but equally, moments when it’s felt intrusive. Context counts for a lot.

  7. Is there a link here with the move to individual communion cups? Do we find other people too grubby to touch or share a cup with, and does this hint that we don’t love our church families the way our forebears used to?

  8. I hadn’t considered that John, but yes, I think it is. Relationships are messy – and it can feel safer to stay off.

  9. Thank you so much for this Emma. Older people, especially Widowed or divorced, I feel most for. If living on their own may not have physical contact for years. One elderly gentleman at our church used to attend our early morning prayer meeting. And I am sure the greatest attraction was sitting down for a simple breakfast with other people. He may well have gone 15 years of eating alone.

    We need to reach out to those on their own more, to share a hug, or holding off a hand, a dance or a meal.

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