Let's Get Psyched: I Need a Hug
by Randy Kiel | November 12, 2020
Especially in these times, don’t we all need a hug?
I suppose the following story has been told in a variety of ways, yet it illustrates so well the heart-cry of all mankind. As I heard it, a little boy woke up in the midst of a violent storm. He was frightened by the thunder and lightning so he cried out for his mother. She reassured him, and told him never to be afraid of the dark or the storm because God was right there with him. In a few minutes, the child cried out again, and the mother went back to his side and once again told him that God was with him in the storm. “I know,” said the boy, “but I want someone with skin on!”
Don’t we all?
Just like we crave food when we are hungry, and crave sleep when we are tired, so also do we crave touch when we are expressing our emotions outwardly. Without touch, all will be lonely. And to be lonely is quite often too vulnerable.
While some religions are based on noble thoughts or impersonal cosmic forces, others have been centered around idols made of wood or stone. These approaches to connect with a deity have never sufficed the deep longing within the human soul. We humans hunger for a God with whom we can have a communal and yet personal living experience. We seek a God whom we can touch. One that is our path toward life eternal, our suffering’s intercessor, and our Savior from the ailments of life and death.
As God created us, we are wired to touch and be touched. When a child is born, it is through physical touch that they bond with their mother. Our wiring system computes touch everywhere. Every cell in our body knows when we touch or are touched. So, therefore, it is foreign for us to neither think about nor experience physical touch.
Multitudes of studies show that within the brain, touch signals a sense of safety and trust, therefore it comforts the mind and soothes anxiety. Apart from the brain, basic warm touch calms cardiovascular stress, demonstrating that we imperatively need touch. Positive human touch is an integral part of our relational interaction. Whether it’s a warm embrace, a reassuring hand on the shoulder, one arm linked through another, or a hug, physical contact is a large part of how we show concern and establish camaraderie with friends and loved ones. It is also how we define the level of significance within a relationship.
Family therapist Virginia Satir said that we need 4 hugs a day for survival, 8 hugs a day for maintenance, and 12 hugs a day for growth. While that may sound like a lot, it is for sure that many hugs are far better than no hugs. Physical touch opens us, heals us, and ultimately brings us profound peace. All the senses become further experienced through physical touch, therefore broadening the depth and texture of life and our awareness of it.
Perhaps the most powerful touches we encounter are those that are unplanned, unrehearsed, and unannounced. When we risk leaning into these unrehearsed touches from life, we discover the need to be further open to life. While it is a present necessity, social distancing creates a human hardship. People can become touch deprived. Spontaneous hugs are “Temporarily Out of Order.” It is known that touch deprivation can contribute to mental health decline. During this time, we must be open to other ways for life to touch us while we are unable to have a hug from a neighbor or even a high five from a friend. Life will continue to touch us. Whether we are touched in ways that are ecstatic, peaceful, or joy-filled, or in ways that are painful, fearful, or despairing, we are being invited into a bond that is patristic in nature and eternal in spirit. All the ways that we are touched in life are further bonds with our Beloved, whose touch should make us all quiver.
Let us see that this is exactly what God does for us in Jesus Christ. He becomes one of us so that we can touch the Father and be touched back by him. It is within this process of touch that we are eternally changed.
As an old Gospel hymn says:
He touched me, Oh, He touched me
And oh the joy that floods my soul
Something happened and now I know
He touched me and make me whole
Matthew 9:29 says: “Then he touched their eyes and said, ‘According to your faith be it done unto you.”
“Oh, how lucky to be those touched by Christ himself,” we might think. Then we realize, “Oh wait, we are those!” God gave himself to us in the Eucharist not only so that we could see him spiritually, not only so that we could touch him physically, but also so that our total internal self would be united with him as we consume him through Holy Communion.
I don’t know of any better or deeper way to experience a hug.
Deacon Randy Kiel is the founder of Kardia Counseling and serves Holy Trinity Parish in Des Moines. To connect with him email firstname.lastname@example.org.