The best thing I ever did as a parent came from a misunderstanding. My oldest daughter was in junior high. She wanted something desperately—I don’t remember what it was—and I was in a position either to grant her wish or to withhold it. Since those moments don’t happen very often, I decided to make a deal. I would give her what she wanted, which I probably was going to do anyway, on the condition that she give me a hug—whenever I wanted it—for the next week. This was during a time when she was not a big fan of my hugs.
Touch with Kids
She agreed to the deal.
And she was brilliant. Whenever I asked for a hug, she never complained but dutifully received and gave a hug. What a great week!
Then I noticed something, though I couldn’t be certain. She made a random comment that sounded as if she thought the deal lasted longer than a week.
I, of course, said nothing, but tested out my hunch.
Sure enough, on the eighth day I asked for a hug and she gave me one. She thought the deal was to infinity and beyond, and I was not about to correct her.
She is now in her late twenties, and the deal continues to this very day. She has been very gracious. Even though I revealed the fine print of our agreement about two years ago, she still hugs me whenever I want.
It is the best deal I never really made.
Touch with Spouses
I hugged my wife today. I do that most everyday, and probably only missed a handful of days in our entire marriage. But I hugged her today because she has been sick and contagious for the last few days, and something wasn’t right. After we hugged, all was as it should be.
Hugs have always served double-duty in our relationship. First, they say, “I am yours and you are mine.” Second, they are a finely tuned analysis of the state of the marriage. If there are subliminal tensions, they come to light with a “Leave me alone!” response. But if instead there is a desire for closeness, the quiet enjoyment of a hug reveals that as well.
I remember a movie scene in which a woman was hugging Groucho Marx. As they embraced she said, “Please, hold me closer.”
Groucho’s response, while wiggling his bushy eyebrows, was, “If I hold you any closer, my dear, you’ll be in back of me.”
My goal has always been to hug my wife so close that she is in back of me.
Touch with God
And none of this makes any sense if our God was only known through his appearance at Mount Sinai. There was no touching there, just police barriers that kept us at a safe distance. If God doesn’t touch, then his children don’t touch. But the transcendent and Holy One came close and he still does. Watch all the touching when Jesus walks the earth.
The gospel itself is about touch (see Luke 8:43-48). Jesus touches us, and in that touch he takes our contamination on himself and gives us his holiness. As we touch him by faith we say, “Yes, I need you. I am with you. You are mine and I am yours.”
“In Christ” was the Apostle Paul’s preferred way of talking about our relationship with Jesus, and that is about as close as you can get. It is the deepest expression of hug-me-so-close-that-I-am-in-back-of-you.
Human touch is a fine thing for only one reason. Jesus has come close and touched us, so we, in turn, touch others.