Thursday, November 21, 2013


You've heard of the "church" hug, right? You know, leave enough room between you and the person you're hugging for the Holy Spirit. Or for a pulpit Bible. Or for Jesus.

Several years ago, a friend who had recently gone through a divorce said to me with a very heavy sigh, "No one touches me any more." She no longer received any kind of physical affection from her husband - he had gone off after something better. Her kids were grown and living in other states. Her friends at church, who no longer seemed to know how to relate to her, avoided any kind of physical contact. This woman was starving to be hugged.

Another friend - a Christian brother - shared the same frustration when his wife left him. "It's like people are scared of me now, like they think I have the plague or something. They won't get anywhere close to me."

More recently, I was talking with a young single woman who is living on her own. Although she would like very much to be married and have a family, God has not yet brought a special, godly man into her life. Sure, she has friends at work and at church, but these friends are married and head home at the end of each day to their families. Sally, on the other hand, heads home to an empty apartment. "Is it not hard, living all alone?" I asked. Sally replied, "I am absolutely starving for companionship." Nobody touches her.

I've heard the same kind of comments from widows and widowers. "Nobody touches me."

These people are NOT saying that they want some kind of groper coming up and grinding into them. What they are saying is: they need to be hugged. To have a sympathetic arm laid across their shoulders. To be touched in ways that lovingly acknowledge their presence and their value.

But it's almost as if many of us in the church are so concerned about propriety that, in order to avoid even the appearance of evil, we keep these lonely, starving people at arm's length. Better safe than sorry! If I hug Mike or Susie, folks might start talking, you know, and I sure don't want to give occasion for gossip.

And so we relate to one another based on fear. Or based on legalism - keep at least twelve inches, or the width of a Bible, or  a cubit, between you and the other person. We fumble awkwardly as we encounter one another on Sunday morning - should we offer a hand shake? a pat on the arm? a "church" hug? Instead of children joyfully reunited at a family reunion, we behave more like a bunch of self-conscious, puerile adolescents at a high school dance.

I absolutely love this passage from Matthew 8: And behold, a leper came to him (Jesus) and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, "I will; be clean." (Matthew 8:2-3a)

Jesus could have given all sorts of valid reasons for keeping a little distance between himself and this man. But He didn't. Jesus reached out his hand and closed the gap.

Brothers and sisters, shouldn't we be doing the same?

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