“What is wrong with you today?”
My young son yanked toys from his siblings, argued about games and groused all day. After hours of struggling to control the situations, I pulled him aside and sat at eye to eye with him.
“You have not been very nice to your brothers. What is going on?”
Instead of defending himself, he crumpled and blurted out, “I just need some hugging and conversation.”
The profound truth out of such a young soul stabbed my heart with compassion. I enfolded him in my arms and gave him a long squeeze before inviting him to snuggle beside me and visit. We both transformed. Our frustrations shrunk to proper perspective, then evaporated into the air.
Temple Grandin, a person with autism, invented a method to calm herself when she became overwrought. The contraption she built resembled a squeeze chute used to restrain cattle when cowboys immunized them or trimmed their horns and other body parts. Dr. Grandin proved that a modification of the cattle chute could calm as well as restrain the animals. She applied this discovery to herself when she was still in college. When too many people spoke to her or too many sights assaulted her, Temple retreated to her dorm room, crawled into her squeeze box on hands and knees, and pulled the lever to press her body into a tight, mechanical grip. The pressure and enclosure put her at ease.
Dog lovers also use the tight pressure of Thunder Shirts to calm their pets during storms. Mothers swaddle their infants to soothe them, and weighted blankets help some adults sleep better. These tactics work for many. On days when my to-do-list has too many dos or when I’ve haggled for an hour on the phone with a business, I ask my husband to give me a bear hug. His arms around me with my face smushed into his chest squeezes out the stress.
Social distancing robs us of physical contact and most of us at some point have suffered a degree of depression as a result. God built us with a need for touch. Infamous orphanages in Romania demonstrated that children denied touch, beyond changing diapers or feeding, affected them socially, psychologically and physiologically the rest of their lives. In contrast, many studies since then prove calming physiological and psychological effects of Deep Pressure Touch (DPT).
When our grown sons and wife pulled in the driveway from states away to stay a few days during Christmas, we hugged sideways. The gesture seemed extravagant during Covid but only partially satisfied and left a tinge of strain in the air. Towards the end of their visit, I remembered the scene of our young son’s stress and recognized that we all needed hugging and conversation. I ventured to give a neck rub, bear hug and close the distance of Covid’s separation. I don’t know if they felt better, but contact assured me, and their conversation and step seemed peppier.
Jesus experienced touch and used it as a means of connection. When children crowded around Him, He laid His hands on them to bless them, a spiritual gift communicated through physical contact. At the Last Supper, John leaned against Jesus as all the disciples reclined at the low table. Can you imagine the intimacy of leaning against Jesus? The thought warms my heart. God made Himself real to us by becoming a touchable human! Only Christianity claims this lavish gift. Jesus’ body was key to rejoining us to God, our Father.
Jesus’ disciple, John, declared, That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands … we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.”
Jesus no longer dwells physically among us except by proxy through believers. If you’re feeling touchy or draggy, maybe a conversation beyond pleasantries is in order, and maybe someone in your life is “safe” to hug. People in each of our lives need our deep touch, and in the process of giving it, we too will be comforted.