Last week my wife had a heart procedure and needed several days of quiet rest. A few days later I got this email from a dear friend: “Hello! I don’t want to interrupt you in person, so here is a HUG from our house! Hope all is well. Love, Kevin.”
That simple message brought a smile to my face. It was such a blessing! Kevin knows me well and understands how much a hug means to me.
I grew up in a hug-free environment. My parents loved me, but they were not the “huggy-kissy” type. They did not say “I love you” or give physical affection. The only touch I remember was physical discipline– and there was plenty of that.
I can’t remember a time in my childhood when I wasn’t bullied. I didn’t fit in with the other kids. I was overweight, bookish, and definitely non-athletic (translation: klutz). When the girls bullied, it was mostly name-calling. But when the boys bullied, it was both verbal and physical: shoving, tripping, kicking, hitting, punching. The physical touch I received as a child and teen was definitely not affirming. I remember in my high school years being tardy to class just so I could use the boys room alone, without the fear of being beat up. Gym class was a nightmare.
My self-esteem was so low you’d have to scrape it off the floor. I remember standing in front of the mirror, repeating the lies others had told me, speaking to my reflection and saying, “I hate you. You’re such a loser.”
I was eight years old.
By the time I was a teenager, depression was my constant companion. I had no friends. I would come home from school and go to my room. I’d watch old movies on TV until the station signed off at 1:00 AM. I was afraid to go to sleep because of the nightmares I would have. Suicidal thoughts became common, but I couldn’t go through with it and so I thought I was a coward on top of all the other things my peers told me I was.
I went to church every week but it didn’t help. I always believed there was a God, but He seemed very far away. I didn’t think He cared.
I was wrong.
No Coffee, Just Hugs
In 1973 I graduated high school and went to college. After being there a month, I hadn’t made a single friend (it’s hard to reach out when you expect and fear rejection). I was desperately lonely and depressed, obsessed with thoughts of killing myself so the pain would end.
One day I remembered a high school classmate who had invited me to what he called a “Christian coffeehouse.” I told him I didn’t drink coffee, and he laughed and said, “That’s okay, they don’t serve any. It’s kinda like a church.” I told him I wasn’t interested.
But that Christian coffeehouse-that-didn’t-serve-coffee was in the same town as my college, and one night I decided to pay a visit. There wasn’t a meeting that evening, but a young woman named Marti was there. Long story short, we talked for 4 hours and she led me in prayer. That night I got saved.
I know, I know– you’re wondering, “What does all this have to do with hugs?” I’m getting to that.
The following Monday I went to my first meeting, a “Bible study” (whatever that was). When I walked in, the one-room building was already packed with people, mostly teens and twenties. Marti started introducing me around. The first person I met was a big guy with a big grin, and when Marti told him I’d just accepted the Lord, he wrapped his arms around me in a bear hug and shouted, “Praise the Lord, brother!”
To be honest, I was stunned. A total stranger hugging me? A guy hugging me?
It didn’t stop with him. Almost everyone I met that night, male and female, hugged me.
And with each hug, I could feel a little bit of the hurt melting away.
Scientifically Proven: Hugs Are Good For Your Health
When I did some research for this article, I was astounded to discover that scientific studies support the power of a hug. Take a look at these facts:
- Babies and children who are frequently hugged have reduced stress levels and improved self-worth well into adulthood.
- IQ and emotional development is delayed in children who don’t receive hugs.
- Hugs from early years are actually imprinted on a cellular level, helping to connect us to our ability to love ourselves
- Hugs elevate Oxytocin levels in the body, which calms the nervous system and boosts positive emotions.
- Hugs also increase Dopamine levels and decrease Cortisol levels, which results in lower blood pressure and relaxed muscles.
- Hugs increase Serotonin levels as well. Serotonin maintains mood balance and a sense of well-being, and has been proven to decrease the risk of heart problems.
- Hugs even help to ease physical pain by stimulating blood circulation in the soft tissue
- Hugs boost the immune system by stimulating the thymus gland, which regulates the production of disease-fighting white blood cells.
- Hugs increase social bonding, providing a sense of belonging, acceptance, and security.
Well, who wouldn’t want a hug after reading that?
Born Again Was Only The Beginning
When I came to Christ at age 18, I was definitely damaged goods. I had a lot of junk in the trunk. Eighteen years of abuse– verbal, emotional, and physical– does not go away in an instant. I was a Christian, but I was a mess.
It was the love I felt and the hugs I received that kept me coming to that Christian coffeehouse-with-no-coffee. For the first time in my life, I felt accepted. I was “one of the guys,” I belonged. This was at the height of the Jesus People Movement of the late ’60s-early ’70s, when the Holy Spirit was touching young people from coast to coast. It was an exciting time! Sometimes I got called a “Jesus freak,” but I really didn’t mind. I stayed with that ministry for 14 years, until sadly it imploded (a topic for future posts). I continued walking with the Lord, and continued my journey of healing.
It has been a long, slow process. Lots of counseling, lots of prayer, lots of books read and tears cried. No matter the problem, recovery isn’t easy. Fortunately, along the way I shared my story with several close brothers in Christ, and now they never fail to greet me with a hug. You might say I’ve become a hug-aholic!
Is my healing complete? Not quite. I still have some struggles that continue to this day. But I have a Savior who will never stop loving me. Someday I’ll get to Heaven and receive His hug– and then all will be well. I’m looking forward to that hug!
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“I Sat in Darkness” http://www.livingthetransformedlife.com/I-sat-in-darkness