When I was reading through the story of the Last Supper recently and saw where John the disciple was reclining on Jesus’ bosum (Jn. 13:23), I was reminded of how God designed us to live with tangible, affectionate touch. In fact, hugs in a family express love and are a sign of emotional and spiritual health.
Years ago when I was a school teacher, we occasionally were required to take classes having to do with childcare.
One such childcare class was directed towards those who handled smaller children. Now, I don’t remember much from this class, however, one thing was reiterated throughout the entire lecture — children need safe, affectionate touch to stay healthy and learn.
Over the years there have been experiments on babies who were not allowed to be touched or nurtured in any way, and in one experiment, here in the US in 1944, it permitted the little ones to be fed, bathed, and have all their physical needs met, but nothing else. No talking, cooing, smiling, or communicating with them was allowed beyond that which was only necessary. The results? At least half of the babies had died within four months. The study determined they died from a lack of affection.
As teachers we were instructed that affection was necessary for growth and learning. Every child—and in reality, every person—needs to be hugged at least 8-13 times a day, depending on which studies you review. And if you do a quick search on the internet, it is quite easy to find numerous reports that show how vital touch is to our health.
Just a month or two ago my mother went to a new doctor and what do you think was the first thing she noticed most from her appointment? The doctor made proper physical contact. He gently touched her hand or arm when speaking to her, using it as a sign of tenderness and caring. She was so used to many physicians being too “clinical” and not expressing a personal genuineness about them, it made a deep positive impression upon her, especially as a widow who lives by herself without much day-to-day physical contact. She viewed him as very kind and considerate.
I remember as a teenager, while doing homework on the dining room table (pre-computer days), my father would lean over my shoulder, gently touching my back as he would ask me if I needed any help. This was an meaningful way he communicated affection to me.
Our sense of touch is extremely important. Jesus knew this too. We see examples of Him healing through touch, touching little children. He even touched a leper and allowed a prostitute to touch Him!
So with your spouse, children, family, and friends whom you care about and know really well — touch them! Touch their shoulders, touch their arms, hold their hands, pat them on the back, play footsie! Try to give and get at least 8 hugs a day. God knows it will keep both you and them healthy and strong.