Are you aware of God’s touch? The tender, caring touch of the Father reaching out to you. The hug you need when you feel discouraged or lonely. Or the hug of his compassion. Father God touches us every day in big and small ways. He gives us congratulatory pats on the back. He comforts us when we feel depressed. He lifts us up when we stumble. He holds our hands when we stroll down the street admiring the clouds and trees and flowers. And when we get hurt, he wipes our tears and he kisses our aches.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV).
How important his touch is! We were designed by God to be hugged. To need hugs. Even for our very survival. Abandoned babies in institutions die from lack of touch. Marriages wither from lack of hugging. Children grow up with poor self-esteem from lack of physical nurturing.
Jesus knew how important touch is. Look at how often he healed people through his physical touch. When he healed lepers, he touched them. Their disease was so contagious that it was illegal for lepers to mingle where people could touch them. But Jesus not only healed their skin, he also healed them emotionally and psychologically by giving him what they needed most — human touch.
Do you know how to identify the Father’s hug? Do you know how to feel the hug of an invisible Daddy? Usually, it happens in unexpected ways, at unexpected times. We miss it, however, if we’re distracted by our own ideas of how he should answer our prayers. If we have tunnel vision, seeking only what we think should happen, he reaches out to hug us but we think he slapped us.
How would you recognize a hug from God?
For me, his hug is sort of like an emotional awareness of God’s presence encasing me in silent affirmation. It’s contemplative prayer without necessarily going into a contemplative state of mind. It’s as if the air around me, which is pregnant with God’s activity (as described on Day 8), has become as thick as ocean water without being oppressive, and God’s activity within it is named “comfort”.
It’s not something we can become aware of unless we pause what we’re doing and seek it. “Daddy, I need a hug!” Whether in a peaceful moment or in the midst of turmoil, it’s a prayer that is always answered immediately. God is the inventor of hugs. He wants to hug us a lot more than we know.
Even right now he is hugging you!
Immersing ourselves in the hug of the Father comes easier for those who were raised in huggy families. However, some of us have been hugged inappropriately. Others, like myself, were not hugged warmly. This can make it difficult to feel and enjoy God’s hugs.
I come from a non-huggy family. Sure, I was held as a baby and I sat on my mom’s lap when a little child. I felt loved and nurtured by both of my parents. But I have no memories of sitting on my father’s lap. I have no memories of running to him when I felt hurt or anguished, no recollection of his arms protectively pulling me in to comfort me.
The only memory association I have with my dad’s lap is a game he played with my little brother. He liked to sit Kurt on his lap and invite me or my sister to sit next to them. Then my dad took Kurt’s little hand and “punched” us with it. It was playful, it was a very light tap, but my sister and I did not enjoy it. My dad enjoyed it a lot.
Imagine the misconceptions that this taught me about God the Father:
- He is more fond of other children than he is of me.
- His idea of playfulness is at my expense.
- He doesn’t care if something he does makes me unhappy.
While I was growing up, my relationship with my dad was impaired by his coldness. His hugs were formal and stiff. It seemed to me that he really didn’t want to hug me. I knew that he loved me, but I also knew, instinctively, that something important was missing. I interpreted it as Dad withholding love from me.
My mom’s touch felt comforting, especially when I was ill. But too often when I needed a hug to calm me from crying after I had been scolded for misbehaving, my dad sent me to my room to deal with it alone. More than anything else at that moment, I longed for a parent to come and check on me and give me a reassuring hug. Not getting it, I turned to my Best Friend Jesus. I felt his closeness in that room. This deepened my relationship with him.
How does one heal from the absence of hugs? In sharing my personal story, I’ll demonstrate a very effective way to heal.
It happened several years after I became an adult and sought the help of a spiritual director. Irene Huber taught me how to receive inner healing from Jesus.
In prayer, I imagined that I was back in my childhood bedroom. I remembered being a teenager, alone and crying. This time, I invited Jesus into my room and I imagined what he looked like. Visualizations like this, done in the context of Christ-centered prayer after asking for the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are very real encounters with Jesus. I envisioned him opening up the bedroom door the way I had wished my parents would have done. He came in, sat next to me, and listened to me complain about my troubles. Then he asked (through the Holy Spirit’s anointing on my imagination) if I were willing to forgive my parents.
Knowing that this is the door to healing, I said yes. Next, I envisioned Mom entering the room.
“What would you like to say to her?” Jesus asked me. So I proceeded to tell Mom, in my imagination, how I felt and why. Then she asked me to forgive her. I did and we hugged with tears from both of us.
A word about how this works: In real life, I have not had this conversation with Mom. Before my healing, I didn’t know how to approach her. After my healing, it felt unnecessary to bring up.
Anyway, forgiveness is never about the other person; it’s about us letting go of our hurts. It’s about letting go of the other person’s emotional hold on us that exists in our hearts. Until we forgive, we are chained to the damage that was done to us. The other person today might be completely different or remorseful or long gone, but they are still inside our heads continuing to do damage. This is not their fault anymore; it’s ours.
Through the visualizations of the inner healing process, we forgive and let go of their emotional hold on us. When we’re finished, we’re ready to move forward, renewed, restored and free.
When I felt Mom’s hug in my visualization, it was Abba-Father who was hugging me for real.
Next, my dad entered the re-imagined room of my childhood. I went through the same process of forgiving him: I told him why I was angry at him, what I had needed from him, and why it was so important to me.
Imagining him asking for my forgiveness was harder to do than it had been with my mother, so I envisioned Jesus coaxing it out of him. At last I heard the words, “Please forgive me”, and I said, “I do forgive you.” Then we hugged like I had never felt hugged in real life. My Divine Daddy was giving me the best embrace that I’d ever had from a father.
By the time I was ready to open my eyes and end the visualization, I had changed. I no longer felt any pain or sorrow about being sent to my room to cry alone. And I had moved a lot closer to knowing Father God as my true father, Abba the wonderful hugger.
Today’s Exercise Part 1:
Experience God’s hug
My dad was not a hugger because his dad had not been a hugger. It’s no wonder that my brother and sister and I never felt close to our paternal grandparents.
My maternal grandparents, on the other hand, were very embracive with their love. Visiting them was an emotional heaven for me. I learned a lot from them about what it’s like to be hugged by God (although I didn’t know it at the time).
Write a list naming those who have hugged you best. Then describe what you liked about them. This is a description of what God is like!
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The psychology of hugs
In the early 1980s, a popular author/speaker known as “Doctor Hug” got my avid attention because his mission was to spread awareness about the importance of hugs. Due to my family background, I thought that Dr. Leo Buscaglia was providing our world with a breakthrough in modern psychology. He said, “Hugs make you feel psychologically more secure and together,” and, “Hugs are the key to happiness” and, “Everybody needs a hug. It changes your metabolism.”
To me, this was Big News. Life-changing. For many of Dr. Buscaglia’s readers and listeners, he provided some much-needed “permission” to get the hugs that God designed us to need.
Parents who hug their children warmly and securely and appropriately convey what God the Father’s hug is like. When a hug says, “I care about you,” it foster trusts. In the home, good hugs open the door for good communication. The children feel safe talking to their parents about life’s difficult times or the mistakes they’ve made. The same is true in our relationship with Abba-Father: Good hugs in the home teach that God cares. Good hugs in the home foster trust in God.
For those of us who grew up without good hugs, the good news is: It’s still very possible to feel the hugs of our Divine Daddy. It just takes learning how to recognize them.
In some cultures, nobody hugs. Maybe this is why there is so much war in the world and fighting in homes.
Jeanie says, “It wasn’t until after I moved to the South [in the U.S.] that I saw people hug upon greeting one another and leaving one another’s company. As I saw others hug, I liked the acceptance and the love it showed. It took me a while to feel comfortable receiving and giving a hug to someone other than a boyfriend, but I got with the program!”
Gift Nyirenda says, “In my childhood days, hugging was not a common phenomenon in Malawi due to strong African cultural values. A normal way of affirming how someone feels here is a handshake, usually a heavy long one. Recently with televisions we see the meaning of a hug. I have learned to accept it as part of normal social life, and I now do it more often.”
For my husband Ralph, Dr. Buscaglia’s message was nothing new.
Ralph comes from a large, huggy family. When we began dating, I drank up his hugs like a thirsty camel. After we founded Good News Ministries in 1995, people who attended our events nicknamed him “The Power Hugger”. I smiled at that, because I felt pleased that I could benefit from his hugs every day. But then I began hearing that my hugs were weak. The people I hugged felt like I didn’t really care about them. Whoa, this was my complaint about my dad’s hugs!
Those who cared enough to speak this out loud to me were right. They blessed me with the truth. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized that my hugs were different than Ralph’s. So I began to pay attention to how Ralph hugged. His embrace revealed that he genuinely cared. I cared, too, but I didn’t communicate it well in my hugs. Ralph’s hugs were physically generated by strong arms. My arms only lightly wrapped themselves around others — my hugs were wimpy and thereby communicated a wimpy concern for others.
Ralph’s energy surrounded those he hugged; I withheld my energy. Ralph’s hugs lingered; he instinctively knew how long to give a hug — long enough to provide warmth and healing without overdoing it beyond the recipient’s comfort level. I behaved like I couldn’t wait to break free of the hugs that I gave.
So I asked Ralph to teach me how to become a good hugger. And he did.
Do you know a good hugger? Go get a hug! It will be the Divine Father hugging you. Do you give good hugs? Realize that you have a ministry of hugging, a very special calling. You give the Father’s hug to everyone you reach out to.
Dawn says, “My best hugger is a friend that I would only meet at conferences maybe once or twice a year. We nicknamed her the ‘Hug Lady’. She hugged everyone, and you could see the hesitation in some. But after her hug, you could see the difference it made. Her personality is steeped in genuineness. You leave feeling better every time you receive her hug.”
That’s the Father! His hugs leave you feeling better every time you experience it.
Ralph’s hugs are an excellent example of what our Divine Daddy’s hugs are like. God’s fatherly embrace holds us and surrounds us with the strong arms of his compassion. God is not wimpy. His concern for each of us is energetic and full of life. His hugs are protective and warm and safe — always.
Physical hugging is necessary for a healthy life. It helps the body’s immune system. It relieves depression. It reduces stress. It helps us sleep better at night and invigorates us during the day. It rejuvenates us when we’re weary. God designed our bodies to benefit from hugs. Our minds and our moods, too, are improved by hugs. All of these benefits are God’s deliberate design.
Spiritual hugging is likewise necessary for a healthy faith life. When a parent or spouse or friend gives us a really great hug, this is Abba hugging us through them.
Gift Nyirenda says, “Hugging here [in Africa] entails a sense of closeness and relationship that people have (you cannot hug a stranger). Spiritual hugging gives more freedom and peace of mind because you learn the essence and value of the other person through forgiveness and reunion. Jesus Christ is an all-time brother who is always ready to mediate in such a reunion. And when you hug that other person again, there is so much joy in your heart, in heaven, and in your life too. We were not born to be enemies, but to live love and share it as often as possible.”
Spiritual hugging helps our soul’s immune system, strengthening us against temptations. It relieves depression even more effectively than physical hugs. It reduces stress because it reinforces our trust in God’s helpfulness.
Spiritual hugging also helps us sleep better. Sometimes when I’ve had an especially difficult day, I ask Ralph for a super hug before going to bed, and then I imagine that my pillow is the lap of Jesus.
Spiritual hugging invigorates us to bear the crosses we carry. On good days it energizes our joy. On bad days it comforts us.
The science of hugs
In 2015, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania examined the effects of hugs on 404 healthy adults. Participants were exposed to the virus of the common cold. The researchers found that those who had social support (the concern of family and friends) stayed healthy. Furthermore, the study revealed that when social support is expressed through hugs, people’s resistance to sickness increases by 32%. And of the participants who caught the cold, the ones who were hugged more than the rest suffered less severe symptoms.
This is something to keep in mind about the coronavirus pandemic. Forget social distancing; inoculate your friends with frequent hugs! Wear a mask for protection if you need to, and sanitize your hands, but give a hug. Those fist-bumps and elbow-bumps are not protecting us. Hugs are much more effective. They build up our immune system. They relieve depression, they reduces stress, they help us get a good night’s rest — all of which helps us to stay healthy.
“Hugging protects people who are under stress from the increased risk for colds [that’s] usually associated with stress,” stated Sheldon Cohen, professor of psychology and the lead author of the Carnegie Mellon research. Hugging “is a marker of intimacy and helps generate the feeling that others are there to help in the face of adversity.”
Taken to the spiritual level, hugging is a marker of intimacy with God and generates an awareness that God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is our ally in the face of adversity.
Hugs release the hormone oxytocin from the hypothalamus in the brain, which influences our moods, behavior and physiology. Oxytocin is often called “the bonding hormone” because it promotes attachment in relationships. When Ralph or I have a bad day, we like to turn to one another and say, “You (or I) need some oxytocin”. Then we join in a strong, friendly, lingering hug. Abba is in that hug. We always feel better.
Oxytocin improves moods by increasing the levels of the feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine. This produces a calming effect and reduces depression and anxiety. The benefits extend throughout the body. It decreases the heart rate and lowers the stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine. A 2015 study from King’s College in London also found that oxytocin acts like an analgesic. Researchers subjected participants to brief radiant heat pulses that were generated by an infrared laser. They learned that oxytocin reduces pain intensity.
God created oxytocin. I believe that this is part of the reason why prayer reduces pain and promotes healing. Prayer is how we hug God and how we open ourselves to receive a hug from God. It gives us a good dose of supernatural oxytocin.
Pray with a friend for supernatural oxytocin and add a hug for a good dose of natural oxytocin.
Today’s Exercise Part 2:
Feel hugged by Abba-Father
God designed our bodies to benefit from hugs. Therefore it’s very healing to learn how to feel the hug of our Divine Daddy. It begins by meditating on his loving presence. While you’ve been reading this book, how often did you experience an “Aha!” moment of feeling closer to Abba-Father? That was a hug!
When you go to church and feel peaceful there, that’s a hug.
When you go to Confession and come out feeling forgiven, that’s a hug.
When you talk with a friend about a problem and feel better afterward, that’s a hug.
When you feel comforted by an assurance that he is with you to help you face adversities, that’s a hug.
When you’ve been falsely accused and you sense God affirming your goodness, that’s a hug.
When you get frustrated and stop to pray, and a feeling of peace comes over you, that’s a hug.
Spend time now recalling the various ways that God has helped you, especially the past day. Which of the above has happened to you? And what else? Write about them down, keeping in mind that your Divine Daddy was hugging you each time.
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Make a habit of looking for Abba-Father’s hug every day. Your intimacy with Abba will increase. And you might even become physically healthier!
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© 2020 by Terry A. Modica
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