Several years ago, I stood at the bedside of a man who was basically non-responsive. His faithful wife stood there as I visited and somewhere in our conversation, she mentioned she had not had a hug in forever.
As I prepared to leave, I asked this dear senior lady, “Can I give you a hug?”
She responded, “That would be nice.” I wrapped my arms around her and gave her a big hug.
She said, “My husband can’t hug me anymore. It feels so good to be hugged.”
Hugs powerfully communicate love and appreciation. Studies show hugs make you happier since they increase the levels of oxytocin in our bodies. This chemical decreases stress and blood pressure, which contributes to a healthier heart life. Research shows hugs also help reduce fear and anxiety.
Family therapist Virginia Satir once said, “We need four hugs a day for survival, we need eight hugs a day for maintenance, and we need twelve hugs a day for growth.”
It’s hard to hug when you have to social distance these days. I miss the hugs we give and receive at church. Those sincere expressions of love may be the only touch some people get all week.
One senior center, Inspired Living, in Alpharetta created “Hugging Stations.” Participants put on plastic sleeves and gloves, wear their masks, and then place their arms through holes in a plastic sheet that shields the huggers. Then they safely embrace, giving the hug many haven’t received in months.
Across the top are the words, “Hugs R Us.”
Seeing these words, I thought, “What a beautiful description of the local church that prioritizes fellowship.” True New Testament fellowship is more than meeting and eating. “Fellowship” comes from a root meaning common or mutual. The idea behind these words is to share life, to meet needs, to rally around one another and give support and encouragement.
Even in this non-hugging season, churches can wrap their arms around people figuratively. Charlotte pastor James Emory White wrote about their church’s Bible study groups, which give people opportunities to build friendships and grow in their relationship with Jesus. A young couple became involved in one of the groups after moving to Charlotte to start their own landscape maintenance company. During their startup phase, they got involved with the church.
Working with a lawnmower one day, the husband’s hand accidentally got caught underneath, and he lost part of his hand. That was bad enough, but he lost his ability to work, which meant he’d lose income for several weeks. He couldn’t afford to hire extra help to perform his work, and if the work didn’t get done, he’d lose contracts, and mostly likely his business.
Then the young couple experienced what fellowship should be about. Their small group pitched in and took turns doing his work for him. Men took off work and completed his projects or took vacation days to go and serve his clients. His group’s support got him through that crisis. This couple received a tremendous hug from their church family.
So did the young woman who visited Peace Baptist Church in Decatur one Wednesday evening. Pastor Tyrone Barnett was teaching about the power of the Gospel, and the lady in the back raised her hand and asked, “Preacher, does that Gospel really work?”
Barnett said, “Yes!”
She said, “Will it work for me?”
Barnett said, “Yes, it will work for you.”
She said, “Well, I’m going to leave your Bible study tonight, go downtown Atlanta, and I’m going to be stripping. I’m going to get on a pole at a strip club and have men throw dollars at me.”
Barnett asked, “How much money will you make tonight?”
“About two hundred dollars.”
Barnett paused, then said, “If you don’t go downtown, my wife and I will give you two hundred dollars.”
As people clapped, someone asked, “How much is your rent?”
She said, “Six hundred bucks.”
Someone else said, “Me and my wife, we got that.”
Someone else asked, “How much is your utility bill?”
She replied, “About seventy dollars.”
That person said, “We got that.”
By the time they finished, this lady’s needs were met for the next three months. She quit her stripping job as someone helped her get other employment. She, too, received a tremendous hug as the church rallied around this guest, showing her the power of the Gospel.
We’ve taken our hugging for granted, haven’t we? I can’t wait to hug again.
[David L. Chancey is pastor, McDonough Road Baptist Church, 352 McDonough Road, Fayetteville, Georgia. Visit them for worship this Sunday at 8:45 and 10:55 a.m. or online at www.mcdonoughroad.org. Contact Chancey at firstname.lastname@example.org.]