The Blessing of Hugs!

My wife, Monique is a regular substitute in our local elementary school. After retiring in 2013, having taught for over 22 years, it is not uncommon for her to average teaching in this same building three or four days a week. She loves what she does and is a familiar face to the students in the first through fourth grade classes! The only class she doesn't choose to teach is kindergarten because they are down on the floor much of the day with their activities. Charlie, our enthusiastic kinder, while disappointed, is looking forward to his Mimi teaching him next year just like she has his sister, Chloe and brother, Danny on several occasions!
An After-School Grandsons' Hug!

As I dropped her off at the front door the other morning, I saw three little girls along with a boy, (probably first or second graders) shouting, "It's Mrs. Keppler!" as they rushed over to give her a group hug! I thought, "Everyone should be so blessed to have this kind of welcoming party to greet them!" Have you ever been blessed by a child? What I mean is... have you ever had a child spontaneously embrace or hug you and thereby impart to you a special blessing by their action? A church with children running around is a blessing to that church. We attend such a church these days and look forward to these warm embraces by children, their parents and friends when we enter this place each Lord's Day for worship. It lifts our spirits!

I grew up in a family where hugging was the norm. I realize that not everyone feels as comfortable with a warm embrace and a kiss on the cheek, but my mother was the one who taught me the blessing of such meaningful touch. I have lavished such hugs and kisses on my children and grandchildren over the years. Since we are daily engaged in the after-school childcare of three of our Sherman grands, we get the additional blessing of receiving such hugs and kisses as they are passed off to their parents along with a parting goodbye, "See ya tomorrow, Poppi!" I think such hugs, greetings and goodbyes are keeping Mimi and Poppi young!

There has been some significant research into the health benefits of hugging.  A meaningful embrace reduces stress hormones, decreases heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and puts you in a relaxed state. It can help those who are depressed and anxious. Many agree there is something powerfully healing about promoting social connection and reducing isolation. I have written previously about how animals are being used in therapeutic ways to encourage others. Please reference a previous blog on this therapy entitled, Hug a Horse! ).

While pastoring in the busy city of Houston at the beginning of my pastoral ministry, I attended a monthly gathering with five or six pastor friends who met in a psychologist's office. Dr. Bill Pratt hosted our meeting. He had been an active pastor for years and was now finding ways to support other pastors. This became a very necessary and meaningful connection for me in a socially isolated and challenged time in my ministry. The pastors always closed each visit with an affirming embrace and "group hug!" I've never forgotten that blessing!

There are several instances in the Bible where hugs and embraces have led to healing, forgiveness and affirmation. In a context of conflict and warring, the writer of Ecclesiastes suggested a healing counter-balance to the poetic expression, "there is a time to embrace, and time to turn away" (3:5b, NLT). Esau embraced Jacob in acceptance and forgiveness (Gen. 33:4). In the parable of the prodigal, Jesus told how the father runs out to meet, embrace and welcome home his wayward son (Lk. 15:20). And who can forget how Jesus resisted the displeasure of the disciples when He took the time to reach out and embrace the little children (He literally, folded them into his bosom) and prayed a blessing over each of them? (Mark 10:16).

All of this may not make a "hugger" out of some of us, but I hope others of us will give this meaningful physical affirmation some consideration. Of course, we must be discerning when it becomes obvious that our sincere expressions of connection through hugging are unwanted. But, I believe that for the few who may not be comfortable with a brief embrace of Christian love, that there are many more who would welcome even "a three-second, side-ways hug!" Give it a try! Perhaps, this simple action will emotionally and spiritually transform our relationships with family and friends! I predict that as we offer "the blessing of hugs," we'll be blessed, too!

Mike Keppler, retired pastor,
active churchman and
doting grandparent.


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