Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Power of a Touch

I love kids! I had such a great time at Vacation Bible School last week, hanging out with a couple hundred kids every morning, singing together, dancing, praying, laughing, joking, making faces, and sharing in the story of the Exodus.

Needless to say, there were times when things got a bit wild and crazy, but for the most part everything went quite smoothly. There were some times when an individual kid needed a bit of extra attention so as not to detract from the experience of the whole class. Sometimes this even involved one of the adult volunteers chasing a kid around or perhaps taking them out of the room.

But a few times, when a kid was creating a disruption during a time I was teaching, all I did was make my way over to where they were sitting, and calmly continue what I was doing while simply putting my hand on a shoulder. I just got close to them, didn't even make eye contact, and reached out to touch them.

In doing so, I was telling them, "I know you're here. I am acknowledging you, and I value your presence. You are a part of this group." I was giving them the attention that they were seeking without detracting from what the rest of the kids were doing. All of this was accomplished by simply touching them. And inevitably, the attention-seeker calmed down and the class carried on.

People have different comfort levels with touch. For some, it is a severe violation of personal boundaries to do more that shake hands. Some are much more comfortable with touch and will hug and hold hands and pat shoulders with no thought at all. So we must be very sensitive to individual responses. There is definitely "good touch" and "bad touch."

With that in mind, there is something very meaningful about human contact. I remember in pastoral care classes in seminary being taught that people in hospital beds with tubes and wires coming out of them all over the place are often longing for a simple touch, a hand to hold or a gentle pat on the shoulder. A touch can be a healing gesture.

There's a great story in the Gospel according to Mark about touch. It's actually two stories woven together, one about Jairus' daughter and the other about a woman with severe hemorrhages. The woman approaches Jesus from behind, reaches out, and touches just the hem of his clothes. She is immediately healed. Jesus then goes in to Jairus' house, reaches out, and takes his daughter by the hands. She is immediately revived from death.

In both cases, healing happens in the touch. There is a reason that a powerful emotional response is called feeling touched. Something miraculous happens in a good touch.

7 comments:

EyeRytStuf said...

Touch is a very strange things. I was going to say more, but I realized this is both the best version and the short version.

Mitch said...

I acknowledge that we need to be sensitive to folks’ receptivity to touch. As a physically demonstrative person I often wish someone would sweep me up in a big o’ bear hug or put their arm around my neck…we need to be sensitive to the needs of us touchers as well. You’re right, it’s healing.

Andy B. said...

Next time I see you, Mitch...

nancydayachauer said...

Jesus healed by touch and as the body of Christ we are called to continue his healing ministry. Society is full of people needing to be touched, a simple acknowledgement of their presence and worth (like when you touched that child) can make a world of difference. Thank you for pointing out this simple yet powerful way to be in ministry.

Stresspenguin said...

I think touch is one of the main reasons that Jesus gave us the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. We're physical and tactile by nature, and we need to experience those non-tangibles of love and grace in ways we can hold and feel.

I'd argue that touch, in its positive ways as you've described it, is definitely a means of grace.

Anonymous said...

Andy- I have been involved in the health care industry for a long time. It finally dawned on me that WE never shake hands with our patients. So, I tried it out. I made a concious decesion to call my patients name from the waiting room and then extend my hand. It has been recieved very warmly- I think it says to them first and foremost that I care for them as a person and not just another exam.Zalene

Anonymous said...

It doesn't mean much to me to get a hug from someone who gives hugs to everyone who comes along, even if they have no history with them. Seems like some folks hug even if they are meeting someone for the very first time. I need some time together, getting to know that other person a bit, in order for the hug to mean anything. Some shared experience, shared time together gives the hug meaning. Otherwise, it is just another way to greet someone and means no more than a handshake. cb