I hugged Marty this weekend. I also hugged his wife, Sheila, and their daughter Bri. I also hugged a tiny little African woman during the greeting time at church on Sunday, and on Friday I hugged Susannah tight because I hadn’t seen her in almost a month. Then I grabbed up her babies and nearly nibbled their necks off while they giggled.

I’ve become a hugger.

I haven’t always been a hugger, because our family isn’t known for displays of affection. It’s not that we don’t love each other, it’s just that we love each other best from a distance of anywhere from twelve inches to three hundred miles. That’s pretty much our comfort radius for physical contact. If I want to make my brother extremely uncomfortable all I have to do is sit three inches too close to him on the couch. He gets this pained look like maybe he needs to be somewhere else.

I would have used my own siblings for this photo montage, but reference the above mentioned "hundreds of miles." They were unavailable for a photo shoot today.
How my family is comfortable sitting together on a couch. Cushions make excellent buffers. (I would have used my own siblings for this photo montage, but reference the above mentioned “hundreds of miles.” They were unavailable for a photo shoot today.)

And then I get the couch to myself.

I noticed this shift to Touchy-Feely-Hugger about twelve years ago, which coincides directly with the time my first baby was born. Having a small child pretty much gets you over the whole personal space issue because babies are notoriously unfamiliar with the concept of personal space.

Is this how normal people sit on the same piece of furniture? I'm not sure.
Is this how normal people sit on the same piece of furniture? I’m not sure.

It’s all their space. All of a mother’s body is suddenly the baby’s free-range area. And then time marches on, but toddlers and preschoolers are still most comfortable clinging to portions of their parents’ persons, and by the time they’re old enough to let loose a parent is pretty much dead to the idea of personal space.

"How to Irritate Your Brother So Badly He Feels the Need to Be Elsewhere."
“How to Irritate Your Brother So Badly He Feels the Need to Be Elsewhere.”

I could sit on a stranger’s lap on the subway at this point in my life and barely notice.

Um, too far? Sort of weird? Yes?
Um, too far? Sort of weird? Yes? (If this was me and my brother, someone would have been getting punched in the head right about now.)

What the children didn’t change for me, time took care of. Now that I’m in my very, very, very late thirties I don’t care whom I hug and if they think it’s weird or not. Hugs are nice. Given the proper circumstances, if a person is willing to come close and make actual contact with appropriate body parts, I think that’s exactly right.

Twelve years into parenting, this feels normal. If parenting ever feels normal, I guess.
Twelve years into parenting, this feels normal. If parenting ever feels normal, I guess.

(Notice I added the words proper and appropriate. Don’t call me for bail money if you don’t understand these boundaries.)

Life is hard, and tiring, and stressful. Hugs erase all of that for just a second. For a minute we get to close out the worry and the budget and the to-do list and just enjoy our loved ones. We welcome them into our personal space and create a bond that bridges gaps and years and words.

I wish I had a great biblical example to share here. I wish Jesus had gone from town to town, hugging his way through the crowds. I have yet to remember an example or a parable where this was so, but I do know he spent his ministry welcoming everyone to his personal space. He healed their sick and wept with the grieving. He walked with his men, slept in their boats, and ate at their tables.

So no. I don’t have any great Jesus-Was-a-Hugger stories to insert here. But I do know Jesus was a companion, a friend, and a blessing. I’m sure he was a hugger occasionally and they just forgot to mention it.

Today, I challenge you! Have you hugged anyone? Go find a person and hug them (remembering our key words of proper and appropriate). If you’re not a hugger and just can’t force it, at least try a warm smile and a few extra minutes to listen. Reach out, if only emotionally.

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him. (Matthew 5:12-13)

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2 Comments on Hugging (and other things that surprise me as I get old)

  1. memyselfandkids.com
    July 27, 2015 at 10:16 pm (2 years ago)

    Your kids are becoming good models. Do you have to pay them?
    I come from a family you describe – the distance that is.
    I am deliberately more huggy and emotional with my kids. I enjoy it and think it is good for them.

  2. Jessie Clemence
    July 28, 2015 at 7:18 am (2 years ago)

    I think it’s good for them, too! Although both of them now pretend they don’t like it.

    Maybe they’re not pretending. I don’t care. I gave birth to them so I hug them if I want.

    And I don’t have to pay them to model– they get excited about directing the photo shoots to be as silly as possible. I don’t know where they get this weirdness. (eyeroll.)