Cue much evil chuckling and rubbing of the hands together. It's one of those awkward topics again! The old "to hug or not to hug" argument is so widely debated between Christians that it has evolved into a full blown issue, often ingeniously and successfully dividing the entire Church into gender categorized boxes. No climbing out! So long as the distance between the boxes are just close enough for you to reach across the abyss and shake your fellow man's hand, you're safe. But beyond that - no way, no pushing, running or diving, do not pass go, do not collect $200.
"How about a hug, instead? That's the best kind of magic!"
- Merlin, Shrek the 3rd
Why all this awkwardness?
Okay, I'll be serious now.
To be serious, I can understand the conflict between both of the hug or not-to-hug sides. There are many people who - plain and simple - are not huggy people. They may still receive physical touch well, such as a handshake, a pat on the back, a stroke on the arm, or even a shoulder charge from a friend, but not hugs. It's just not the way they communicate.
Other non-huggers may find the physical contact with people of the opposite gender awkward, uncomfortable or just plain wrong. Thus, girls will hug girls, but not guys, or vice versa. Which is also understandable, since different things effect our boundaries in different ways.
The still other non-hugger type is the kind that just don't know how to respond since they weren't brought up with it (in which case, it is possible for these types to warm up to hugs. No pun intended).
On the flip side of the coin, there can be weird huggy people. There are some who are just plain creepy, which makes it clearly understandable why non-huggers exist. Others are far too exuberant, and take the entire definition of "glomp" way too seriously. Whilst still others simply... don't know how to hug properly, and just make the entire manoeuvre very awkward.
All of these points are fine for the most part, but for huggy people like me, it's no end of a nightmare. Hugs to me are neutral. I'm aware that they can be perverted, however like most bad things in the world, they all originated from something good God created. Hugs are no exception, and I think a lot of Christians have boxed them up with the bad, (or at least labelled them out with a "better safe than sorry" motto) and thrown the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. I beg to differ. I think hugs are wonderful, and are sorrowfully neglected these days.
This being true of me, greetings are never complete unless I've hugged you, simple. But since I always want to respect you in my greeting, I don't always do it because I'm not sure if you like hugs or not. I may extend a hand somewhat awkwardly, and shake your hand. You might smile back befuddled as to why I'm standing there tongue-tied and bent a little at the waist like a half opened pocket knife. Farewells are even worse, because I've gotten to know you better by now, and I wish to express my appreciation for you with a hug. My mind races around in crazy scared circles sometimes hours before anticipating a greeting or goodbye: Should I just go up and hug them to say hello, or would that shock them? I've spent some time with you, but I still can't work out how you'd react to a hug. Would you hug back, or would you freeze up, making me feel even more embarrassed and awkward? Would you take it as a forward gesture? Would others read things into this that aren't even there? But if I shake your hand and you're ready for a hug, I'll make things just as stiff and awkward, as though I really don't care about you. What do I do?!
You see, hugs are a big part of the way I communicate. If I'm happy to see you, I hug you. If I love you, I hug you. If you're hurting, I gently hug you tight. If you're happy, I excitedly hug you. If I'm meeting you for the first time, a hug expresses my openness, acceptance and pleasure at being introduced to you. Hugs are inclusive for me, anything else is exclusive and translates - in my mind - that I simply don't care. This isn't to say that I'm all over you like a rash at any given moment, that would just be woefully out of place (not to mention creepy). But greetings and farewells, those are the biggies (or if I see you genuinely crying, sorry, I pretty much don't care who you are, you're getting a hug).
I sincerely believe that every human being needs physical touch (even you, yes, the one who's denying it right now). We are physical beings, and if you aren't familiar with the five love languages as pinned down by Gary Chapman, "Physical touch" is one of them. Though it may not be everyone's primary method for receiving love from another, it is still a deeply rooted need that I believe every person has, no matter how small. This is proven by the fact I know several people who came from rather loveless homes that have converted to liking hugs from being adverse to any physical contact growing up. I also recently heard of an experiment done in Russia some time ago that if a baby was raised with only their physical needs met, such as food, clothing, etc. without any affectionate touch whatsoever, they died. Makes me wonder how many teens and adults are out there dying for a hug. Literally.
People form an opinion on hugs based on what they mean to them. So, what do hugs mean to you? Think about it. Are they expressions of love, encouragement, appreciation, greeting, or are they awkward, uncomfortable, or threatening because of past experiences?
God created hugs, and I think they are an amazing expression of love and appreciation. It always saddens me to see people refuse a genuine hug, because they really don't understand what they mean in the way God designed them. I am often grieved that tragic experiences may have destroyed this intrinsic gift God gave to humanity. Whilst you're thinking about what a hug means to you, think also of how they could mean to you. Pushing past your awkwardness and/or fears, and embracing the full meaning of a hug the way God created them (also no pun intended) could help rewrite you some wonderful memories, and break down barriers that may have built up inside your heart. It may give you a release from your past experiences, or at the very least, teach you how to love others who desperately need physical touch.
In a world so based on text, voice and video, the actual physicalness of pure loving is becoming harder to find. Many teens and young adults express their feelings of depression and loneliness only through the safety of a screen, yet shrink from any open physical affection. On the other end of the scale, any physical touch under the label of "love" these days can be more accurately called "lust", as this immoral perversion of what God sanctified leaves people feeling all the more empty and unloved. Don't you think we may have taken our boundary markings a little too far? Are we protecting ourselves so successfully that we are neglecting to love the way Jesus calls us to? Could the gentle touch of a goodhearted person do more for someone than mere words?
So that was a bit deep. Though I am aware that this barely scratches the surface of reasons behind a lot of people's opinions, my main reason for this ranty post was to share my thoughts on hugs and perhaps raise awareness of humanity's need for this kind of love, especially within the church. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, and we are going to spend eternity together! So whilst ever it's proper, why don't we practise the heavenly gift of greeting each other with a warm hug before we get there?
In conclusion, let it be known: this Aussie loves hugs! When you come visit me, come with open arms, because I won't have any awkward handshakes for you! Here's an e-hug for all you faithful readers -