By Kathy Pollard
I have always been a hugger. Even as a child, I hugged everyone in church. I enjoyed it and naturally assumed that everyone else did, too. A few years ago I learned that some people aren’t crazy about it. In addition to hugging, I have always been a hand-holder during prayers. Whether in worship, fellowship, our home table, or at a restaurant, it was a very natural thing for me to grab the hands of the people next to me. It never dawned on me that some people don’t care for that. I now know that there are many who are so uncomfortable if someone grabs their hand that they can hardly focus on the prayer itself.
I’m ashamed to admit that my initial reaction to these discoveries wasn’t great. My first thought was, “What is wrong with them?” I could hardly fathom the idea of someone not liking a hug because to me, hugs equaled warmth and affection. My second reaction was selfish and resentful. “What about my wants and needs? Surely my soul will shrivel up in such a sterile, non-hugging environment!” And then my pride reared its ugly head. “Fine. See if I ever offer warmth and affection ever again.” After all, I felt a bit foolish. How many people had I hugged through the years without realizing my actions made them uncomfortable? Yes, I let Satan have a heyday with my heart.
How many lessons have I heard (and taught!) about the “others above self” mentality of Philippians 2? Or the kind of love that leads to unity from Romans 12? Or the “love for one another” that Jesus said identifies us as His followers in John 13? Yet there I was wrestling with it all when surprised by another point of view. Apparently it’s all well and good for us to have differences until it affects me personally or calls for me to make a change. I wish I could say that I recognized my self-problem as quickly as it took me to acknowledge it in these couple of paragraphs. But I am grateful for a couple of things I did finally see through the process.
Growth. Learning that there are some who don’t like hugs forced me to step out of my comfort zone. I’m an introvert and find it way easier to express love, joy, concern, or sympathy through hugs than through words. It also gave me an opportunity to see my unintentional self-centeredness. I realized I have to actually learn about others in order to know how they need to receive love. I need to pay attention to them instead of assuming they think, feel, and act like I do. Imagine that!
Jesus said, “Love one another even as I have loved you” (John 13:34). He had just demonstrated that love through the humble service of foot washing. He said, “I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (v. 15). He also said, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (v. 17). Knowing and doing are two different things. How easy it is to get caught up in our rights and our feelings, to swallow Satan’s lie that our own happiness reigns supreme! But when we do, we make ourselves miserable. Jesus knows what’s best for His body, including each individual part, including me. Focusing on self doesn’t lead to happiness. The blessed life comes from caring more about others. It causes growth, stretching, learning, and experiencing in ways that we can’t when we’re wrapped up in ourselves.
Grace. I learned about the folks who don’t like hand-holding in a social media thread. Someone posted a question about it and I was amazed at all the comments. My eyes landed on one comment about a woman’s complete discomfort with having her hand held and I thought, “Oh no…I know for a fact that I’ve grabbed her hand during a prayer!”
It took me a while to realize that people have been extending grace to me for a long time. I was in my 40s before I learned that some people don’t like hugs or hand-holding. Why is that? Because no one ever rejected a hug from me or pushed me away or embarrassed me by saying, “I’d rather you not do that.” Even though they didn’t really care for it, they cared for me. That’s just the way I am and so they put up with it, at their own expense. I’m humbled by the realization.
Jesus poured water in the basin and went from one set of dirty feet to another. I put myself in His place as He came upon the feet of Judas. I imagine I would whisper, “Nope,” and move on to the next disciple. But the next disciple is Peter. It blows my mind that Jesus knew they would soon betray Him and deny Him but He knelt down before them anyway. He offered grace in advance.
I rarely reach for a hand during prayer unless it’s immediate family, and I’m a lot less likely to hug someone when I see them. But you’ll be relieved to know that my soul didn’t shrivel up after all. I’ve learned that people express warmth and affection in lots of different ways, and they’re good ways! I could’ve saved myself some heartache if I had been more like Jesus with grace in advance. Intentional grace. Others will not always understand me and I will not always understand them. But I can determine ahead of time how I will respond when this happens. With love and grace, we can grow through this.
“My happiness or yours” sounds like something that could foster a begrudging mindset. “One of us must lose and so I guess as a Christian I should let you win and have your way.” Satan would love that. There’s no love there or compassion or grace or unity. Just keeping track and keeping score. Jesus taught a different mindset: lay aside yourself for the good of others. And followed that up with His promise, “You will be blessed.”