Need a Hug?

My sister reminded me the other day of the wonder of the ministry of hugs.  We grew up in the Dr. Spock era where parents were admonished to let the child cry for fear of spoiling.  That and the emotional unavailability of our parents meant hugs were rare, in fact, I don’t ever remember being hugged by my mother and only rarely by my father.

But God in His infinite wisdom and compassion gave us Ardella.  Ardella was a soft, bosomy woman who cooked and cleaned for my grandmother.  She made the most wonderful Chicken and Dumplings and gave the best hugs.  She embodied safety and peace and acceptance and love without even words.  Her ministry was hugs and comfort food.  I don’t know much else about her, I am sorry to say, but she made a difference in my life and my sister’s live through her hugs.

For years, I have worked with children.  Regardless of whether that is in churches or public schools or non-profit organizations or licensed child care, the teaching is the same – hands off the kids!  I get that; we could be falsely accused of something and we could be sued.  I do get that, I just don’t agree with it.  Not when it comes to hugs.  So I take my chances and I hug kids that come for one.

One boy comes to mind that I grew to love while working at a local nonprofit for kids.  This particular boy drove most of the staff crazy with his hugs; they were too tight, too unexpected, too demonstrative.  He was an out of control hugger.  He was, without a doubt, my favorite child there.  He told me one day that his mother had tried to sell him when he was an infant and he knew this as fact because his father showed him the papers to prove it.  How could I hear that and not allow him to hug me?

I left club for another job but I went back to see this boy a couple of weeks ago.  When I got there he was in trouble (he was pretty much always in trouble) and I found him sitting against a wall by himself.  Of the over 200 kids I met working there, he was the one I went there that day to see much to the wonderment of the other staff.  Really? Why him?  There were so many other easier kids there to miss and want to see and I get that.  But I went to see him.

When he saw me he jumped to his feet and ran out the door and hugged me.  It was not too tight, or unexpected or demonstrative.  He just clung to me and his body went limp into mine.  We stood there for a few wonderful, rule breaking moments and he pulled away, looked at me and hugged me again.  We were both fighting back tears.  Nothing was said; nothing needed to be said.  It was all understood in that hug.

Making a difference in children’s lives is why those of us who work with kids tolerate lower pay and stressful work and difficult kids and parents.  Sometimes we find ourselves wondering if anything we do makes a difference and many times we will not see the fruit of our labors for years, if ever.  There are so many theories of how to make a difference and so many restrictions on what we can and can’t do and so many things to keep in mind and yada, yada, yada, I get tired of it all.  Too many experts muddling up childhood.

Ministry is not without it’s muddling upness either.  The internet abounds with tips and advice and do’s and dont’s of ministry until it seems overwhelming and someone like me who wants to make a difference, who wants to minister in Jesus’ name gets lost in the confusion.  Years ago, before I came along, there were groups of people called Sadducees and Pharisees who muddled up ministry too.  And Jesus showed them to be wrong.  Ministry can be simple.  Almost ridiculously so.  So simple that really anyone (including me) can effectively minister to others.  Something as simple as a hug can be more powerful than a sermon or a conference or a Bible study class or whatever.

Once on a mission trip to Mexico, my friend Gail and I were ministering at the altar after a service in a very small rural church somewhere in mainland Mexico.  The service had translators but at the altar there were none.  Women came to Gail and me for prayer and poured out their hearts in Spanish.  Nothing in Bible school prepared us for this.  We knew the do’s and don’ts of altar ministry but not what to do when we can’t even understand the words pouring out of these women’s hearts.  We looked at each other perplexed, shrugged our shoulder and did what came to mind.  We hugged them.  And like me in Ardella’s arms and that boy in mine, we felt the release of their burden as they melted into our arms and the words stopped coming but the tears did not.  We stood that way for what seems like forever.  Nothing being said; nothing needed to be said.  The women left the altar with smiles and a peaceful countenance and tears.  Tears that were washing away only God knows what.  Sometimes a hug reaches a heart that can’t otherwise be reached.

We make things so hard; we have so many rules and do’s and don’ts and so much time spent trying to protect ourselves from lawsuits and accusations that ministry becomes as muddled as taking care of children.  Even as a young child I knew that I wanted to “work” for God.  I didn’t know what that meant then and even as an adult, often times get confused on what that means.  Going to Bible School only added to the confusion.  Perhaps it’s too simplistic, perhaps it could lead to a lawsuit or false accusations but I think that ministry or that making a difference in someone’s life could be as simple at times as giving a heartfelt hug to a person in need and leaving the outcome in God’s hands.

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