One of the most devastating days in my life was September 4, 1971. About 8:45 a.m. that Saturday morning my grandfather died unexpectedly. He was my namesake and we were very close. I was only thirteen years old.
When I walked into the home of my grandparents my Mom understandably was helping her mother (my grandmother) in her own grief. Melanie, Hoss and myself went to our own places and sat down shocked and hurting. To this day I could take you to the very place where I was sitting that morning. Emotional pain will do that to you. You remember details with great clarity.
My world had been changed irrevocably and without warning. All three of the grandchildren loved my grandfather but I was the closest to him. I was the oldest and had spent the most time with him. My heart was broken and I wanted my father to be there for us, to comfort us and help us. However, he was away on a bus trip in Atlanta with a football team.
After about ten minutes, sitting alone in the chair with the deepest hurt I had ever known, Mack Smith, a family friend walked in the door. Mack was a father figure to me. Our families had gone camping together many times, he was one of my Sunday School teachers, and I was very close to him.
As he approached me there was a compassionate, sad look on his face. He didn’t say a word nor did I or even stand to greet him. He walked over to me and placed his strong hand on my shoulder and just stood there for a moment. I began to weep and the pain began to seep out. Never before in my life had I needed someone to comfort me more than at that moment. And the way he helped me was simply by a physical touch of kindness and love.
If this is true from a friend, how much more important is it in our families. We are taught in the Bible that this crucial in a local church, too. We are given not only the mission of a local church (to make disciples), but also the means whereby to have unity in a church. One of those is by practicing the “one another” commands in the Bible.
Have you ever visited a church and sensed a genuine warmth and love? I will assure you that, whether they know it or not, they are practicing the “one another” commands in their fellowship. Closeness is a byproduct of how we treat one another.
The same principle is true in the family. We can create an atmosphere in our families that results in closeness – if we would follow God’s principles. The Bible says, “Salute one another with an holy kiss.” (Romans 16:16)
The word “salute” is used seventeen times in Romans chapter 16 where Paul specifically mentions ____ people. It is an interesting word and obviously includes a greeting, but it is not just any kind. The word literally means “to fold your arms around someone”. It carries the idea of an embrace.
This is more than a formal, indifferent greeting, but one that is affectionate and expressive. The word affectionate means “to regard warmly, to feel and show love”. I don’t think we ought to hug strangers or acquaintances, but I do believe those in our family need our hugs and physical expressions of affection.
Touch is a powerful communicator of love. Of course, there are times when a hug is not appropriate. The Bible says that there is “a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing”. (Ecclesiastes 3:5) Sad to say, in our culture there are many that have been hurt and damaged by sexual abuse, even from family members. This is criminal and the lowest kind of sin a person can commit, to take advantage of a child or young person.
If you have been violated in this way my heart especially goes out to you and am sensitive when I deal with the topic of physical affection. I have counseled people that have experienced this and am aware firsthand of the terrible damage it does to their psyche and soul. It’s sad I have to even mention this, but it’s a reality that more and more people struggle with in our culture today.
Perversion of that which is good doesn’t negate the need for it. We must not allow wicked people to determine how we interact in appropriate ways with those whom we love.
The Bible speaks about a greeting involving a “holy kiss” (Romans 16:16). It is also called a “kiss of charity” (I Peter 5:14). This was a cultural custom in the mid-east (and still is today) that showed respect and affection. It was not sensual at all, just a common greeting.
The best analogy in our culture would be a warm handshake. I have read that shaking hands originated with two former enemies approaching one another with open hands to show there was no weapon. Then the grasp of the hands symbolized a truce, goodwill and a friendship.
Communicating heartfelt affection to family is frequently seen in the Bible. When Esau and his brother, Jacob, reunited after being apart for twenty years it was an emotional and affectionate occasion – “And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept.” (Genesis 33:4)
Joseph had been apart from his brothers for thirteen years and he wept and showed physical affection when he told them who he was – “And he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck.” (Genesis 45:14)
When Joseph saw his father after all those years it was emotional and expressive – “And Joseph made ready his chariot, and went up to meet Israel his father, to Goshen, and presented himself unto him; and he fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while.” (Genesis 46:29)
People that grow up in homes where affection wasn’t important usually struggle to be expressive with their spouse and children. Also, some have a temperament or personality that is not given easily to opening their heart or communicating physical affection. Those are realities, but it still doesn’t diminish the fact that our family members need to know we love them.
I believe that deep down everyone wants to be loved and shown physical affection by their parents, siblings and spouse. One example of this comes from the Old Testament when fathers gave a blessing to their children. In addition to words of affirmation, there was an affectionate hug as Dad blessed each child personally (Genesis 48:1-2, 8-10). It’s important to note that this was called a “blessing”.
Your child (and other members of your family) is blessed by receiving appropriate physical affection. It is an innate desire to want to be hugged and embraced by those close to you, most of all your family. But there is a challenge.
Over time we tend to lose our affection and tenderness to those we care for the most. The Bible speaks of “the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals” (Jeremiah 2:2). The words “thy youth” and “thine espousals” show that the freshness and warmth of love in the early years are prone to grow cold as the years go by.
Tender affection begins to diminish into indifference. Our greetings become cool, formal, and lack warmth. We just go through the motions. Distance increases and a relationship that was once close, meaningful and fun is transactional and formal.
Being physically affectionate comes easy to me. I watched my Dad express his heart and love to people this way for all of my life. Melanie, Hoss and I experienced his affection, too.
For me, it was on the sideline of a football game when he would stand by me and sometimes just put his hand on my shoulder pads. (Dad was always on the sidelines at my games; he drove the team bus). Sometimes it was when we were singing around the piano with all of my friends. While I was playing, Dad’s hand was on my back. To be honest, it was so common, I never thought anything about it. I wrongfully assumed such was the case with every parent and child.
Many years ago I had a friend that was not an affectionate person. He loved people, but he struggled to show it with his words or with his physical expressions. It was the same way with his family. He took good care of them, but spoken “I love you’s” and hugs were non-existent.
I happened to be in his home while his parents were about to go home after a visit. They wouldn’t see each other for many months. (They lived a long way from each other). As his elderly parents got up to leave I watched the son (my friend) and his father say goodbye. Hands were extended and a businesslike handshake was the extent of the affection. No hug. No “I love you, Dad” or “I love you, son”.
It may as well have been the pest control guy leaving after servicing the home. But it wasn’t, it was a father and son. I’m not criticizing either of them. It was the best they could do and with what they were comfortable. My friend’s father died a few years later. He told me of regrets he had from not being more expressive of his feelings to his father while he lived.
Great affection is typically given during times of tragedy. I’ve been with a family as their loved one took their final breaths. I’ve stood by families in funeral homes as they grieve and affection is abundant. It is during times like these when the feelings in our heart are poured out. Words and hugs are freely given when our hearts are open – usually after they have been broken.
Death doesn’t make anything sacred, life does. If you will miss someone when they are gone, place that value upon them now. Let them know you treasure them and show your affection when it counts.
Thursday afternoon, July 10, 2008 I walked into a third floor hospital room. My father was there resting after several weeks of being very ill. Because of his stroke years earlier his vocabulary was limited, but his mind was as sharp as could be. I sat in a chair beside him and we talked. Actually I talked and Dad would respond with a nod or a “yes” or “no” and sometimes struggle to put a sentence together.
It wasn’t a memorable time in terms of the content of our conversation. Just common stuff families talk about. After three hours I stood up and told Dad I had to go home, but I would be back the next day. I stood beside him and rubbed his shoulder and then his head (he was bald) and I said, “Dad, I love you very much, you’re the best Dad in the world. I’ll see you tomorrow”. And he died the next day, fourteen hours after I said those words.
I’m glad I was there, but I’m also glad I told him I loved him and that I was affectionate in communicating my feelings. No regrets. It was easy to do. We had communicated that way for all of our lives. I learned it from my Dad.