January 05, 2016

Hug It Out

Post by Brittany Tedesco

It's a bit intimidating and you're not quite sure what to expect, but you've made the decision to go for it. You can't remember the last time you had any meaningful human touch. You don't know anyone with whom you'd even share a hug. That ends tonight.

You throw on some comfortable clothes, jump in the car, and head over to the "cuddle party." There, you will snuggle with complete strangers for an hour or two.

This is the reality of many people throughout the U.S., which has facilitated the rise of "cuddle parties." Completely non-sexual in nature, they are simply a way for affection-starved human beings to connect with one another.

Certain enterprising people have even started their own snuggle services. I googled "cuddle specialists," snickering as I scrolled through the various websites and articles. . .until I read about the box of tissues that one cuddle specialist called "absolutely necessary," because of all of the tears that are shed during her cuddle sessions.

Ali C, as she's identified in a Daily News article, is New York City's first "professional" cuddler, charging $80 an hour for a cuddle session. "It's a very healing experience. People are very vulnerable during the process," she said.

I suddenly felt ashamed for snickering. My heart broke for those people, so lonely and hurting, who feel that they must pay someone for a warm embrace and a listening ear.

The best things in life aren't always free, apparently.

You might've read various articles on the physiological benefits of hugging—there's plenty of them out there. Those who study such things have provided us with a plethora of scientific reasons for why hugging is a good idea.

Photo credit: j3ssl33 via / CC BY

For instance, hugging stimulates oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin—chemicals in our brains that promote feelings of contentment, connectedness, pleasure, motivation, and significance.

According to this Huffington Post article, "When we embrace, we immediately reduce the amount of the stress hormone cortisol produced in our bodies. Hugs also make our bodies release tension and send calming messages to the brain."

To summarize all of the scientific findings: God designed us to respond favorably to human touch. And in this world of broken, lonely people, human touch can be a very powerful way to open people's hearts to the God Who made them.

A native ministry leader who started a youth ministry in China recently visited Christian Aid Mission to share about his work.

He told us that young people in China are so driven to achieve academically that they inadvertently neglect their emotional and social needs.

According to the Handbook of Asian Education: A Cultural Perspective, "A large portion of extracurricular time of many children, including weekends and holidays, is occupied by numerous academic improvement and training programs."

The blog of The Cambridge Institute of International Education includes a post on this subject written by Lars Ojukwu, who explains the strong emphasis on academic achievement in China: "In ancient China, the ruling dynasty instituted a test called the Keju or the imperial examination. A passing grade on this test meant a better life and throughout much of China's history represented the only feasible way to raise one's social status." He goes on to explain that the Chinese education system still revolves around a single test, now called the Gaokao, that determines a young person's future in China.

Chinese parents pressure their children to get good grades because education is not only viewed as the sole path to success, it's also viewed as a reflection of value.

The ministry leader told us that Chinese youth have been so conditioned to measure their worth and value based on educational achievement that they desperately need to learn their value as human beings.

Hugs are part of his program. He told us that he is actually "teaching" the young people who come to his programs how to hug one another because it's not a natural part of their lives. He also provides personality tests so that students can understand their individuality and unique character traits apart from the focus on education.

These things have helped Chinese young people begin to see their value in the sight of God. A hug says "you're significant and valuable" better than a thousand words ever could.

Another benefit of hugs, according to the researchers, is a reduction in "people's existential fears," in other words, their "worry of mortality."

A lot of people are worrying about their mortality these days in the Middle East. That's why the work that native missionaries, assisted by Christian Aid Mission, are doing among refugees has led so many of them to Christ. They don't just deliver food and supplies, they sit with the refugees, listen to their stories, cry with them, pray for them, hug them. They put hands on shoulders and wrap arms around emotionally battered people who didn't think it humanly possible to hurt this much. And always, they point to Jesus Christ—how it's really His love behind their words and embraces.

Syrian refugees have been pouring into Greece, and while some see the influx as a national catastrophe, the native missionaries we help are showering the newcomers with love.

They wait on the island of Lesvos for rafts filled with frightened Syrians to come ashore. They run out into the water to greet them and help them to dry land, to embrace them and let them cry.

"We spent three days on the island of Lesvos to serve the Syrian refugees arriving there. Dozens of people kept arriving, men, women, pregnant women, the elderly, and children—people unknown to us but well known by God," the ministry leader wrote. "The women were crying on the shoulders of people they'll probably never see again. One man on our team felt led to pray for them, even though they were all Muslim. To our amazement, we observed some of them open their hands. After his prayer, one man gave him a hug and said, 'Thank you. It's the first time I feel I really pray to God!'"

A hug is powerful, but how much more powerful from a person with the Spirit of Christ indwelling them? It's such a simple way native believers demonstrate the character of Jesus Christ, the One who stretched out His arms to embrace sinners like you and me.

Material resources are exhausted quickly these days with so many needy arriving daily in countries like Greece. But the healing and comfort of an embrace is something that can be freely given, and is so needed in our world today.

Ken - posted January 07, 2016
This has tremendous merit. Of course, there can be abuses, but the overall benefits far outweigh the risks when properly shared.