Sometimes We Just Need to be Held

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H_Kathy

Years ago, when one of my almost 16-year-old twins, Jonas, was about 18 months old and wanted either my husband or I to hold him, he would toddle up with his sweet chubby legs, raise both hands up toward us, and say “Hold you.”

He kept his hands reached toward us until we picked him up.

“Hold you.”

This lasted for a lot of years, and to this day all the kids in our family can imitate it perfectly. It’s also what we still say when we need some extra love.

“Hold you.”

Because sometimes we just need to be held.

In the flesh.

By a living, breathing person.

Here.

Now.

What I loved about Jonas’s “hold you” is that he knew exactly what he needed and asked for it. He didn’t sit and wait for us to notice. He didn’t hesitate or think he was stupid for asking. He didn’t assume we’d pick up on the cues. Instead, he did what kids do (and why they are the leaders in all-things-spiritual), and asked for what he wanted.

To be held.

Sometimes we just need to be held.

In the early years of my faith, much of what I was taught was centered on “me and Jesus” or “I just need Jesus” or “Jesus gives me everything I need” or “Go and sit on Jesus’ lap.” I’m not discounting the importance of deep and meaningful connection with God’s spirit and how healing and comforting that can be. But I do think this teaching wasn’t good for my soul because it caused me to believe the only way to find Jesus was in the quiet of my heart, in my prayer closet, or when I was spiritual enough to “get it.”

I kept straining to find that feeling, but it often remained elusive (and was always extremely tiring). My search for the feeling of being held only by Jesus sometimes left me empty, lonely, and frankly a little ashamed, like something was wrong with me for thinking Jesus wasn’t “enough” and actually needing people.

The message was that I’m not supposed to need people because God’s enough for me.

Um, sorry, I know it sounds terrible and some will get their hackles up when I say it, but I firmly believe this—God’s not always enough.

Sometimes we need people.

In the flesh.

A living, breathing person.

Here.

Now.

People are a reflection of God, and a big part of the Christian story that often gets ignored in the modern church is that Jesus left us as his representatives. The “just me and Jesus” thing isn’t actually very biblical at all.

Over the years as I began to ponder and experience what “incarnational” meant—”God, in the flesh” through meaningful, honest, raw, messy relationship with other people—I began to experience God’s healing in a new way that has brought so much greater freedom.

God is at work, in us and through us.

And there are a whole of people in this world in desperate need of being held.

But I’m not only talking about crawling up into Jesus’ lap and being held in a spiritual sense.

I’m talking about flesh and blood and spirit, all tangled up together in a real hug with a real person.

Where we are held.

Where skin touches skin.

Where some weird and beautiful and unexplainable security is passed from one person to another in all the right ways.

Where we experience a sense of God’s love in ways we can’t even put words to.

That isn’t something just physical. It is deeply spiritual, too.

A few years ago I heard about “cuddle therapy” businesses where people can pay money to be held in a nonsexual way, and experience the healing that comes from it.

As followers of Jesus and cultivators of the kingdom here on earth, I think “being held” should be offered for free. People shouldn’t have to pay for it. People shouldn’t have to be starved for it. People shouldn’t have to feel guilty for wanting it. People shouldn’t question their spiritual dedication for needing it.

We need to acknowledge that sometimes we just need to be held.

In the flesh.

By a living, breathing person.

Here.

Now.

I know men and women at The Refuge who, if they didn’t show up in community to get a hug, would go weeks and months and possibly years without being touched.

This is one of the reasons I am always ranting and raving about the importance of in-the-flesh community. We don’t need more places to go sing songs, listen to a pastor talk, and leave lonely and fragmented.

We need tangible places and safe spaces to be held.

The deep loneliness in this world is so pervasive. The longing to be held so great. The desire to feel human connection so real.

This past week my husband and I witnessed a fatal motorcycle accident right across the street from our house where two people immediately died. It was so traumatizing, and even though I’ve been crying out to God, I have also definitely needed the true-blue-here-now hugs from my friends and family, where I can be held.

Where I don’t just imagine God’s touch but actually feel God’s touch.

Some of you might need that right now in a tangible way and feel guilty for wanting and needing to be held. I hope you can let the guilt go and consider asking a safe person for it—”hold you.”

And some of you might be able to offer that right now to someone else. To be a caring presence, a secure touch in a way another person needs. It’s a beautiful and sacred gift.

SheLoves sisters, here’s to holding and being held.

It’s brave.

It’s vulnerable.

It’s God at work here and now—through us and to us.

______________

Image credit: Maria Grazia Montagnari

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Kathy Escobar
Kathy Escobar co-pastors The Refuge, an eclectic faith community in North Denver dedicated to those on the margins of life and faith. She blogs regularly about life and faith at kathyescobar.com and is the author of Down We Go--Living out the Wild Ways of Jesus in Action. She lives in Arvada, Colorado with her husband, Jose, and five kids. Her most recent book Faith Shift can be found on Amazon.com
Kathy Escobar

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  • Perfect reminder that we are the arms of Jesus when we hold others, offering His love, acceptance, and comfort.

  • No hackles here! I think it’s Biblical. In Genesis, God said it wasn’t good for man to be alone and created Eve… evidence that human community is part of God’s design from inception. God didn’t say, “Hm, we need something here for procreation.” He said it wasn’t “good” for man to be alone. And thanks for the reminder that I need to speak my needs, not leave others to decode the mystery. 🙂

    • thanks, kirsten, good stuff. yes, when we leave others to decode the mystery we often up with a mystery 🙂

  • Amanda Waters

    I struggled with this so much growing up. Sometimes just wanting that comfort of a human hug and being told that I needed to rely on Jesus. But what a gift we have to share in our hugs. Thanks!

  • Lizzie Goldsmith

    Thank you, Kathy. I needed this. I recently told my house church about my loneliness, and the people who prayed for me prayed almost solely for my relationship with God and his presence. But I wanted real people there too. It’s hard to find the balance between not basing our worth on other people, and our very real need for people. In a time when I have many doubts and don’t know how to have an actual relationship with God, I need people more than ever.

    • that last line is so profound: “in a time when i have many doubts and don’t know how to have an actual relationship with God, I need people more than ever.” oh, i am so with you. somehow people have helped me hold on to God, and because of some major faith shifts i have had over the years, if it was only me and God, i am not sure where i would have landed. there’s something about experiencing and feeling God through people that reminds me that God’s real. thanks for your honesty.

  • Emily B

    Oh my heart is aching… if only someone had told my younger self this truth 20 years ago. First time away from home at university, in the early months of commitment to Jesus, and battling with being alone and afraid, and then feeling guilty for the loneliness while church told me that Jesus was all I needed…
    It is only in the past 2 years that I have started to learn and accept that Jesus entrusts me and brings me into relationship with real people alongside Himself, and they have great arms for holding… It is truly God at work.

    • thanks for taking time to share. yes, that message of “Jesus is all you need” can create so much damage and loneliness. i am so glad healing is happening in all kinds of sweet ways.

  • I’m so glad that my counselor didn’t shy away from using physical touch when I wept buckets in the counseling room. Stroking my back and my hair, while I cried, after I’d been vulnerable, was the most healing thing she could have done and what had been missing in my life.

    • beautiful….so glad you had that healing presence in your life.

  • Yes, yes, absolutely yes.

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  • Sheila Wilson Brennan

    Thank you, Kathy! Beautifully written (as usual). As important as is having a prayer closet, pounding that single “answer” misses something we see all over scripture:

    “Think about it.

    All biblical images of
    heaven are

    communal
    (banquet, city, wedding).

    They are not about being
    alone with God

    and enjoying time
    away from other people.”

    ~ Anette
    Ejsing

  • Dear Kathy, I’m a day late but I wanted to say I’m so sorry you had to witness that fatal accident. I grew up as the daughter of a funeral director and I know the trauma of being a part of something like that. Glad you’re finding support in tangible ways, like touch. I love your insights on being held and holding each other as an important part of our spiritual experience. It’s amazing the power it has to comfort us in all types of situations. Touch is such a powerful tool during the birth process too. As a Doula, I’m often surprised at how little women tap into this. It’s as if we’re so used to being un-touched that we don’t see it as a vital resource. Thanks for this post. Love, Julie xo

  • Thank you for the beautiful post on being held. Indeed, it is in a loving community where we have the capacity to hold one another, that we most experience Divine Presence in our lives. At the core of being ‘held’ is safety. It is also accepting without judgment. We so need to be busy creating safe places in which we can hold each other. It is the beginning of healing of our relationships and indeed the planet.

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  • linda_marie

    Hold you.

  • pastordt

    Amen, dear Kathy. Thank you for saying this ‘out loud,’ and for saying it so very well.

  • Alexa

    Holding and being held … There is no other medicine so crucial to our sanity, sustenance, and vitality. So many stories come to mind, and a quote does, too, that underscores our biological need to touch and be touched as, and by, incarnated human beings. It’s from Mary Gordon, a writer who I believe is of Christian faith: “Of course it is never enough, the love of God. It is always insufficient for the human heart. It can’t keep us from despair as well as the most ordinary kindness from a stranger. The love of God means nothing to a heart that is starved of human love.” I first found and recorded that quote in 1985, and it’s niggled at me ever since. Kathy, you strike to the core of the human condition with this beautiful piece you’ve written, and I thank you for acknowledging our visceral need, at every age, for actual, embodied touch. I am both a person of doubting-Thomas faith and one who is often starving for touch, having been divorced five years ago while ill. I’ve lost most of my loved ones (including all of my cuddle-buddies, except one) to death, and a few to disengagement when my need for contact and presence during a period of inconsolable grief became, for them, too much. However … I was recently a recipient of a miracle that was centered in touch. I live with a blood disease through which my platelets — the bonding factor (!) in the blood — are being destroyed by some unknown process. The normal volume of platelets in the blood ranges from 150,000 – 450,000. My counts, since early 2009, have gone down, down, down, and now range between 32,000 and 58,000. I co-facilitate a peer-support group for people of Christian faith who live with what we call “mood disorders” — major depression, excess anxiety, PTSD, etc. At our most recent gathering, I let off the mask of facilitator and reached out for concentrated presence and support, bawling all the while. My church’s pastor is the group’s co-facilitator, and while everyone in the group (there were seven of us that night) stood around me, laying hands upon me as I sat on a couch, our pastor anointed my forehead and prayed. Everyone prayed. I wept. The hands remained on me for several moments. The next day, I had my blood drawn, as I do monthly. A few days after that I received an astonished phone call from one of my doctor’s assistants: the platelet count was 106,000!! What could account for this? It’s been nearly seven years since the count was above 79,000 (and the numbers began to plummet as my marriage began to die). “The bonding factor … the bonding factor,” I kept thinking. The bonding of souls in faith and prayer, and *definitely* the bonding of bodies through focused, loving touch (My professional background is based in somatic psychotherapy). I’m still gob-smacked (or is that God-smacked?) … and I must mention a book that confirmed everything I know in my marrow to be true about how touch can heal, and how its lack can kill. Dear readers, find a copy of *A General Theory of Love* by Thomas Lewis, MD, et al. It’s hard science (the neurobiology of relation) written with a gorgeous, literary (even poetic) sensibility. The essential message: loving, bonded relation and touch moderate many essential rhythms in our bodies, including the cardiac, circadian, endocrine, hormonal, and neurological. ~ I suppose that if I’m an evangelist about anything, it’s touch. I’ve written more about it here: http://traumorphosis.blogspot.ca/2015/02/sometimes-i-wonder.html ~ Thank you again, Kathy, and to everyone who responded … I’ve read every word. *She Loves* will now be on my perma-reading list!