The gift of touch


by Harvey Yoder

Appropriate touch can be a healing gesture and bring comforting reassurance. ©Thinkstock

I was at a retreat some time ago in which someone was pouring out her heart over the grief she was experiencing. Her husband has recently left her for a younger woman after her children had grown and left home, and she described her loss as like “being cut in two with a saw.”

What made it harder for her, she said, was her feeling of isolation and loneliness. “My phone doesn’t ring much anymore,” she said, “and my friends don’t seem to know what to say or do to help. And I want to say to them, ‘Just listen to me, talk to me, touch me.’ Hardly anyone touches me anymore. I begin to think my body isn’t okay, that I’ve become somehow unlovable and untouchable.”

She helped me realize how important our sense of touch is when we’re needing comfort and reassurance. Touch is probably the first of the senses we’re aware of when we’re born and the last one we lose awareness of when we die. True, sometimes the gift of touch is misused, even abused, in relationships, but that doesn’t change the fact we have an innate need for people to offer us a simple hand clasp, a warm hand on our shoulder or, in closer relationships, a reassuring hug.

Jesus often touched people. He took children in his arms and blessed them, laid his hand on people who were sick or handicapped and offered them healing. And he wasn’t afraid to challenge some social taboos in the process, like reaching out to touch lepers and other socially untouchable people, even touching the dead body of a young man already prepared for burial, something forbidden by religious law, because his heart went out to his widowed mother. Jesus also once washed his disciples’ feet, and he allowed others to touch him as well, anointing and washing his feet with ointment and with tears.

Many faith traditions are blessed by rituals involving touch. Examples in my faith are baptism, the laying on of hands, the joining of hands in a wedding ceremony, the receiving of holy communion, the practice of anointing one’s head with oil for healing, and the frequent encouragement to believers to greet each other with a “holy kiss,” sometimes translated as simply “Greet each other warmly,” or “with a warm embrace.”

All of us would do well to reach out to folks in our family and friendship circles who feel touch deprived, who need a healthy, nurturing sign we care for them and love them, never in secret, but always in socially appropriate and publicly accountable ways, of course.

Think of it as a special kind of Christmas gift.

Harvey Yoder is a family counselor and teaches parenting and marriage classes at the Family Life Resource Center. Questions relating to family concerns can be addressed to FLRC, 273 Newman Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22801 or to [email protected] His blog can be followed at


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