The pandemic has brought much change throughout society and in our personal lives. We could all list ways our lives have been affected and what we miss most about the personal sacrifices we have been asked to make. One common practice that I have missed in all the “social distancing” is the simple touch experienced between fellow sojourners…. the shaking of someone’s hand, the warm touch of an affirming hand placed on the shoulder by friends, a mutual hug by two individuals who express their caring for one another. “Social distancing” has reinforced the truth that touch is an essential human need. The exchange of a touch is fundamental to the human experience. The magic involved in a touch often transfers messages that the verbalization of ten thousand words cannot communicate. When we greet one another with a friendly and firm handshake, place a supportive hand on another’s shoulder, or embrace another with an encouraging hug, our bodies release neurological chemicals like oxytocin and serotonin that make us feel good, while at the same time inhibiting chemicals that cause stress.
Jesus knew the power of a touch. We see him extending His divine hand of mercy on numerous occasions, often to those who had been ignored by society: lepers, blind, beggars, outcasts. The hand of the Master transferred to them hope, encouragement, assurance, forgiveness and healing. His touch always changed the life of the one who felt His divine hand on their flesh. The Greek word translated “touch” in the NT is “haptomia” which means “to attach oneself to, to touch, to cling to, to fasten to, to lay hold of.” It is found 36 times in the NT. Interestingly, “haptomia” comes from “haptó” which is used five times in the NT and is used to refer to “fastening fire to a thing, to kindle, set on fire” (Luke 8:16, 11:8, 15:18, 22:55; Acts 28:2). When we receive a touch from another person, especially the Savior, there is kindled a spark, a fire in our soul and spirit which can not come from just mere words spoken to us.
Oh, how I miss the touch of fellow believers whose affirming touch always kindles within my soul those sparks that burn inwardly, helping me to experience the warmth of love, kindness, assurance, caring, encouragement, and leaves me greater enriched than before their gentle touch. Touch is a powerful means of communication. Touch is how we first learned to communicated as infants before a word was ever verbalized.
We must never underestimate the power of a touch. Studies have shown that athletic teams that touch one another through high-fives, chest bumps, hugs, fist bumps, and pats on the back, perform much better than teams that don’t. Those non-verbal gestures speak of confidence, cooperation, a close-knitness between teammates and fosters a sense of connectivity. As well, research has shown that physical aggression and violence is not as prevalent in adults where there was consistent physical affection during the childhood years. Homes where children have been deprived of physical affection are left with a hole in their emotional soul.
We all know from experience, physical affection and the touch of a caring friend or a loved one soothes our psyche, reduces our stress, can lower our blood pressure, and actually change our outlook on a bad situation. No words are spoken…only a touch. But it is a touch of caring, encouragement, compassion, empathy….it is touch of love. A touch is an expression of love that doesn’t have to be spoken but is joyfully conveyed to the emotions.
The magic of a touch instills security and assurance in the midst of uncertainty and upheaval. Just think how a mother’s touch enhances attachment and signifies security between mother and child. When our knees seem to buckle and legs are shaky, a touch on the back or an arm around the shoulder by a friend or loved one can work wonders. A gentle, caring touch can whisper, “I believe in you. I am praying for you. You are going to make it through this difficult time.” When a weary traveler experiences the touch of a caring friend, such a touch speaks words of encouragement to one who is about to throw in the towel.
A touch can convey positive reinforcement to another who needs such bolstering. As one who has been involved with coaching high school runners for some forty-five years, when an athlete receives positive reinforcement by an arm around the shoulder, a hug after a stellar performance, a high-five after a great workout, that athlete will give you 100% when race day comes because the gestures of touching tells them you genuinely care about them. I remember one young man who came from a home where there was no father and the mother worked two jobs to put food on the table. Every day that young man would come up to me and like a shadow stay on my shoulder, and he would stay there until I put my arm around his shoulder and tell him I was proud of him. He would grin and off he would go to do his workout. He always gave me 100%. What he needed was positive reinforcement which came through a caring touch. We never outgrow the need for such touches!
While we have been told “social distancing” has been necessary to flatten the curve of this pandemic, I sure do miss the power involved in a touch. We were created to be community beings. Oh, let us pray for that day when we can get back to “touching” one another again. We don’t realize how important an action is until we are not allowed to engage in it any longer. So, when it is announced “social distancing” is no longer necessary, don’t be surprised if in those first few days when I shake your hand, I might hold my grip a little tighter and longer than I used, too.
 Kraus, MW, Huang, C & Keltner, D., “Tactile Communication, Cooperation, and Performance: An Ethological Study of the NBA,” Emotion, October 2010, Vol. 10, No. 5, 745-749.