My family has always been the “touchy-feely” type. Since birth, both my parents sent me off to bed each night with a kiss on the cheek. Every “hello” or “have a great day at school” would be accompanied by a warm embrace. As I moved through life, I am lucky to say that these affectionate traditions never wavered and remain with my family today.
As I entered the semi-adult world of undergraduate university, I found that many others shared this sense of physical affection — many evenings of faith sharing ended with hugs all around and it would be a surprise to say goodnight to a good friend without at least a quick hug. Even in my all-male service organization, we would finish our Spirituality Nights with a “brother hug” where we each hugged every member of the crew. This experience with friendly physical contact seemed the norm in California; maybe it’s part of the culture. However, when I moved to the East Coast I was surprised to find how sparse hugs seemed to be.
I have a couple of hilarious memories from my first few months in Philadelphia where I unwittingly went in for a hug with various male friends and co-workers and they quickly jumped back offering their hand for a handshake. Now, even living in Boston, I find that an embrace is not normative, that hugs are just not as common among friends.
The topic of “Love Languages” is frequently considered within romantic contexts – it’s incredibly useful to be aware of the ways you and your partner primarily receive and give love. Yet, I think it can also be useful in friendly relationships, and especially in considering relationships with God. Knowing your own love language and those of your close friends can help you to beautifully deepen your relationships and your awareness of God’s action in your life.
If you have any experience with love languages (or have taken the online quiz to find yours), you probably can remember moments when a friend, partner, or family member has expressed their care for you in a particularly meaningful way that aligned with your love language. It could have been a special hand-made gift, a special note of affirmation, or a one-on-one coffee date. You might have even called these moments little “God-sends,” times when God seemed to be actively breaking into your world.
For me, because physical touch is my primary love language, I remember all those hugs from friends and family. Those moments of embrace have been truly graced, each a moment where God has entered into my consciousness in a special way. It’s an easy way for me to experience God’s love through others. I’ve also noticed that when I engage physical touch through imaginative prayer, such as imagining hugging Jesus, the prayer experience has a deeper impact.
Think back on times where you have felt God’s presence in others.
- What made that moment so special? How would you describe the love language that you were experiencing?
- In the future, how might you be able to look for God communicating through your primary love language?
- Is there any way you might be able to integrate that love language into your experience of prayer?
- How can you be more aware of (appropriately) acting as agent of God’s love through the various love languages?
For now, though the hugs are few and far between, I’m appreciating the God-filled embraces I do receive and looking forward to the next time I’m in touchy-feely California once more. (Until then, feel free to give me a hug – I’ve been told mine are the best.)