The Language of Touch
About the Guest
- Learn more about Lore Wilbert at Sayable.net.
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Lore Ferguson WilbertLore Ferguson Wilbert (pronounced Lor-ee) has lived all over the United States but will always be most at home in the Northeast. She holds a degree in English from Lee University. She has been published by Christianity Today, Fathom Magazine, LifeWay Leaders, LifeWay Voices, The Gospel Coalition, Revive Our Hearts, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and more, on spiritual formation, faith, culture, and theology in life. She also teaches writing and edits on the side...more
Have you ever noticed the number of times Jesus used His touch to heal someone? Lore Wilbert talks with Michelle Hill about the spiritually healing nature of touch from one person to another.
The Language of Touch
Michelle: Have you ever been in a conversation that was going great but then, all of a sudden, there was that awkward pause?—like maybe five seconds, or even worse, ten seconds. Awkward!
Well, author, Lore Wilbert, says that’s not so bad; and it could be freeing.
Lore: I think that, when we feel awkward—whether it’s awkward silence or awkward touch or interaction—our sort of natural inclination is just to run away. I’m thinking, an awkward silence in a conversation, sometimes that’s what the other person needs in order to share something that they, maybe, have been afraid to share. I think so much healing happens when we actually walk through the awkwardness or we wait the awkwardness out.
Michelle: You know, this may be awkward, but we’re going to talk about touch, even during this time of social distancing; because touch is necessary to life. We’re going to talk with Lore Wilbert on this edition of FamilyLife This Week.
Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. You know, this spring has been a hard season for all of us. We have sheltered in place with our families that, well, at times, drove us crazy! But then there are those good memories that you made. Or some have felt locked in with no one else to carry the load; but remember, you struggled to come up with new survival skills. Here’s the fact: “If you hear my voice right now, you’ve survived!” Yes, like me, you’re probably grieving for our nation and for our world; because we have lost so much. But we have hope in knowing that God sees our tears; and He is here, right now, in the midst of it.
You know, I don’t want to spend today looking back, but let’s look forward. I talked a while ago with a friend, Lore Wilbert. She has written a book called Handle with Care. It’s about the ministry of Jesus, and it’s a book on touch. You know, touch is so important! One day soon, when we start getting back together again, there are going to be some people who want to hug, and hug, and hug. Then, there are going to be others, who have been without it for so long, they don’t know how to react; or maybe they’re still dealing with scars from the past. You know, it might not be six-feet social distancing, but maybe they just want to remain the three feet away.
We need to consider how we can really love as Jesus loved. I want you to hear my conversation with Lore Wilbert. It’s a really good conversation on the importance of touch and why touch is necessary in our society, even though we’ve lived without it for so long. Here’s Lore.
Lore: One of the things I say in the book is that there have been 100 billion lives throughout history, and each of those lives represents a different story. Each of those stories is different. I think we can sometimes sort of imprint our story on someone else; and I think that’s when it gets complicated, when we assume, “Oh, they’re operating from the same rubric that I’m operating from.” I think that’s the main reason it’s complicated.
I also think we live in a broken world that is, by God’s grace, on its way to being more healed and whole; but we’re still grappling with the realities of what it means to live in a broken world.
Michelle: And it seems to me that there is so much power in touch—power for good or for evil—how can we start redeeming that now?
Lore: I think, for me, it’s remembering that God’s first act with man and woman was to touch them. He formed Adam from dust, and He formed Eve from bone. When I think about that being a characteristic of God/an attribute of God that He touches His creation—and then, secondarily, sent Jesus to live as a body among bodies/as an embodied human—I just think, “Man; this is wildly important to God.” That’s a starting place; I don’t think that’s a finishing place.
Lore: Or maybe it is! Maybe it’s the start and the finish, and then there’s just a lot of stuff in the middle that we need to think about.
Lore: But I think that’s a good starting place—just remember it’s an attribute of God—and not just something that we grapple with as humans.
Michelle: That’s a really good point, because I don’t think of that as an attribute of God.
Michelle: You know, your words in your book were just incredible; and I think opened my eyes to just how Jesus was sympathetic with His audience. He anticipated their needs; and He reacted to their needs; and He was empathetic with everyone.
That’s something that, just in modeling who He was, we don’t do a good job of looking out and going, “How can I help you today?” or “How can I be that person for you today?” What does it look like to be intentional with our touch like Jesus was?
Lore: One of the first things we know about Jesus is God saying down to earth, “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus was certain of the love of His Father; that’s a place that we can start around the subject—is just to know that we are loved by God. I think that will free us from a whole host of—I think we’re searching for love—we’re searching to be mirrored by someone else; we’re searching to be accepted by others; we’re searching to be understood by others.
I think, ultimately, God created us to be humans—to want those things; and in some way, need those things—but it all starts and ends in: “We’re loved by God.” That’s how Jesus operated.
Michelle: And that’s a hard thing to do, especially when we do talk about touch. People tend to be really squeamish about that; or you’re sitting there, going, “I don’t know.”
See, for me, my love language is touch; but I grew up in a home where we didn’t hug; we didn’t touch; we didn’t do any of that. How do you get past that barrier, either to receive it or to give it? Because there are times that, you know, I see someone on a Sunday morning, and I’m like, “I’m just going to hold back, because they might not receive it well.” How do we get past that?—that awkwardness, I should say?
Lore: I think that it starts with understanding we have a story and everyone else has a story. I think some of it is just that we don’t ask people. There are study questions at the end of the book, where I say: “Think about what you think: ‘How much you think this person is being touched,’ or ‘How much you think this demographic is being touched,’ or ‘How they think about touch.’ Now, go ask them; go ask them, and see how disparate your answers may be from one another.” Perhaps, get around people who will ask the same of you.
I think we all have different levels of desire and levels of need around touch.
Lore: But we can’t know those things for sure unless we ask. I think asking is a massive part of this conversation. It’s an integral part of this conversation—to ask: “Can I put my hand on you?” “Can I hug you?”
And that’s the other side of this: my aim isn’t to make everyone huggers or super touchy.
Lore: The aim is for us to think through these things and then to begin to act on these things, beginning with asking permission of others, and asking for what we need or what we feel like we need from others. There’s no shame in that. God made us. We are not omnipresent; we’re not omnipotent; we are not God, so we do need. We are humans.
Michelle: I appreciate you saying that there’s no shame in it; because, as you were talking, I was like, “That’s a big risk for some people to go up to somebody else and say: ‘Hey, let’s talk about touch. Where are you on the spectrum?’” I mean, it does—it seems like—
Lore: It’s incredibly vulnerable; yes.
Michelle: Right; I’m thinking of a conversation that I had yesterday. I had a follow-up appointment at a doctor’s office. I had your book with me; I was reading it. The doctor stopped me and said, “What are you reading?” Then the nurse—her ears perked up—she was like: “What is it about? I want to know more!”
We were just talking about touch; and she said, “I am a very touchy person. So if I know that the patient’s going to get bad news, I’m going to surround them, as the doctor is giving that news.” And she said, “If somebody looks down/looks like they’ve had a hard day, I will ask them, ‘Can I hug you?’” She said she’s only had a negative response twice. She said, “It’s as simple as, ‘Can I hug you? You look like you’re having a hard day.’”
Lore: Yes. One of the stories I open up with is the story of this woman, who goes to the hospital on purpose, for multiple reasons. The pastor, who’s walking with her, asks her: “Why do you keep doing this? Why do you keep landing in the hospital?” And she says, “I like it when they touch me.”
I think that’s so, so powerful, just to think about, “Oh, man! There are so many people in the world.” It makes me want to cry right now.
Lore: It makes me just so sad about the amount of people in the world, who genuinely—I mean, touch is not going to heal all of us, but it sure can heal a lot of us—and it sure can bridge these gaps that we create with ideas about who other people are. I mean, we live in such a polarized world right now; it’s polarized by religion, and politics, and all kinds of things.
If we just can reach across and put a hand on someone’s shoulder, or hug them, or even shake their hand in a way that is—I think sometimes you can shake a hand in a way that dominates and exercises power over someone; or you could shake a hand in a way that is very withdrawn, or limp, or weak—I think shaking a hand in a way that is saying—it’s firm: “I’m here; I’m present; I’m with you,”—that’s so important and so underutilized in the world today.
Michelle: I really hate to break in here, because I feel like Lore is on this path of really opening my eyes to the power of touch, but we need to take a break. When we come back, we’re going to talk about that healthy, platonic touch in the church—between marrieds, and singles, children, and elderly—all generations of the church. I’ll be back in two minutes with more of my conversation with Lore Wilbert.
[Radio Station Spot Break]
Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill. Today, I’m talking with Lore Wilbert about the power of touch. Did you know that some organizations will actually train dogs to go into hospitals and nursing homes?—because they see that the health benefits of touch are endless.
You know, hugs not only bring a smile to your face, but they can also lift your emotions. That’s exactly what Lore Wilbert was talking about. Here’s Part Two of my conversation with Lore Wilbert.
Lore: I got married at 35, I think. I think a lot of my feelings of loneliness around touch before marriage were rooted in the thought/in the idea that I thought touch was mainly sexual. I didn’t understand that touch could be—I think I did understand that it could be platonic—but I thought my longings for it were primarily sexual.
Looking back, I think now, that’s not actually true. Most of our longings for touch begin in a platonic way: we just desire friendship with another; we desire friendship even with our own bodies. We desire just sort of a companionship with one another that can result in some healthy, good, nonsexual, intimate, faithful, God-honoring touch.
I think that what ends up happening for a lot of us in single life is that, because we’re not getting that, it can oftentimes lead to looking for sexual touch in unhealthy ways.
Michelle: You had mentioned in your book that healthy touch must be practiced. I mean, “must” is a strong word; it’s an action. It’s like, “Okay, let’s go and do this!”
How does that play out in the church?—because we’re seeing a lot of churches that are dealing with abuse and other things like that. Again, I mean, it’s some of those conversations we’ve already talked about, where you’ve got to ask these questions; but how should this play out in the church?
Lore: Well, I think it starts out with: married people need to understand that this is the story that they’re living/that unmarried people are living. I talk in the book about how it’s a married person’s job, and even an unmarried person’s job, to approach other singles. I think so much we put the onus on singles to approach marrieds—to insert themselves into married family life—we just assume that they’re going to get what they want.
I think so much it’s the job of the married people/it’s the job of the majority to reach out to the minority and say, “How can I care for you?” and “How can I love you?” Sometimes it’s as simple as making space for them beside you at church. I think that’s a very small way to say: “I see you. I want to include you. I want to love you. My shoulder is going to be against your shoulder,”—
Lore: —“And if a point in the sermon is affecting you, I’m going to put my arm around you, the same way that my husband has his arm around me at church.” Those are small ways that we can do that; just invite people into those spaces.
But then I think, also, just having candid conversations with them around touch. I’m not even saying engaging them with touch; but having candid conversations around: “Hey, how much are you being touched?” “Do you want to be touched?” “What are ways in which you are being touched sinfully or touching sinfully, and how can I pray for you and walk with you in that?”—instead of just shaming you or creating a space where shame flourishes by not talking about it at all.
I think a lot of the ways that we engage these things are not necessarily, immediately, through touch but just through the conversation around it.
Michelle: That is so good. It feels so healthy to be having these conversations, because there are some times I do long to have some of these conversations. While it is risky—we’ll go back to that word that I used before, “it’s risky”—but I don’t want to be shamed. I want to be able to talk it through and not immediately [someone] go: “Well, you know; God says ‘No,’”—or whatever.
Sometimes, in church, it is just to have somebody just sit by me; sometimes it’s just that body heat. At church, I’m thinking/at times, I’m like, “I just want someone to come and lean up against me.”
Lore: I think, so often, we live in a world right now, where we forget that we are matter. We forget that we are humans embodied; and we have skin; and we have feeling, and senses, and all those things. We just kind of want to make/in the church, we want to make everything spiritual. It’s not just spiritual. Paul talks about that a lot in the Book of—well, he talks about it all through his epistles—he talks about the physical and the physicality of the world.
I just think it’s remembering that you are embodied; and having someone else to lean against you is a reminder, “Oh, I’m a body too.” That’s so good. I mean, that’s good for those, who are unmarried; but that’s good for everyone to remember.
Michelle: Yes; you mentioned that it takes eight seconds of a hug for us to start releasing endorphins.
Michelle: Eight seconds is a long time; eight seconds is longer than I think I’ve gotten hugged in a long time.
Lore: You know what’s interesting? I’ve started doing this with friends; but when I would hug them for eight seconds, what I realized was that, somewhere around like second six, something would change in our physical bodies. The comfort would just—it was like it turned a corner. Then, once you get to eight seconds, you’re like: “Wait! Don’t stop. Keep hugging me!” Something happens around second five, six, seven that I think we sort of—that tension starts to release and the fear starts to release.
Of course, you don’t want to hold someone against your will or their will. I mean, that’s not [okay]; you don’t want to ever do that. So if someone wants to be released, we release them. We ask them if they want to be hugged; but I think it’s so important to just remember, some things take time, and that’s okay. It’s okay for something to take eight seconds. Something powerful, physiologically, happens in our body during an eight-second hug.
Michelle: That’s powerful! That’s just neat to hear. I don’t remember having an eight second hug or counting one. [Laughter]
Lore: Okay, so here’s my encouragement to you: go hug someone and say: “Hey, I want to hug you for eight seconds.”
Lore: “Can I hug you for eight seconds?” And then just let it happen! See what happens.
Michelle: I will do that; I will do that. There’s a lady, here in the office, who loves to give hugs; so if I’m feeling depleted, I will go and I’ll say, “Christy, I just need a hug today.”
Michelle: So I’ll go out to her desk a little bit later on and see—for eight seconds. I’ll take you up on that challenge.
I used to have a roommate, who was really good at watching my moods. Now, she was a night nurse; so I didn’t see her as often. She was a nurse, so she knows people. If I was down, she would just sit and hold me, and let me cry. There were times that she would be like, “I just want you to sit down; I’ll rub your shoulders”; or she played with my hair. It was amazing how touch does minister to us.
Lore: Yes; I was reading in Parker Palmer’s book, Let Your Life Speak, a couple of weeks ago. He was talking about a season of severe depression that he was in. He was on medication, so he was trying to move through that space in a healthy way. He said the one thing that was the most healing to him was a friend/a man who would come; each afternoon he would come, and he wouldn’t say very much at all. He asked his permission to do this, but he wouldn’t say very much at all. He would sit in front of him on the floor, and remove his socks and shoes, and he would rub his feet.
He would say things like, “I sense that you’re feeling tense today,” and he would just rub his feet; or “I sense that you’re feeling better today,” and he would just continue to rub his feet. I think that sounds so awkward to us!
Lore: That’s sounds like something most of us would just never do.
But I just think, “Man; I want to have…”—I mean, that’s what Jesus did in washing His disciples’ feet. I want to, not just serve in all the ways that we kind of serve in the church—serve in ministries, and small groups, and all those things—I want to serve with my body. I think that’s important and really lost in our culture today. It’s incredibly healing to be touched by someone—
Lore: —an empathetic person, who is truly caring for you.
Michelle: Well, you think about the orphanages and how they ask for volunteers to come and hold babies or touch kids—and while that is important at that young age to be held and to be touched—we don’t ever grow out of that stage of needing to be touched. That’s a really good point.
Talk to us, Lore, about Mary and the waste of expensive oil and Jesus. What is so significant for us to understand from that moment in time?
Lore: I think the thing that struck me the most in that narrative is that Jesus is in the house of Simon, a Pharisee; so he is a leader in the church. Think about this—like you’re in the house of a high leader in your church—maybe not your pastor, but your pastor’s pastor, or the head of your church network, or whatever—you’re in that house. You’re in a place, where you’re going to care about your reputation; you’re going to care what people think about you. And here’s this woman of the city—who creeps in and is washing and anointing Jesus’ feet and wiping them with her hair—this woman of the city.
You’ve got the highest of the religious high and the lowest of the societal low, and Jesus does not avail Himself to the narrative that could be told about Him, having this happen in the house of a Pharisee. He avails Himself to the woman; His attention is on the woman. His attention is on the care—it’s not even on Himself and the act of her anointing His feet—it’s on her and how much she is loving Him.
I think so often, we just—and I think, in some ways, rightfully so: we care about our reputation; we want to be above reproach; we want to walk in pure and holy ways—but we can sometimes, I think, avail ourselves to the story we want told about us instead of the thing that God is calling us to do in the moment.
Michelle: And I just think, also, the example that she laid before us is that she had to swallow her pride to walk in there and to anoint His feet!
Lore: I mean, incredibly vulnerable!
Michelle: Yes! She had to lay down a lot. It had to have been awkward.
I think, so many times, that’s what we are afraid of; we are afraid of the awkward.
Lore: I think that, when we feel awkward—whether it’s awkward silence or awkward touch or interaction—our sort of natural inclination is just to run away.
Lore: I think so much healing happens when we actually walk through the awkwardness or we wait the awkwardness out. I’m thinking of an awkward silence in a conversation; sometimes that’s what the other person needs in order to share something that they have maybe been afraid to share, or maybe it’s what we need just to learn the power of silence for a moment.
Those awkward moments—I think we can just throw things off as: “Oh, that’s awkward! I don’t want to do that,”—but I think so many times there’s so much growth for us right in those awkward spaces.
Michelle: Such a powerful reminder from Lore Wilbert about esteeming others highly. You know, that reminds me: Philippians 2, verse 3, says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility, count others more significant than yourselves.” Really, what Lore is talking about is that touch is powerful; it helps us connect to one another.
You know, if Jesus used touch to minister to others, well, we can too. I just challenge you: I challenge you to consider how Jesus used touch, but look for areas in your life, where you can do the same. Touch, and be a part of what Christ is doing in someone else’s life. There is power in touch. If Christ is our example, then we should be using touch, for the good, to minister to others.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said these words: “The first service one owes to others in a community involves listening to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for others is learning to listen to them.” Next week, we’re going to spend some time with a man, who wrote about this great man, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We’re going to spend some time with Eric Metaxas. He has a specific call to the church right now—a call to joy! I hope you can join us for that.
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