The Healing Touch
Not so long ago, I introduced the five senses to my daughters. We had taste tests, played I Spy, laughed over blindfolded smelling experiments, arranged musical bells in order by listening and had fun with a feely bag, identifying things by touch alone. We played the Sense Game, during which I give instructions and they have to follow the instruction and then tell me which sense they used to complete the directions.
The human body is an absolute miracle. Really, there is no other word that comes close to describing the complex computer that is our brain. Millions of cells, hundreds of bones, dozens of vital organs, hundreds of nerves that somehow all work together to create a functional body that is capable of experiencing tremendous joy and earth shattering pain. Everything has a reason. When we feel physical pain it is because our brains are telling us that, somewhere within us, something is wrong, is not the way it was intended to be. Without nerve endings, hospitals would unquestionably be filled to capacity with third degree burn victims who could not feel the damage being done to their bodies. It wouldn’t be uncommon to see people with objects sticking out of their skins because they never felt the splinter prick them in the first place. Children would stay out in the snow, without warm clothes, and receive frostbite simply because they could not feel how cold the snow really was. Being able to feel is a necessary sense. It’s one that I can appreciate, even. It is not, however, the sense for which I am overly excited about.
I can’t even count the number of things I touch in a day. Right now, I can feel the smoothness of the keys on the laptop beneath my fingers as I type this note. I feel the pillow that’s in my lap and the heaviness of the laptop sitting on top of the pillow upon me. A spot on the back of my neck just started itching and when I went to scratch it, I could feel the sharpness of the scratch that alleviated the itch. This morning, I hugged my girls and felt those hugs not only emotionally but physically as well. When we stepped outside, I was hit by very cold wind and pellets of snowy rain. My head is a constant aggravation, pounding with a 3 day migraine that usually goes away only to return a few days later. I like the feel of the air in the car blowing on my face. I like the feel of blankets wrapped around me and, at night, when I lay down, I like hugging my pillow and burying my face between it and the bed. Touch is important. Touch can be comforting, even life-saving. For many, I’d wager, it is the touch that they most appreciate. Myself, I’m a very hugging person. The last time I went to see my high school English teacher with Joe, for instance, I bet I hugged the man at least five times in the space of ten minutes. If Joe and I are not holding hands, then one of us is mad at the other: my hand automatically seeks his now whenever we are in the same room, without conscious thought from me, a response born from 8 years of constant hand-holding. It is one of the special tenants of his and my relationship. It is also, however, one of the only touches that I can say confidently and honestly I truly want, need, etc. Anything beyond simple hand-holding causes me to freak out.
If you’ve read almost anything written by me, you know why. Touch is associated with terrible memories. For me, anything against my skin acts almost as an instant trigger and results in my brain shutting down. It really doesn’t matter if the touch is meant to be comforting or exciting, I am forced to consciously remind myself that I am safe and okay upon the slightest touch. Upon receiving a touch, I start to withdraw behind that Great Wall that surrounds my heart and I just….well….disappear,
Unbelievable though it may be, this causes me trouble, particularly in relationships. Sometimes it causes a lot of pain, too. I’ve grown a hard heart to negative words that could describe me when placed in intimate situations where touch is expected to be the whole goal. But I’m not free from the pain of sometimes feeling both failed and a failure. My ability to withdraw has hurt me most of my adult life. Yet it protects me from shame and guilt, emotions which, since childhood, have cut me deeply. I cannot decide which is worse: the pain that results in withdrawing, or the pain of dealing with shame for enjoying touch, which once destroyed the little girl I had to have been.
Last night, as I was driving home, I thought of a Biblical story: the one where Jesus heals the sight of a blind man by putting mud on his eyes and then telling him to go wash in the river seven times. The story briefly crossed my mind and then flew to another story of a woman who was ill and truly believed that if she could just touch Jesus’ garment, she’d be healed (point being, she had to touch Him). As though watching movie previews, my mind zapped to another story where Jesus laid his Hand upon a dead girl and then watched as she rose to life again. There’s another one too. Jesus used His hands to wash the feet of his disciples. In order to create 5000 pieces of bread to feed a massive crowd, Jesus physically broke a bread (when He could have just made bread fall from the sky, He chose to touch it and do it physically). When Peter cut off the ear of the guard, Jesus didn’t just say, “be healed,” he physically touched the guard and restored it. He allowed (encouraged) children to sit upon His lap and He showered them with love and affection. When He was thirty three, He allowed Himself to be hung upon a cross so that the world might be healed from sin.
My memories of physical touch are degrading, shameful and painful in nearly ever y aspect of the word. I try hard to protect myself because I am afraid of feeling such pain again. If something was painful the first time, and resulted in the changing of my character, then my reasoning expects it to be painful now, too. And it often is, in the emotional department at least. Perhaps, though, as upsetting as it is to admit it, that is because of me and my inability to separate the past from the present.
Biblically, we’re taught that touch isn’t supposed to be painful or degrading. Actually, it is supposed to be healing. The sense of touch is supposed to bring comfort and reassurance, it’s supposed to bring joy. Jesus endured a Crown of thorns being placed upon His head. I wonder what He thought when the blood dripped from His forehead down beside His eye. He endured beatings. When He saw the bruises being formed as He walked to Calvary, what was on His mind? My guess is that I was. Each person who would come to accept and believe in Him was on His heart. He was probably thinking of the healing that that day was going to bring. He may have imagined the love I feel every time I think of Him. His pain, both emotional and physical, brought about the greatest healing in the history of the universe. It also paved the way for us to feel the greatest comfort and love. But first, He had to feel the agony of those nails being driven into His wrists. Before she could receive the respect that is now universally bestowed upon her and be called courageous and great, the Holocaust survivor had to endure mental, emotional and physical torture at the hands of the Nazis.
Comparatively speaking, I understand that the pain I try to hide from doesn’t even get on the map, it’s almost laughable. I’m nothing like Jesus and I’m no Holocaust survivor, either. I have to remember that God did not provide me with the sense of touch to punish or hurt me. Pain is a funny thing, though. It provides an opportunity for us to either create freedom and strength, or to spend our lives trying to avoid the thing that once broke us. I don’t know which is best. But, seeing as I cannot alter the past and I cannot erase my memories, no matter how hard I may try, I think I’d rather remember that Jesus used touch in positive ways, to bring healing to those who were hurting and to a save God’s people. God loves His people. He offers them a shelter when the storm is over, and He holds their hands when they ask Him to. He may not always protect them from pain because sometimes it’s that very pain that forces them to become the people He knows they are capable of being. My love of and understanding of abused children would not be so great had I not had the childhood I did. I would probably have never met Damian, Jessica or any of the other children that hold special places in my heart. My faith in God might not be so strong, either, as I may never have had a need for Him to hold my hand. I don’t know why I have such horrible memories of touch. I don’t know why I can’t sleep without nightmares. But I do know that those days are in the past, ten years removed from me now. I do know that I am one of God’s chosen people and that, as such, I have no logical reason to fear any sense He gave me—-including that of touch.