I sat with a new friend over coffee and listened to her heart as she poured out her story before me. She delved into the depths of everything that had gone wrong in her life, but finished with the strong crescendo of everything that God had made right.
I stared into her eyes from across the other end of the fingerprint-smeared glass table, and could hardly keep my tears locked in the cages of my eyes.
After bringing me along on the journey of the ups and downs, trials and tribulations of her story, she said something really simple that caught my attention. She told me of a moment when she felt compelled to hug the person that had brought so much pain into her life. She walked up to this person, who was uninterested in emotion at that moment in that place, and wrapped her arms of unconditional love around him. In that moment, in that embrace, he broke.
The walls came down. The truth lay bare before them both.
I had a similar encounter with a homeless man in Brazil once. I was leading a mission team, and we were asked to go and pray for the people there. I had already had the most stirring God-encounter with two homeless meth addicts, and seen God work His power through prayer. I thought God was finished with me that day as I strolled towards the other end of the park with tear-stained cheeks to meet up with the rest of our group.
As I turned the corner, though, my eyes caught hold of a stoic, dark figure leaning against the wall. I was drawn to him immediately and made my way to him, asking if I could pray for him. His response was apathetic at best, but he gave a slight nod, so I ran with it.
After learning his name was Jaime, I stretched out my hands and laid them on the top of his shoulders and began to call on the God of the Universe to intervene in this man’s life and situation. As I was praying over him, God downloaded image after image that gave glimpses of what He was doing in this young man’s life. I began to speak those out over him in faith. Jaime tilted his head upwards and peered into my eyes, his weak with shame. Then I asked something strange: Can I hug you?
His expression gave me permission so I embraced this cold man, and in that very moment, the walls came crashing down. He wept buckets of tears down my back as he laid his head on my shoulder like a worn-out toddler. His body shook with the aftershocks of pain and bitterness; he wept and wept and wept, until there were no more tears to fall.
In that moment, I saw the unrelenting pursuit of God the Father – our God who never leaves us, nor forsakes us. (Hebrews 13:5) Our God who runs, though never breathless, after us until we stop long enough to notice His Presence. I saw our God who uses the power of love and compassion to meet people exactly as they are.
There’s a story in Matthew 8 that tells about Jesus’ interaction with a leper. Lepers were enshrouded in shame because of their uncleanliness. They couldn’t enter the city gates; they couldn’t touch others. They couldn’t engage in the normal activities of life, family, and culture of the day. They lived in pain, isolation, and with an aching desperation.
The story goes…
When Jesus came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. 2 And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 3
And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
I’m struck by this thought: “Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him.”
Jesus, the most holy, pure man to ever walk the face of the earth stretched out his hand and touched a LEPER. He chose to touch his uncleanliness. He chose to touch that which could infect him. He chose to touch the man’s pain.
And when Jesus touched the leper, “immediately, the leprosy was cleansed.” He was healed. The touch of Jesus healed him. It broke down the walls of isolation and being overlooked and cast to the outskirts of society. It broke down the inability to connect with others. It broke down the brick walls of emotional torture and confusion of years living with the label of “unclean.”
Jesus still does this today. He uses us, His hands and feet to break down walls through unconditional love. He does that in so many ways, but sometimes it’s through the power of simple touch.
He did it with my friend. He did it with Jaime. He’s done it with me.
He can do it now… in that person you are frustrated with, in that person who cut you off in traffic, in that person that has hurt you more than anyone will ever know, in that person who never smiles, in that person who always points out the worst, in that person who presses your buttons, in that person that speaks to you with ice in their voice.
Jesus can and will heal.
Maybe you have someone on your mind (I know I do!) who just needs the power of God’s touch, the power of a simple hug to usher in a warm tidal wave of God’s love that will wash away the grit and the grime, and the ice-encrusted layers of their heart, to break through to the truth that is lying dormant in their soul.
Because the truth is that God loves us. The power of that love breaks down walls to heal us and make us whole again.
Will you stretch out your hand or stretch out your arms in a loving embrace, and touch someone with the love of God?
Maybe, just maybe, a hug will change the trajectory of someone’s life and eternity today.
Believing with you that God’s touch will heal.