As crazy as this sounds, I did have to take a hugging class; it was a job requirement for the children's home where I worked. The reason for this is because the majority of people do not know how to properly hug. There's the side hug, the pat-on-the-back hug, the squeeze-the-stuffing-out-of-a-person hug, the won't-let-you-go hug, and the if-this-is-really-necessary hug. All of these hugs send negative subliminal messages. A good hug makes a person feel safe, secure, loved, and cherished. It lets a person know someone cares about him.
Philippians 1:9-11 is Paul's version of hugging school. He is teaching us how to love others in such a way that we make them see God's love in a powerful way. When we do this, people will feel cherished, loved, and cared for by God. Yet if we don't love others with God's love, people will feel cast aside, uncared for, unvalued, and unappreciated.
Suffering with a chronic illness has given me the chance to see the difference between a hugging school graduate and a hugging school dropout. A hugging school dropout is a person who is uncomfortable with suffering. These are people who throw out Bible verses such as Romans 8:28 and don't stop to think what the person suffering is actually experiencing. Quoting Scripture without truly listening to what the other person is saying makes the one suffering feel like he or she is a bad Christian. It makes him feel like he is letting God down, because he isn't constantly filled with happiness and faith.
Another mistake made by the hugging school dropout is that he feels like he has to say something to the person who is sick, but he doesn't know what to say. Consequently, all this person does is ask the sick person what's happening with his sickness. Unbeknownst to the dropout, this makes the sick person feel as if there is nothing more to him than being sick. He has no value outside of his sickness.
The final mistake a hugging school dropout makes is avoidance of the one suffering. Because of the dropout's discomfort with suffering, he will sometimes avoid the person facing a sickness altogether. Although he doesn't mean to, his avoidance makes the one suffering feel like there is something wrong with him. It makes him feel deformed, rejected, and like a burden to others.
I've met my share of hugging school dropouts. Unfortunately, more Christians have dropped out of hugging school because they believe they know how to love others. For a long time, I felt the same way. It wasn't until I became sick that I realized no one loves as well as God loves. Only God can take a person in the worst moment of his life, and make him feel safe, secure, valued, and special. Thankfully, God empowers each of us to love others the way that He loves us.
Philippians 1:9-11 is God's hugging class. So, will you be a hugging school graduate or a hugging school dropout? The choice is up to you, but speaking as someone who's experienced God's abounding love through others, the world needs more hugging school graduates.
"So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much, but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover's life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God." ~ Philippians 1:9-11 (The Message)
(c) July 9, 2012