In the early 1900’s, a book called The Care and Feeding of Children by Luther Emmett Holt was the child-rearing “Bible” that many families and hospitals adhered to. Mr. Holt was a professor of pediatrics at Columbia University, so it was assumed that he knew what he was talking about, even though he advised against rocking babies, picking them up when they cried, or feeding them on anything but a regular schedule. According to his theory, babies were harmed (spoiled) by too much handling.
But during those years a lot of babies died of a condition called marasmus, a Greek word meaning “wasting away.” In 1915, a survey indicated that babies were dying at an alarming rate all across the country. Finally, New York’s Bellevue Hospital made it a rule that every baby had to be picked up, carried around, and “mothered” every day. Almost instantly, their child mortality rate showed a significant decrease. It took a while to put the pieces together, but the medical experts finally figured out that the babies were failing to eat and starving themselves to death, all because of a lack of touching and the necessary stimulus it provides.*
Touching is still controversial to this day. One time Marilyn and I went to a spring training game with a couple of friends. When we arrived at our seats, they were occupied. Our friend placed his hand on the man’s shoulder and very politely said, “Sir, could you check your ticket, please? I think these are our seats.” The seated man jerked his shoulder back and glared, saying, “Don’t you dare touch me!”
Certainly, you have to be thoughtful about touching in our hair-trigger world. But it cannot be denied that there’s tremendous power in an appropriate, well-timed touch. Jesus understood this. That’s why, even though he didn’t have to touch people to heal them, he often did. There’s something about a gentle touch that communicates warmth and love. It nourishes the soul.
Is there someone in your world–or maybe your home–whose spirits would be lifted by a gentle hug?
For further reflection read Mark 1:4041, Luke 13:10-13, 14:1-4, 22:47-51.
*David Stevens, Jesus, M.D. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 92-93