Imagine living in isolation, deprivation, and depression. Completely cut off from family and friends yet knowing they are out there, living and going on without you. Deep within, there is a longing for connection—to greet with a handshake or embrace, to sit down together for a meal, to be close enough to rub shoulders and laugh over a snarky remark. But you can’t, because no one can come near you, and even if they could, they couldn’t stand the stench… Such was the life and longing of a person with leprosy. We can read a powerful story about this in the Gospel of Mark 1:40-42.
Now, before you check out on me thinking that this story has nothing to do with you, hang with me as I throw this out there: although the stinking, rotting fleshy disease of leprosy is not something we are familiar with nowadays, there is an even greater epidemic that is eating away at humanity. I call it “Leprosy of the Soul.”
We live in a world where touch screens seem to hold the highest power to connect: a quick text message typed out and sent, and voilà! Someone who isn’t even in the same room, state, or country as you is engaged in a conversation within a matter of seconds. Yet, we cannot deny that we also live in a world where loneliness and depression seem to gain an even greater power over us.
In a World of Skin Hunger, You and I Were Built for Connection
We have technology that lures us in by the blue-light screens of our phones. It may light up our face for a moment but leaves an even greater darkness deep within. We find that no matter how many times we touch the screen, it cannot even begin to touch the growing ache in our soul. Why is that? There is actually a term emerging from the medical and psychological world called “Skin Hunger” it is used to describe the deep-seated need to be connected through touch. This physical connection can lower blood pressure and stress levels and boost mood and the immune system. Studies show that a hug or cuddling releases Oxytocin, the feel-good chemical known to bring about a feeling of happiness and peace! Babies can actually die without being touched enough because the stimulation is what releases the hormones that are integral to their healthy development!
This is another reason why I am so passionate about being a hairstylist. Very few other professions allow for touch without it being creepy or an invasion of personal space. So, I don’t just throw a cape over the client and send them to the shampoo bowl. I stand close behind them and look into their eyes as I rest my hands on their shoulders. I run my fingers through their hair as we talk about what they need done for their appointment, and then comes their favorite part: the shampoo massage! It’s one of my favorite moments as well. As my hands work in a familiar rhythm against their scalp and the soap suds begin to form, there is an evident struggle to form their own words. I smile as my fingers do their magic work, releasing tension while simultaneously making them slur their words and eventually close their eyes and succumb to the pull of relaxation. All is quiet except for my radio and an occasional awkward groan that may slip from their mouth. Some may say it’s the massage that quiets them, or it very well could be that their body was glad to finally be sitting and reclined after a busy and stressful day, but I smile because I know that it’s so much more than that. Don’t get me wrong, a massage and sit-down break do mighty wonders for a stressed soul, but there is a greater power behind it—the power of touch!
Jesus knew the power of touch as this man with leprosy knelt before Him and begged to be healed, “If you are willing, You can make me clean.” (Psst…here comes my favorite part!) “Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out his hand and touched him…” (Mark 1:40-41).
Hold up, I forgot to mention that leprosy was highly contagious, and to share the same personal space with them, let alone touch them, was taboo. This is why people with this condition were pushed out of communities to live in the outskirts of town, completely ostracized from others. Which is why I have to be honest here. If I had the superpower of Jesus, I would’ve stayed a safe distance away and used my ultra-laser beams of healing first. Then I’d check to make sure all was well before I wrapped him up in a big ol’ hug… but not Jesus. The decay of flesh was no match for the level of decay that lay deeper within this man’s soul—a place that needed a Savior’s contact. And so Jesus touched him first then spoke, “I am willing; be cleansed!” The text goes on to say, “As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.”
I can imagine the great joy of seeing healthy flesh reappear, but I believe the greatest display of love was felt even deeper because of His compassionate touch. For one who hadn’t felt the warmth of another’s touch, or even been close enough to see the flecks of light in another’s eyes, to hear their voice and share personal space, this one simple act healed the emotional ache in this man’s soul before it ever reached the physical ache.
Sister, we would do well to put this into practice in our own lives as well. Realize that you were made to be connected—through face to face interaction and physical touch, and no amount of texting, messaging, or scrolling can meet that need. Instead of reaching for your phone, reach for another. First, reach for the One who promises to never leave or forsake you; let Him love you and fill you up from the inside out. Then, reach out to someone you can grab lunch with, laugh with, and touch. A handshake, high-five, or hug does wonders to a soul. Put your phone down, lift your face up, and enjoy those who are in your life!
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