When I was one year into my life in graduate school, I helped take a group of 100 or so East Syracuse kids to Young Life camp. I’d done a lot of work with high school students by that time. I was almost 24 and I’d been a paid intern with the youth at my church several summers in a row. I’d taught Sunday School to high school juniors at my church the year after college. I’d been to what felt like a million summer camps with teenagers.
But I came into the week ready to learn. Young Life was a new animal to me and I believed in it: the philosophy, the theology. I was open to being taught.
I was in a cabin with around 15 girls and Kelly, a staff woman who was also the same age as I was. She, however, was an expert in the world of high school girls. The things she taught me that week—about sacrificial quality time, about connecting and relationship building and speaking good truth at exactly the right moments when sitting in a hallway with a girl eating cheetos—the things she taught me forever changed how I relate to high school and college aged girls.
I will never forget one of the small pieces of advice she threw my way as we went into that week. She gave me some data I can’t remember anymore. It was about touch. She said, “Micha, so few girls are touched in a tender, non-sexual, non-violent, non-manipulative way. So few girls are touched in a way that demands nothing of them. They are all craving true, loving touch.”
So we sought ways to care for them. If we dressed up for a goofy country night, Kelly and I were the ones wandering the room drawing freckles on their faces, braiding their hair, helping them with make-up. Who cared if we were even dressed for the night? Were they loved well? Were they told they were beautiful by the way we had cared for them?
When I eventually went on Young Life staff in another city, I said the same thing to my leaders. We were the hands applying army makeup to their faces before the late-night obstacle course. We were the ones who eventually heard their stories of abuse or self-abuse, or the heavy burden of school and family pressure, the feeling of never being enough for their parent’s high academic demands. These girls came to us already knowing they were loved and safe. We had built that sacred space of trust.
I sat at this banquet and listened the director of IJM in India tell a story of a raid they conducted on a brothel full of enslaved young women. He described the scene and how, in the midst of the chaos of the moment—the police breaking in, the arrests of the brothel owners, the fear of those young sex workers who didn’t know what was happening—one woman, an IJM staff person, moved toward the terrified women with a cloth in her hand.
She moved from woman to woman wiping the make-up from their faces. Then, when that slow task was completed, she told them their owners, their abusers and accusers, had been taken away. They were free.
How often in my life am I making space for sacred touch? Do I look the cashier in the eye, do I touch her palm when I hand over the cash? Do I touch in a way that isn’t creepy or demanding or manipulative? Do I touch the way Jesus touched the leper?
That’s on my mind this morning. I’m tired. I have a cold that I can’t shake. I’m sick of wiping my kids’ noses. I’m tired of the whining (mine and theirs). I’m frustrated that there is so much to do and I’m too tired to do it.
But here’s what I’m asking myself: What about when I wipe their noses? Am I loving those boys or begrudging them? What about when I wipe the oatmeal out of Brooksie’s hair? Is my touch sacred? It is holy?
When I tickle? When I demand August to explain why his brother is crying on the floor and I escort my son to time-out? How do I hold my screaming son who is head butting my chest as he sits in my lap?
Touch that demands nothing. Touch with grace in it.