The pH (acidity) of our blood must be kept within a very narrow range (7.35-7.45) for life to remain viable. Anything outside of this causes our body stress and, sometimes, harm that isn’t reversible.
Panic attacks, diarrhea, dehydration, kidney malfunctions, and hundreds of other things can cause the body to become dysregulated. Our bodies are constantly trying to return to homeostasis: “stable home.”
As a NICU nurse, I am caring for a micro-preemie boy who was born weighing 400 grams—less than one pound—and he is teetering between life and death. With the IV sticks, intubation, breathing machines, heel sticks, re-taping and repositioning, his body is operating largely from his sympathetic nervous system (his fight or flight responses).
I bring his dad into the room. His hat is pulled down to cover his face, and his shoulders slump forward. His broad, muscular shoulders don’t provide him the support they normally do, and now seem to weigh him down. His fear is etched on his jaw and in his clenched fists. I talk in short, direct sentences to explain what is happening. The man’s eyes are blank, and it is clear his mind can not comprehend what I am saying. His eyes finally raise to meet mine, and I see the unwilling tears welling in his eyes.
After some coaxing, Dad reluctantly comes over to help me change his son’s diaper. His baby has been alive for thirty-six hours and he has yet to touch his son. His fear is palpable. His hands are shaking as he places them through the portholes of the incubator and touches his son’s body for the first time. Dad’s shoulders begin to heave and loud sobs escape him as his body releases some of the terror he has been storing.
I take his hands and place one hand on top of his son’s head and the other at the bottom, as he encases his son in a hand-hug. Within several minutes, Baby’s heart rate has decreased, indicating he is more relaxed. We are able to decrease his oxygen. Dad’s heart rate has also decreased; his shoulders are less tense, and his face has softened.
They both needed that touch.
God designed us to need touch. The baby’s vital signs are a visible testament to how dependent we all are on touch. It is a matter of life and death.
This can often feel cruel to those of us whose desire brought harm. Trauma Psychologist Peter Levine says, “Our only defense as children is attachment.” Touch creates attachment; our bodies release hormones and chemicals during touch that say, “This feels good.” Touch and attachment can be complicated and confusing when caregivers who are touching are not safe.
I often despise my need for touch. I deny it, believing if I tell myself I don’t need it, I won’t. I grew up in a religion where needing others showed that Jesus wasn’t “enough” for you. This need, in fact, was the ultimate representation of your wayward heart. This theology continues to be graciously dismantled as I have come to know more of Jesus through the presence of others.
In the book of Mark, a man with leprosy begs Jesus to make him clean. How long had it been since this man had been touched? He had been removed from his own home and was no longer a father, brother, husband, or friend. He had to shout “unclean!” so that others would flee his presence. His body knew no kindness since the first realization of his disease. Jesus saw the man’s desire to be rid of the lesions on his skin. Jesus also saw the man’s deeper desire: to be the recipient of affection. Jesus then chose to heal with not only words, but to touch the starved skin with his physical love.
When my need for touch comes to the surface, I often respond like a scrappy and enraged toddler throwing a tantrum. The child inside is pleading for someone to come closer, but what others experience from me is a face etched with anger and a posture that says, “Don’t you dare come near me.”
As I have begun to engage my story and my faith, my experience of Jesus has been less distant and accusing. Jesus exposes the tender parts of me not to shame me but to bring goodness and life. He comes close when others are afraid to. He is loving me into a woman who is gentle with my need as well as my defenses.
Every time I am gentle with myself, I create homeostasis within me. And then, I am able to offer gentleness to others, which extends my stable home.
Somehow in the wild ways of God, I become the starved recipient of the love of God. I am so in need of His touch.
Taylor is a lover of deep conversations and hearing others story. Exploring outdoors and discovering eclectic coffee shops with her tender warrior husband and their four legged fluffy child is what brings her the greatest Joy.
Beautifully said and such truth! Thank you! The lack of touch is even more needed right now during this Covid-19 quarantine. Makes me realize how much I miss the hugs of my children, grandchildren, and friends.
This is a beautiful reminder of what we need and how Jesus brings it. As one whose heart and lifework is for protecting and supporting the hearts and minds of vulnerable little ones, your passage speaks to me in profound ways. Thank you for bringing it to the table.
“This can often feel cruel to those of us whose desire brought harm.” Your ability to clarify the exquisitely sharp pain that lands between genuine desire and how hard it is to kill desire spoke volumes to me. Desire wasn’t safe then and has no place to land now; it’s so ironic. Thank you for sharing your wrestling with this need; and the hope that can be found in Jesus.
As a maternal child health nurse I resonated with your description. Oh yes! As a survivor I understand that reality, that attachment is the place for betrayal.