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How to Hug a Porcupine

A kick in the ass is a step forward, or so they say. I’ve received my share of boots to the behind and, sgthartman.jpgfrankly, am better off for it. Sure, I’d probably be less grizzled and insensitive had I been hugged more. But resilience is a necessity that nurture is not. At least, in animals.

Being raised in an alcoholic home, one learns to survive. The absence of attaboys and weepy parental pep talks did not enhance my people skills, but rolling with the punches became a specialty of mine. Of course, the callouses on my soul have a down side. Ever try snuggling with a porcupine?

There are multiple personality types, I am told, and a significant amount of phobias and disorders to go with them. But to me, there are only two types of people: The weak and the strong. As one who’s learned to eschew empathy, I have, conversely, struggled to give it. Thus, I am less likely to dispense warmth and compassion than I am to tell someone to simply “Buck up!”

So we were shopping the other day and encountered two gals with a large sign:

    Free Hugs!

It’s part of the Free Hugs Campaign, a group that travels round the world dispensing affection. And sure enough, someone in our group rushed over for the obligatory embrace. Everyone applauded. I sneered. The thought of being squeezed by a stranger does not appeal to me. I’ve survived this long with minimal hugging and doubt that some nameless schmoe (or in this case, schmoe-ette) on a sidewalk in a busy marketplace will sufficiently alter my psychological malfunction. But the fact that Free Hugs exists and that people want them is indicative, alas, that the weak survive.

hugs.jpgThe Bible has its share of porcupines. John the Baptist could’ve cared less about a person’s dysfunctional upbringing. The locust-eating prophet was about as likely to be found on a street corner dispensing free hugs, as Jesus would be driving a Lexus. (Sorry Joel.) “Repent or perish!” was applicable, whatever one’s childhood trauma.

Scripture is full of “Buck up!” verses. “Resist the devil,” James exhorted. “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord. . .” (James 2:7-10). This warms the cockles of my prickly heart. As much as pop culture conditions us to take account of one’s psychological sensitivities, God is not hesitant to play the role of Drill Sergeant.

But neither is He without compassion:

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18 NIV)

As one who appreciates the value of a kick in the ass, verses like this are troubling. Why not just tell the “brokenhearted” to “buck up,” or the “crushed in spirit” to take hold of their bootstraps? Instead, the Lord gets “close” to them.

Is this like a “free hug” because, if so, I’m already cringing. I didn’t grow spikes for nothing, Lord. I mean, how else can I keep from getting hurt? Yet somewhere beneath my icy exterior is this weepy fool who wants to drop his shopping bags and run bawling across the tarmac to be hugged by a complete stranger.

And then it hits me — God hugs porcupines. He’s got the puncture marks to prove it.

In the long run, exhortation is better than empathy. We need people to sharpen us and spur us on, more than we need people to commiserate. We need a drill sergeant as much as a doctor. And God is great at being both. While Scripture affirms our brokenness, it doesn’t allow us to wallow in it. Yes, Jesus wants me to grow. But He’ll also stop along the way to offer free hugs. And the more I let Him hug me, the more I grow, and the less of a porcupine I find myself to be.

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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Gina June 18, 2007, 10:06 PM

    I love how your mind works. Great post, Mike.

  • janet June 18, 2007, 10:31 PM

    This was disturbing. I think I need a hug.

    Oh, you’re right, I guess. As usual.

  • Ame June 19, 2007, 3:22 AM

    my parents didn’t hug me or tell me they loved me till they dropped me off at college – they were leaving and all of the sudden decided a gushy hug and a “love you” were in order. then, everytime we talked on the phone, which was about once a month or so, they said the “love you” thing. they’ve kept it up, but i have ta tell you – i HATE hugs from anyone in my family and avoid them at all reasonable costs. they are sick expressions of deeper sickness to me.

    there are people who i automatically and instinctively am repelled by … once in a doctor’s office, a nurse repelled me and i found myself backed against the wall and pressing so hard i’m surprised it’s still standing by the time she left me alone in the room. most people i’m able to avoid to a much greater level than that.

    but then there are those who i hug all the time, like my girls. we hug all the time and say “i love you” all the time. we are very affectionate. there are some other kids i hug a lot, but not all. there are some friends i will hug, but not many and not often. there are one or two i will hug when i see them, but it is rare for me to have such a friend.

    the paradox is that physical affection is one of my “love languages.” i crave it. but i am extremely, extremely, extremely cautious with whom i share any physical affection at all.

    yes, Jesus hugs porcupines. sometimes i find my quills thinning … then something happens … another rejection … another abandonment … and it’s amazing how quickly those things replace themselves.

    i get it … i so get it

  • Mike Duran June 19, 2007, 3:39 AM

    Dear Ame, I too was not hugged enough. I believe I missed something. But I’m learning that all embraces are not insincere or devious. Sometimes it’s just me bearing the weight of my own quills. Take heart. Heaven holds many hugs.

  • Suzan Robertson June 19, 2007, 11:52 AM

    Mike,
    This is a great post, thanks.

  • Big White Hat June 19, 2007, 4:20 PM

    This is my first time here. When I read this, I associated it with things I hear from my wife. She grew up in a similar situation.

    For somebody like me, this way of thinking makes no sense. I got pats on the back at the same time that I was being told to cowboy up. If I failed to get my act together then I got a little tough love applied to my backside. So I don’t see a kick in the butt being diametrically opposed to a hug.

    This is not an endorsement of meaningless affection from strangers. I just don’t see affection as coddling. The lack of discipline is coddling.

    Pardon me now, one of my children needs a hug and another one needs a kick in the pants.

  • Mike Duran June 20, 2007, 1:20 PM

    Thanks for the visit Big White. Or is it, Mr. Hat? I think you’re absolutely right about the distinction. Affection and discipline SHOULD NOT be mutually exclusive. However, in dysfunctional households, they often are. Either there is too much discipline WITHOUT affection to balance it, or too much affection WITHOUT accompanying discipline. Because I grew up in a home of little physical / emotional affection, the discipline seemed colder and the affection had to be found elsewhere. . . if it was found at all.

    Bringing that balance to our children — both the hugs and the ass-kicking — is integral to good parenting. I’d suggest, however, that healing the breach inside ourselves is the first step to extending health to others.

    Hey, thanks for the visit. Think I’ll mosey on over to your site. . .

  • Vicki June 21, 2007, 4:58 AM

    Good writing, Mike. I’ve known a few porcupines in my time, and didn’t know a hug til I got married. How you doin’? Haven’t been over here much since son’s wedding and hubby’s open heart surgery, but making my rounds to see what I’ve missed:-) Blessings to you and yours!

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