When our boys were born, our son Alec had to spend a few days in the NICU. During his stay, I found out something about the process of care for babies. The hospital had a volunteer program called “snugglers.” They are called snugglers because that is exactly what they do, snuggle. They spend hour upon hour picking up babies in the NICU, sitting down in a chair and holding them.
At the time, I thought the practice was a nice hospital amenity, but later I found out the research behind the power of touch in the NICU. “Benefits include stimulation of circulatory and gastrointestinal systems, better weight gain, lesser stress behavior, positive effects on neurological and neuromotor development . . . and improved sleep.” (See Footnote 1)
There is “A growing body of research has uncovered another dimension of touch that is separate from it’s discriminative function. This newly recognized system, known as affective or emotional touch, consists of nerve fibers triggered by exactly the kind of loving caress a mother give her child.”
“Neurons in the skin take information about everything we contact through a variety of nerve fibers and sensory receptors called mechanoreceptors that are specialized for touch.” (Footnote 1) That reminds me of Psalm 139:14 NLT, “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
It has also been noted in the research that touch is the first sense to emerge before a baby is born and is the strongest developed sense at birth. “There must be a system telling newborns that you must be close to others…a system to promote being close to the mother.” (Footnote 2)
Paul Brand was the son of missionary parents and grew up in India until he returned to England for schooling. He eventually went on to become Doctor Paul Brand, a well-known orthopedic surgeon. He returned to India later in life with his wife, Margaret, to teach at a local hospital.
It was during his time at the hospital in India that he saw the horrifying effects of leprosy that went untreated. One day at the hospital, “he gave a leprosy patient a friendly touch on the shoulder to assure him he would help him as much as he could. Tears started to stream down the patient’s face, and Dr. Brand asked a colleague what he had done to distress him. She replied: ‘You touched him, and no-one has done that for many years. They are tears of joy.’”(Footnote 3)
It’s hard for us to fathom the power of touch, because it’s something we generally take for granted. Doctor Brand’s story isn’t the first time I have read about the power of touch. Let’s look at two healing stories in the Gospel of Mark. The first healing is a story about a man who was paralyzed.
Mark Chapter 2 - The Paralyzed Man: His friends brought him to see Jesus. The house was so crowded with people that the friends cut a hole in the roof and lowered their paralyzed friend right down in front of Jesus as He was teaching. Jesus simply looked at the man and told him to get up and go home! That’s it! Get up and go home, and the man did. He walked right out of the house!
Mark Chapter 1 - The Man With Leprosy: A man with leprosy came and knelt in front of Jesus, begging to be healed. “If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean,” he said. Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” Instantly the leprosy disappeared, and the man was healed” Mark 1:40-41.
My question is simply, Why?
Why touch the man with leprosy and not touch the man who was paralyzed?
Jesus touched the man with leprosy for the very reason Dr. Brand’s patient started to cry. Neither of these two men––the one Jesus touched, and the one Dr. Brand touched––had been touched in a very long time.
There is power in a touch and there is power when we put our arms around our children and hug them in a meaningful way. If we gave each of our kids a loving and meaningful hug every day, I suspect that their self-esteem and self-confidence would improve. I believe that there is that much power in touch.
(1) Anjali Kulkarni, Jaya Shankar Kaushik, Piyush Gupta, Harsh Sharma and R. K. Agrawal, “Massage and Touch Therapy in Neonates: The Current Evidence,” Indian Pediatrics, vol. 47, no. 17, 2010. http://medind.nic.in/ibv/t10/i9/ibvt10i9p771.pdf (accessed Jul 2013).
(2) Scientific American Mind July/August 2015, Pg 32
(3) “Dr. Paul Brand CBE,” The Leprosy Mission: England and Wales, 2013. http://www.leprosymission.org.uk/about-us-and-leprosy/our-history/paul-brand.aspx (accessed Jul 2013).
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