Some time ago, I was on the phone with a friend and mentor of mine who lives in another state. He is a pastor about 20 years my senior. As we were wrapping up our conversation, I said, "OK, Charles, I'll talk to you soon." Charles broke in and said, "Before you go, I want to give you something. Are you ready?" Not having the faintest idea what he was talking about I said, "Yes sir." Then, on the other end of the phone line, I heard him make a "hugging sound." Something like "Grrrrrrr, rrrrrrr, ummmph, grrrrr rrrrrrrr, ummmmmmph!" Then he said, "There! Did you get it?" With a big grin on my face I said "Yes sir!" I was grinning ear to ear, feeling blessed, encouraged and deeply loved.
That "hug" made a huge impression on me. I love Charles dearly, like a father, and his taking a risk to be a bit silly in order to communicate to me in a creative way over the phone how much he loves me was amazing. His love flooded through the phone line and poured out all over me. I was drenched. It was just as if he were standing right there with me. Loving on me and embracing me with a great big emphatic hug.
Since that day, I've given out many, many phone hugs. One time, when I was an elder in a local congregation, the wife of a friend of mine was in the hospital and I was not able to get by to see her. So, I called her on the phone, spoke with her and prayed for her. Then, at the end of the call I said, "OK Michelle, before I go I want to give you something. It's a hug...are you ready?" With a bit of hesitancy in her voice she said, "OK." Then I proceeded to make a big "hugging sound" like you might do when you give a great big hug to a small child in order to emphasize the "bigness" of the hug. Following the hug, I could hear the smile in her voice as she thanked me.
Soon after that, when I saw her and her family in gathered worship, she let me know how much the call had meant to her...including the "hug."
At the Airport
On another occasion, I was at an airport and I felt "prompted" to call a colleague back at work just to check in on her to see how her day was going. I let her know that I had felt led to call her and that I just wanted to make sure she was doing OK. At the end of the call, I told her I wanted to give her a hug and asked her if she was ready. After she somewhat quizzically said "Yes." I let out a big "hugging sound."
I try to make it a regular habit to give out these phone hugs. To my adult children, family members and friends. Without exception, the gesture always engenders connection and blessing.
One time I shared about this practice during a talk I was giving to a group of about 200 people in a church setting. After the meeting, one of the ministers, who thought it was a pretty cool practice, asked me if I had ever hugged God. I responded that I had never even thought about that!
So, the next morning, there I was...about 5:15am...walking down the middle of a quiet street in my neighborhood as is my daily (almost daily) practice. This is a wonderful time for me to have a long talk with God every day. Well, the previous evening's conversation with the minister came to my mind. I stopped, right there in the middle of the street. I looked up and I said, "God, I want to give you something." Then, I made a circle with my arms as if I were going to hug someone, and I made my big "hugging sound" ... grrrrrrrrr rrrrrrrrr ummmmph! Imagining in my mind and heart that I was giving God a great big hug.