Nothing was special about it. We were simply praying over a fellow staff member. It’s a common occurrence. I’m always so thankful to be part of a church that prays regularly.

However, something so simple resounded in me so much.

I was standing closest to the staff member, so I placed my hand on his shoulder. This “laying on of hands” is a great practice. Behind me was my pastor, Mick. Because he couldn’t reach the staff member, he did the next best thing — Mick placed his hand on my shoulder.

Hours later, I can still feel the warmth of his touch. I can feel the impression it made on my shirt. My pastor’s touch gave me a wash of emotions and feelings. Nothing sinful. The very opposite.

I felt comforted. Assured. Confident. My pastor’s hand on my shoulder gave me a shot of strength.

You might consider someone’s hand on one’s shoulder during a prayer for another staff member a little much to gush over. But it helped me realize something.

I have almost no physical contact with my pastors. I may shake hands with them once a week. Perhaps there’s a playful shoulder smack during a monthly meeting.

But a hug? A ruffling of my hair? Or a lingering hand on my shoulder? That never happens.

I’ve honestly been poring over this concept for many weeks now: having some sort of physical contact with my pastors. I wasn’t sure if it was important or not, or if it would even make a difference in my life.

Yet today taught me otherwise.

I wrestle with this act of transference; in other words, I still seek the validation and affirmation I wanted from my father and older brothers through the men in my life who are older than myself or in positions of authority over me.

Textbook scenario really.

What I want really is for a relationship no longer available. I want to feel affirmed as a man by my father. However, he isn’t capable of this and our relationship wouldn’t be able to attain that level of trust even if he were. My brothers are in the same situation.

This is why I’ve always struggled with older men in authority over me.

I immediately struggle with this transference of my childhood experiences on them.

The first sign that someone is like my dad or older brothers, I shut down. Even a sign that he is not the same doesn’t help — simply prolongs the process and cements the transference in place.

So, now I face the haunting question: what can I do? What should I do? Obviously genuine touch from my pastors would be incredible. But how can I tell them? And how can I be sure that I don’t interpret the loving touches incorrectly and worsen the problem?

Before I knew it, the prayer ended and my pastor moved his hand. While the words were no longer echoing, I still felt his touch. Its impact will last on me, for sure.

Have you struggled with transference? Have you ever wanted physical affection from a pastor or other spiritual leader? Have you felt confident enough to ask for it?

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  • Yeesh, this hits home. I’ve experienced the same thing a hundred times. It has upset me a lot due to the vulnerable nature of the feeling. I hate to let people have that kind of power over me, but it seems to be something I can’t rid myself of. I’m sure it’s a normal and healthy feeling, but having it satisfied is the part we can’t speak of. You can’t really go to that person in your life and say “You know, can we just share a prolonged affection in some way?” They’d probably be like, “Uh…what?” I think it’s sad how sexualized our culture in the West has become. In ancient stories (from what I’ve read) that feeling could arise and be indulged in without appearing sexual. I hope that we as men can begin to share affection in this way again. For now, I suppose, we have to prize those small tokens of affection however rarely they come.

    • Ah, yes, the sexualization of our culture. I hate how this has ruined so many friendships and possibilities of affection. Aaron, I pray you find those tokens of affection being abundant in your life.

  • I’ve asked my BIshop for a hug and he’s given it to me. I’m in a situation where I pray for touch because I don’t have any roommates, any local friends and the only people I’m around when I work is older women. I’d give anything to have a hug, hand on my shoulder, or any other healthy touch. Living in a homophobic town doesn’t help.

    • This comment is loaded! 🙂 I’m going to refrain from asking a bunch of questions! Praying that God will bless you with a true friend who isn’t afraid to touch you.

    • I am so sorry to hear of your homophobic area, Brian. I am glad you have been able to reach out to your Bishop though for physical affirmation. I pray that such an option remains for you and that other opportunities continue to develop. Know that I am sending a virtual hug your way, though it is indeed not the same as a real hug.

      • Thank you Dean. I have even advertised on Craigslist about making friends and I was really shocked when I was asked if it would be friends or friends with “benefits”. When I said just friends, they were like, sorry we can’t be friends. That really blew my mind. They care more about sex than friendship. If I was able to leave this area I’d be gone in a second. I’d give anything for a friend.

        • So, sorry, Brian. That’s tough. I’d be a friend if I lived nearby. It’s hard to go through life without friends.

  • In my case, it wasn’t a pastor or spiritual leader, but my BSA Scoutmaster Wayne. I don’t know if this was transference at the time, but it felt like some underlying hostility and resentment. First off, let me just say for the record, my Scoutmasters never abused me physically, mentally or sexually during my time with them. Wayne was genuinely concerned in making sure I progressed through the BSA like all the other guys. Sadly I didn’t have a well grounded self discipline to make it past the rank of Tenderfoot. However, during my first BSA summer camp, Wayne took it upon himself to make sure I’d learn how to swim significantly better than my present skill level. We managed to make some improvement and allow myself to overcome my fear of the water. During our lesson, Wayne playfully tried to dunk me in the water. This was one of those rare occasions (if only one time) he gave me some loving touch and affection that I so desired from another male role model. If anyone knows my story, they know my own father was emotionally distant during my childhood. I had plenty of surrogate role models I put in place of my dad and Wayne was no exception. Yet this playful Wayne was short lived and he eventually reverted back to his staunch role of Scoutmaster. Being around Wayne after that became like a job. Being a scout lost its appeal because it became all about the work. I can only assume that Wayne wanted to keep some emotional distance between us, but I think he failed to see the void in my life. I didn’t want to be a good scout in his eyes as much as I wanted his healthy touch and affection as a sort of father figure. Needless to say I eventually quit the BSA for other reasons and wondered whatever happened to Wayne after I left. I never asked for physical affection from Wayne as he most likely would refuse and he harbored some reservations about showing it especially in the context of the BSA. Even before all the BSA scandel hit the media outlets, the appearance of physical affection would not be considered appropriate.

    • I am sorry to have stirred up painful memories, Eddie. I have had that same loss as well, with mentors filling a paternal role for me and then disappearing or pulling away. I pray you find healing from this part of your past.

      • No need to apologize Dean. It was a long time ago (the 80s). I think at the time Wayne just wanted to toughen me up to “be a man” as he could tell I was a bit soft/sensitive. That Tim Timmerman void we feel just wasn’t addressed with me in the proper fashion. At this stage in my life I just simply seek the community of brothers for healing purposes. I can’t go back to being that preteen kid and relive what I might have missed out on.

  • I definitely struggled with issues of transference as a teenager. But that lessened over time. And I’m feeling very blessed, Dean, because I am part of church fellowship that values closeness, and we always greet each other with a warm embrace and the kiss of charity. The men greet the men this way, and the women do so to the other women. And it is very common among us for an arm to be wrapped around you, or a hand on the shoulder when you seek help in prayer. So warmth and physical touch are not wanting, and perhaps as a result of this our relationships with one another are pretty deep. This has helped me bear my soul to some of my close friends, who are also ministers. I have no trouble knowing they love me unconditionally for these reasons. I guess I’m feeling very blessed right now when I read and consider that others of my brothers out there don’t have this privilege and are still struggling with transference and starving for touch. May God bless you, brother.

    • It is encouraging to hear success stories of transference lessening. I am nowhere near where I used to be, but I still have a journey to go. And I am so thankful you have found that church fellowship, Kirk! What a wonderful blessing it is. It is sad that it is not more uncommon. I pray you can use your blessing to bless those around you. Thank you for reading!

  • Touch is so important to all humans and men with SSA probably have some of the most intense need for non-sexual male touch just because those real needs were not met earlier in their lives. Your story relating how significant this pastor’s touch was to you shows that. Great share!
    I get regular hugs from my pastors and I treasure that show of physical touch that conveys the love of God through his body-the church in a tangible way that I need. Not all of these pastors know about my past with SSA, but I have told most of them. It has not changed our relationship. If anything it is deeper today, because they see me as honest and vulnerable. They know my Christian walk is not just superficial. I am a real guy struggling with my sanctification and making progress in my Christian life.
    The attached photo is one I look at every morning. Knowing Jesus’s love really helps me to live the way I should.

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