Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
Leo F. Buscaglia
One of my best friends, Dan, was sitting with me in a tiny pizza restaurant one evening. We were enjoying our time together, sharing what the Lord was doing in each of our lives. Despite his being as straight as an arrow, Dan and I have a special friendship, one that’s only possible through our shared relationship with Jesus. We never would have crossed paths under normal circumstances.
Dan has been there for me through many difficult seasons, and he’s always made a point to listen well, even when I don’t know how to process life. Likewise, I care for him by doing the same.
Over the course of our meal, I shared what God had been teaching me about my sexuality, how He was redeeming it and reconciling it to Himself. Dan beamed with joy over the work God was doing in my life, as he had been praying fervently for God to comfort me as I worked through processing my sexuality.
Our conversation then veered into what I had been learning about the healing power of healthy physical touch.
I had recently shared an episode of the Four T’s and the Church Podcast with him. The host of his podcast discusses how primarily straight brothers in Christ can care for those who experience same-sex attraction (SSA) through what he calls “the four T’s” of touch, transparency, time, and teamwork.
He reiterates that physical touch is a basic human need, regardless of sexual orientation: hugs, arms around the shoulder, holding hands, and cuddling are just a few of the things he and his mostly straight friends discuss on the podcast.
It was this subject that fascinated me, being someone who loves to give and receive love through physical touch like hugs. Throughout this evening’s conversation with Dan, I shared how much his hugs have meant to me, how they communicate his deep care and love for me as his friend and brother in Christ. Looking across the table at me, Dan reiterated how much he was thankful for the lessons God was teaching me, as well as my continual vulnerability inviting him into this part of my life.
He then reached across the table and took my hand, which surprised me. Holding it, he continued to share his admiration for the journey God’s been leading me on, and for how much he has seen me grow into boldness as I understand myself in a deeper way.
I will never forget this moment: where my straight brother expressed how much he cared for me and loved me through the act of holding my hand.
It was not something I expected to impact me as much as it did, but I cherish the love that my brother Dan has me.
Since that evening, I’ve been fascinated by the practice of hand-holding, specifically between male friends. In other countries like India and South Korea, friends commonly hold hands. I’ve seen pictures and read many stories about men walking on the street or sitting hand-in-hand, simply showing their love and care for one another.
Here in America, physical touch between boys and men is specifically defined and viewed with great suspicion outside the norm. While handshakes, fist bumps, shoulder taps, and quick hugs are perfectly acceptable between friends, anything that veers into cuddling, snuggling, or hand-holding is outright rejected and seen as something strictly reserved for dating or married couples.
Being physically close with your male friends is seen as un-masculine in America. Surely two guys who are physically close and intimate with one another must be a romantic couple, right? At the very least, they must both be queer.
I always feel this nervousness attached to holding hands in public. If I want to hold hands with a friend, what will others think of me? What will they think of us? Will they assume we are a couple? Will they say something? Will they be aggressive, or will they ignore us?
Despite all these questions, I still deeply desire to hold — and enjoy holding — my friends’ hands. As with communicating that I love receiving hugs from my friends, so too I need to communicate that I’d like to hold my friends’ hands.
One of my other best friends and brother in Christ, Jesse, describes himself to me as a “lifer” — someone who I’m stuck with, no matter what happens between us. We actively and regularly encourage one another in our walks with the Lord and our various pursuits. My vulnerability with him allows him the freedom to be just as vulnerable; he feels no judgment when he opens up to me about his own life.
I eagerly anticipate the hugs I get from Jesse — hugs which completely envelop me due to our significant height difference. He has a big heart and loves me so well. Just like Dan, Jesse is a straight man.
Besides our deep hugs, Jesse is also someone with whom I’ve had the honor and pleasure of holding hands. After a season of busyness for both of us, we finally found time to catch up with a small picnic at the park.
We went for a walk along an adjoining river, continuing the conversation on happenings in our lives from work to church to personal relationships. I had greatly missed my brother, and all I wanted was to remain close to him and cherish our time together.
As we walked further down the path, I found myself wanting to hold his hand. My fears took hold of me, and I hesitated, those same questions with Dan clouding my mind.
It took me a solid ten minutes to push past my fears; my resolve finally came to the surface of my heart.
I love my brother. I love my friend. I want to show him how much he means to me. I want to be close to him.
As sheepishly and gingerly as I could, I held out my hand to Jesse. My fears taught me to expect rejection from him; what I received, however, was nothing but love.
He looked at me, smiling, taking hold of my hand as he continued to walk with me.
My heart warmed in my chest as my brother received me without hesitation. We walked and talked for quite a while longer, hand-in-hand, our love for each other radiating from the warmth we shared.
Once we returned to our cars and said farewell, my heart knew that my brother deeply loved me. And he knew that I deeply loved and treasured him.
So, may I challenge you to think differently about how you love your friends? Those you call your brothers and sisters in Christ, and all those you hold dear in your heart.
Have you experienced holding hands with one of your male friends? How did the experience go, and did any fears come up? What holds you back from physical closeness with your male friends?
Check out Alex’s YOB ConvoCast as he shares more about this blog!