"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
August 22, 2012
Need a Hug?
by Marian Stoddard

Are you a hugger? Do you give great hugs?

Now, most of us don’t worry about our hugging technique as we hit that awkward awakening stage of adolescence. Kissing is the mystery. We all laugh a little at the depictions of young, anxious teenagers trying to practice in private how they will kiss.

Many of us are familiar with the young girl closing her eyes and leaning in to smooch the mirror as she imagines her new crush, only to be completely mortified by a younger sibling popping into her room without knocking. We may remember the worries about bumping noses, trying to read the signals, or starting to move in for a kiss, only to find the other person ducking away. We may not have been there literally with that mirror, but we can gently relate.

Hugging is not so fraught with peril. Hugging is more about support, gladness, sympathy — expressing love in the broad sense rather than the romantic. Of course, a hug can matter a lot from the person who is a romantic partner, because romance isn’t all we need in life.

We had a sister in the ward who lived to be 100 years old, and who was able to stay in her home until she was 96. She had been alone for a great many years, her husband having died in his late 60s.

Someone quoted a study in a Relief Society class that suggested that we all need several hugs a day. She piped up and said that she was way short on her quota, and she hoped that all the sisters would help her build up a reservoir of hugs every Sunday that would last her through the coming week. We tried to oblige.

I was her visiting teaching companion, or her visiting teacher, several times as the assignments changed over the years, and I always had a hug with her as well as a prayer. I loved being hugged back, too.

Hugs are something we grow up with, and they are usually as natural to us as a smile. They are an expression of warmth, of affection, of empathy. You hug someone rather than shake his hand because you feel closer to him than that. It’s an impulse, a message, rather than a social expectation.

Now, I suppose that this hugging discussion goes more to the women than the men, in that women are more apt to wrap their arms around friends or loved ones and encircle them literally and physically with their expression of love.

Men may have a different approach, but the salient elements still apply. Whether it’s the quick hug and retreat, or the arm around one shoulder with the other hand firmly grasping yours (that men are likely to offer each other), what makes it matter is the attention and affection.

That’s what a hug gives us, isn’t it? It’s the offering that we have that person’s full thought and attention, his comprehension and sympathy, her I-can-identify show of empathy and support.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw that a woman who has had serious health challenges was able to attend church. I was having a difficult time, because I had been in a recent accident, and added to that I was deeply worried about the situation of one of my children. I had felt close to overwhelmed at some points that week.

She stopped me in the corridor and told me that she knew I had been praying for her and how much she had felt it and was grateful not to feel so much like she was drowning.

I had to tell her that I was so glad she was doing better, but I didn’t know how much I had been concentrating on her right then because I was having a rather rough time of it myself. She responded that she would pray for me and it would be better. We were standing very close, and she pulled my head over to hers with one hand and embraced me with sympathetic murmurs.

I felt so grateful — not that my worries were magically waved away or instantly solved, but because I had that moment to soak in the love and the faith of a dear person’s heart, and know that she was ready to understand. So much of our comfort and strength comes from knowing that we are not alone. I felt her prayers, and others, through the following week. Things got better.

That’s one of the most important reasons that we are commanded to meet — to have the blessings of fellowship with the Saints. We need to cling fast to each other, to stand firm under the blasts of the angry, often evil world. It’s only getting worse out there.

Our Heavenly Father promises that he will never leave us comfortless, that we are never alone. Human connection is so essential; when someone’s arms go around us and we feel a heart saying that right this moment nothing else is more important than hope and love, the Spirit will wrap itself around us both and make it known that God is with us also.

John advised, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God.” Don’t we all need that?

So even if someone you care about is finding her “quota,” give her a hug — and just call it a bonus! After all, there’s no actual quota on expressions of love. Help that reservoir fill to overflowing whenever you can.


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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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