I remember lying in bed one early morning after having spent the entire night throwing up. I was weak and trembling and miserable. Before the sun even began to peek through the curtains, my mother tiptoed in to check on me. Quietly, she sat down on the end of the bed, found my feet beneath the covers, and began to rub them between her hands.
There was so much grace and mercy and compassion in that act - that lifting of my feet, that tender warmth from her small hands reaching straight for my heart. I felt an ache in my chest; I had wanted to cry for feeling so known, so cared about in that moment.
There is something sacred in a touch, in the laying of a hand on someone who is hurting.
There is a piece of a Psalm that caught my eye last week - two little lines that I haven't been able to get out of my head as I've moved about my days and have encountered the various confusions and angers and doubts and hurts that come with them. The title of the Psalm is "The All-Knowing, Ever-Present God," and the lines are:
"You have encircled me;
you have placed your hand on me." (Psalms 139:5)
When I first read these lines, they immediately reminded me of my mother, of the way she placed her hands on my hurting body that morning as if to say, "I know it hurts. I love you. I am here."
The powerful thing about a touch is that it demands nothing of the recipient. No need to find the perfect words, no need to justify the hurt. It does not ask for eloquence or apology, strength or details. It only ask that the recipient not pull away.
Lately I haven't been able to find the words to explain myself. I cannot think of a way to voice the things that are giving me trouble, those areas of unrest within my soul that make me feel uneasy. Yet I long to be understood, often thinking it would be such a relief if someone could only step into my body and my brain and just know every intricacy of my inward life. Then - then - someone would understand.
Sometimes in the mornings I sit with God and just stare blankly out the window. Sometimes I intend to pray but can't find any words, so I just sit and drink my coffee, studying the swirls of cream in the hot brown liquid. And I whisper to myself, "You have encircled me; you have placed your hand on me."
And I know that there is One out there who doesn't need my explanations, who understands me even when I have no eloquence, and who does, indeed, know every intricacy of my inward life.
I can almost feel His warm hands placed on my face, His eyes looking intently into mine and smiling. That tender act of mercy is more reassuring than any words could be. It is Him saying, "I know it hurts. I love you. I am here."
There is no judgment there, no need for me to pretend that I am not angry or sad or worried or doubtful. There is no need for me to try to look like I am put together when I am actually not.
There is only love, and I am completely encircled in its protective embrace.
I recognize now that when it comes to hurting, words only have limited power. Sometimes, there is simply no right way to string them together, no perfect sequence that can explain the nuances of the heart.
Sometimes, it is with our reaching hands rather than our moving lips that we are able to say the things we really mean.