Many people would call me a hugger. Gracious people sweetly have described my finer points as being warm and enthusiastic. I have heard things like bubbly and energetic and full of joy…most of the time at least. Don’t worry, I stay humble as a person way to quick to speak, impatient, and almost always late.
I do like a loving touch, a hand on the shoulder, a touch to the arm, but I am just plain awkward with a hug. I can never figure out when to offer them?
I spontaneously must hug you if you are sad.
If I see you after a long time, that seems hug worthy.
If you share something personal and deep and I can see the vulnerability written all over the conversation- hug.
Small children- they are definitely huggable.
Professional relationships that involves ministry – maybe a hug???
Narthex chatting on any given Sunday – to hug or not to hug?
Random acquaintance/friend in the grocery store, who says “Hi!” with gusto – hug? Yes? No?
You can see my dilemma. Am I the only one? Please say no.
Our Ecclesiastes passage today tells us that there is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. We’ll get to the refraining tomorrow, but today, let’s settle on the embracing.
Read Ecclesiastes 3:5 to refresh your memory:
“a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;”
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;”
What a beautiful word – embrace. Maybe circle it. It’s such a good word. It exudes so much more meaning than our word for hug and there’s a reason for that. The rich Hebrew root word certainly means to hug, but it can also mean to clasp or, my favorite, to fold.
Have you ever had that person that just folded you into their bosom?
I bet your remembering or imagining it right now.
My Aunt Sheila was a tall and regal woman. She was beautiful. She had prematurely grey hair my whole life. For many years her hair was long, and as a child, I imagined her spending hours combing it. When she hugged me, I felt like I became part of her. She wrapped one arm around me and drew me in. Her hair settled on my shoulders and face like little caresses. It felt safe and warm. I wanted to live in that embrace, away for the scary world.
There are times for embracing. Even when we’re not hugging people. Can you sit back and think of a few of those times? Who has held you and kept you safe from the world for even a moment? Who has offered an affectionate embrace at just the right time?
There is a woman in the Old Testament longing for another kind of embrace. Her story is both sweet and heartbreaking. It’s a long passage, but I promise you, it is oh so worth it! Please read 2 Kings 4:8-37.
“One day Elisha went on to Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to eat some food. So whenever he passed that way, he would turn in there to eat food. And she said to her husband, “Behold now, I know that this is a holy man of God who is continually passing our way. Let us make a small room on the roof with walls and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that whenever he comes to us, he can go in there.”
One day he came there, and he turned into the chamber and rested there. And he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” When he had called her, she stood before him. And he said to him, “Say now to her, ‘See, you have taken all this trouble for us; what is to be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’” She answered, “I dwell among my own people.” And he said, “What then is to be done for her?” Gehazi answered, “Well, she has no son, and her husband is old.” He said, “Call her.” And when he had called her, she stood in the doorway. And he said, “At this season, about this time next year, you shall embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your servant.” But the woman conceived, and she bore a son about that time the following spring, as Elisha had said to her.
When the child had grown, he went out one day to his father among the reapers. And he said to his father, “Oh, my head, my head!” The father said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” And when he had lifted him and brought him to his mother, the child sat on her lap till noon, and then he died. And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God and shut the door behind him and went out. Then she called to her husband and said, “Send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may quickly go to the man of God and come back again.” And he said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor Sabbath.” She said, “All is well.” Then she saddled the donkey, and she said to her servant, “Urge the animal on; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you.” So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel.
When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Look, there is the Shunammite. Run at once to meet her and say to her, ‘Is all well with you? Is all well with your husband? Is all well with the child?’” And she answered, “All is well.” And when she came to the mountain to the man of God, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came to push her away. But the man of God said, “Leave her alone, for she is in bitter distress, and the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me.” Then she said, “Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me?’” He said to Gehazi,“Tie up your garment and take my staff in your hand and go. If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not reply. And lay my staff on the face of the child.” Then the mother of the child said, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So he arose and followed her. Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the face of the child, but there was no sound or sign of life. Therefore he returned to meet him and told him, “The child has not awakened.”
When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. So he went in and shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to the Lord. Then he went up and lay on the child, putting his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands. And as he stretched himself upon him, the flesh of the child became warm. Then he got up again and walked once back and forth in the house, and went up and stretched himself upon him. The child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. Then he summoned Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite.” So he called her. And when she came to him, he said, “Pick up your son.” She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground. Then she picked up her son and went out.”
Here is this woman. She prepares a place in her home, she opens her heart to this stranger, this man she knows is of God, from God. She has no expectations. She simply serves with her whole heart. Elijah asks her, “What can I give you for all you have given me?” (My paraphrase.) Elijah’s servant has to share her need for her. Praise God for the people in our lives who are speak up for us in those moments, who notice our needs!
Elijah’s prophesy is so beautiful to me. It is not that she will conceive and bear a son, or that she will simply give birth to a son.
“At this season, about this time next year, you shall embracea son.” (v.16)
This prophesy cuts to the heart, so much so that the woman sits in the place of trust-distrust that we so often sit with God.
I know you are True, God. I know that you are grace, God.
But this…this thing, do not lie to me.
When we know with all our heart that He is not even capable of a lie. Trust-distrust.
When your arms are empty, when you are too afraid to pray it or dream it or hope it…whether that looks like miscarriage, or infertility, or loss and grief, a diagnosis, divorce, a broken relationship…any of it…God promises He enfolds us. He embraces us.
He knows, when we just do not.
And then when dreams come true and the world still shatters around us. Hold fast.
This Shunammite woman. She has been there.
“Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me?” (v.28)
But in this story there is another kind of embracing. The healing of this precious child is so personal, it makes me catch my breath. Elijah lays on the child,
mouth to mouth
eye to eye
hand to hand.
When we are in that place of trust-distrust. Or we are in need. When we feel lost, alone, and maybe even a little bit bitter. Maybe we simply feel overwhelmed. He sends His people to physically show us Himself. The Body of Christ fold themselves around us and pray and feed and remind us of who He is, holding it up before us.
Sisters, I can’t think of anything more like an embrace than that.
And maybe it isn’t a desperate sort of time for you. Maybe the warmth of an embrace in this season is fun and spontaneous and not because of burden, but a way to communicate affection and connection. Maybe you are the aunt who folds a frightened child in your arms, or the friend who invites someone to clasp your hand. Whatever the style or season, know that it is His work, any genuine love we receive. That is the Lord at work in His people.
Jesus, you are in the hugs, you are in the warmth and caring, you are in the words of affirmation and edification we receive in one another. May we ever be a source of Your genuineness, Your caring, and Your kind embrace. In Your Holy name we pray, Amen.
Who has offered you memorable hugs in this life?
Have you ever experienced a season of emptiness or deep longing for something?
Do you have any current hopes or dreams? Do you feel like God is asking you to embrace them or do you feel it is a time to step back and refrain?
(All Bible quotations are used from the ESV