It was probably one of the oddest requests I’ve ever received. “May I hug you?” You might be thinking, “what’s so strange about giving someone a hug?” Well, normally nothing, but this time the question came from a complete stranger.
I had been perusing the clothing racks at my local Goodwill when a woman called out to me that she liked my scarf. She was referring to one of the many scarves I wrap around my head turban-style when I’m too lazy to deal with my unruly post- chemotherapy hair.
I looked up briefly and replied with a smile, “Oh, thank-you,” before returning to my search through the racks. I was in desperate need of some new clothes. Although Maine summers are usually on the cooler side, we’d recently had a two-day heat wave and the one pair of shorts and one skirt I had that fit weren’t going to be enough if we got anymore.
To my surprise, the woman approached me and asked her unexpected question, “may I hug you?” I looked into her eyes for a moment before replying with some hesitation, “okaay.” So we did.
Yes, it felt weird to hug a woman I’d never met before, especially in a public place. But it was mostly a good weird. I didn’t sense anything “off” about the woman and her next words confirmed my feelings. “Jesus wants you to know that you are beautiful, inside and out.”
“Oh, thank-you,” I stammered. She went on to tell me she was a five-time brain cancer survivor(!) and that Jesus was responsible for saving her life each of those times. As part of her gratitude to Him for healing her, she liked to ask Him if there was someone she could encourage when she was out doing errands.
I told her that I was a believer too and that Jesus had healed me of breast cancer. We chatted some more while she opened her wallet and showed me photos of her three children. She seemed especially happy about the photo of her youngest son. I peered at the grinning face behind a cake of lit candles as she said, “I didn’t know if I was going to make it to this birthday… his twelfth.”
Then she pulled a small gold cross and a tract with John 3:16 on it out of her purse and handed them to me. “Don’t forget, you are beautiful inside and out.” I thanked her as I put her gifts away and then we parted.
“That was sweet, God,” I prayed. “I guess you thought I needed some cheering up, huh?” But I soon forgot about my encounter with the nice lady as I became engrossed in selecting and trying on clothes.
But as I’ve gone back to that encounter since then, here’s what plays out in my mind.
First the not-so-nice, cynical side:
- I must have looked pitiful and needy… that’s what I get for wearing a scarf on my head.
- Beautiful inside and out, huh? That’s a laugh… with no makeup on I look awful.
- It’s kind of a waste for someone to witness to a person who is already saved, isn’t it?
Then the open-to-love, faith-filled side:
- Thank-you, Jesus, for seeing me today through the eyes of a fellow believer.
- I accept your encouragement through the kind words and hug offered in your name.
- Bless this sweet sister who obeyed the nudge from You to reach out to a stranger.
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2 ESV)
Don’t worry, I’m not trying to claim that I got a hug from an angel! But here’s what I am wondering. Putting aside the argument of whether or not our meeting was a divine appointment, why is it so hard for me to receive the loving message she offered?
Conversely, why is it so much easier to believe the negative thoughts that tell me I’m ugly, inside and out, therefore unlovable? Is it pride, or fear, or a lack of faith? Sadly, it’s probably all three.
I’ve been praying that Jesus would reveal His heart of love towards me.
I believe He has so much more for me to discover about being His beloved child. I’m longing for a revelation of His love to fill my heart, enabling me to love Him more… and then overflow to others.
I want to be totally drenched in His love.
So then why am I surprised that He might choose to show me His love towards me through the words and touch of a stranger?
In reflecting on my positive and negative responses this is what I’ve decided to do: I’m rejecting the self-deprecating thoughts that make me feel less than and choosing to believe the grace-filled ones that cause my heart to respond with joy and love.
Because, when you think about it… isn’t the love of our Father the strangest, most wonderful thing of all?
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”(John 3:16 ESV)