Orphanages were already an important part of the everyday social landscape in the United States 100 years ago. As shocking as it may sound, statistics validate that 99 out of 100 babies in orphanages died before reaching the age of seven months!
The institutions themselves were not the problem. They had adequate food, clean environments, and modern antiseptic procedures. Everything to give these unwanted or otherwise orphaned children a safe and secure environment was in place, and yet 99% of the infants died within months after birth. These babies were given a healthy chance at life and yet they died anyway. The cause of these deaths was an illusive mystery for many years.
Research studies have long since revealed that these babies did not die from malnutrition or infectious diseases, but instead they wasted away in a human condition known as “marasmus”.
Marasmus claimed these countless little lives in spite of clean and sterile environments and adequate food, shelter and clothing. Marasmus can be caused by the deprivation of human touch. Babies without adequate human touch can simply waste away and die regardless of their surroundings and environment.
When babies suffering from marasmus receive physical nurturing while being fed their formula the marasmus reverses. They begin to gain weight and thrive. Human touch is vital for survival in the very young.
The System Was Changed
Although it is tragic that countless infants died from marasmus’ deadly consequences resulting from the absence of human touch, it fostered change. Today’s infants that are isolated in sterile environments are taken into the hands of caregivers who give them loving touch therapy three times a day for fifteen minutes. Taking these infants out of their cribs and holding and rocking them by volunteers has reversed the mortality rate. Research has validated that the infants receiving this personal touch grow faster, gain more weight, and leave the facility sooner that other untouched infants do.
The infants are not the only beneficiaries of this “touching” time. Those who volunteer as caregivers or “grandparents” to hold, rock, touch and massage these infants also experience measurable benefits. They reduce their coffee and caffeine intake and make less frequent visits to their doctor. They experience a reduction in anxiety levels, fewer symptoms of depression, and improved self-esteem.
Touch is powerful. When skin touches skin magical consequences occur. Human touch and contact is directly linked to every aspect of health and well-being.
Where Touch Begins
The sensation of touch actually begins in the womb.
The human skin is derived from the same cells as the nervous system and is a perfect instrument for collecting information about our surrounding environment long before birth. A fetus will withdraw from the touch of a probe at less than 8 weeks of gestation, showing that the link between touch and survival is one of the first and most important protective mechanisms to develop.
A little known fact is that all human babies are born before they are developmentally ready. Our heads are so big that we can’t afford to gestate any longer than we do, so we are born before we are physiologically ready.
This is in contrast to most other mammals that are able to move around, at least in a limited way, very soon after they are born. Newborn foals or deer are up and walking a few moments after birth.
Humans, on the other hand, are incredibly slow. In fact, the average time between birth and crawling is identical to the average time between conception and birth: nine more months.
What does all this have to do with touch? Simply this: newborn human infants are not fully developed. They can’t focus their vision, or differentiate sounds. So how do they communicate?
Babies communicate with the world almost entirely through their skin. We are born into the world with an already developed sense of touch. We are feelers.
Consider a newborn baby. One moment it is supremely comfortable, in a snug, climate-controlled, perfectly shaped uterus. The next moment it is painfully squeezed into our bright, noisy, cold, wall-less world.
All babies, perfectly healthy ones and others who suffer from colic to cocaine exposure, AIDS and abuse, benefit from regular touch.
When held, massaged and touched a baby’s stress, as measured by chemicals in the blood, is reduced; babies cry less, sleep more and are generally easier to soothe.
Studies show that the messages we received through our skin, particularly about our safety and well-being will have resonating effects on our behavior for the rest of our lives.
Straight to the Mouth
Older babies who are not yet or have just began crawling use their skin as a way to get information about the world. Watch a baby explore a new toy: the first place it goes is into the baby’s mouth. This baby is not really interested in how the rattle tastes. It happens that a huge number of sensory neurons are located in the skin of the lips and tongue, and this is where a baby gets his or her information. A baby puts a new toy into its mouth to find out what it feels like!
Infants and Touch
Many experiments with lower mammals have been conducted to explore the connection between the touch they receive in infancy and their adult behavior. The results are clear: the way an infant is touched, even in its first few hours of life, influences whether it survives, and how it copes in the world as an adult.
Some examples include the way the mothers of infant rodents and other mammals lick them. This skin to skin contact stimulates the physiological reactions necessary for survival. Without the stimulation of touch, the babies die.
Recent research also shows that baby rats, taken away from their mothers, suffer measurable brain damage: cells in the central nervous system actually degenerate and fall apart without their mothers’ touch. Furthermore, baby rats that are removed from their mothers will in turn not mother their own offspring: early nurturing through touch is vital to the survival of the species!
Consistent nurturing touch in infancy has also been shown to influence later coping skills.
When nurtured young monkeys, who have previously been placed in stressful situations, approach new situations they do so with curiosity and a kind of tentative courage. When introduced to a new enclosure, for instance, they will explore it by degrees, frequently retreating to hug mom’s leg for reassurance. Then they will venture forth again and again until they feel comfortable in their new surroundings.
Baby monkeys that are raised without comforting, nurturing touch don’t have that source of security and assurance. They are easily overwhelmed by new experiences. Placed in an unfamiliar environment without a sense of safety, they simply collapse in hysterical screams.
Consistent nurturing touch in infancy has also been shown to influence later coping skills. They can’t cope with challenging or threatening situations the same way that their touched and comforted cohorts can.
Many other studies show that children who are welcomed with lots of physical touch and tactile stimulation tend to grow into well-adjusted, capable and loving adults. Children who are touch-deprived in infancy show tendencies toward aggressiveness and violent behavior.
Naturally, there are countless other variables that influence human behavior besides how we are touched as babies.
But it does make sense that during this most vulnerable time of our lives we would form patterns and expectations about how the world works, specifically, about how safe and valued we are in the world, through our skins.
What we can do is attempt to include more nurturing touch in the lives of our infants, our children, teenagers, our elders and ourselves. As we grow and develop, our need for touch does not disappear. We continue to benefit from the touch we receive from those who love and care about us.
A wide range of body therapies offers another avenue for receiving the benefits of human touch; they can dissipate accumulated stress and activate relaxation within the body. Touch therapies offer a way to integrate the benefits of human touch in our lives.
Don’t Touch That!
Touch can get us in trouble because it is integrated with the human senses.
That is why we need to pay attention to the wisdom of 1 Corinthians 7:1-2
1 It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
2 Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.
What starts with a touch can quickly lead to immorality. As an additional warning of the power of touch 2 Corinthians 6:17-18 states,
17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,
18 And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
Once we touch something we tend to want it. Touch opens the pathway to desire, craving, lust and so forth. There are many things we do not need and especially if we are going to be sensitive to God
Jesus touched people.
- He touched blinded eyes and they were opened
- He touched the bier or coffin of a dead man and the dead man arose
- He touched the hand of Peter’s mother and her fever left her
On the mount of Transfiguration the disciples heard a heavenly voice and were afraid, and Jesus touched them and said be not afraid. They were calmed and talked to Him.
Jesus touched a leper and made him clean.
Mark 6:56 says,
56 And whithersoever he entered, into villages, or cities, or country, they laid the sick in the streets, and besought him that they might touch if it were but the border of his garment: and as many as touched him were made whole.
Luke 8:43-48 tells us the story about the woman with the issue of blood.
43 And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, which had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any,
44 Came behind him, and touched the border of his garment: and immediately her issue of blood stanched.
45 And Jesus said, Who touched me? When all denied, Peter and they that were with him said, Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me?
46 And Jesus said, Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me.
47 And when the woman saw that she was not hid, she came trembling, and falling down before him, she declared unto him before all the people for what cause she had touched him and how she was healed immediately.
48 And he said unto her, Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace.
Yes Jesus laid hands on people. Luke 4:40 says,
40 Now when the sun was setting, all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto him; and he laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them.
Jesus told His followers to lay hands on people. Mark 16:18 says,
. . . they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
When Peter cut the ear off of the Roman centurion Jesus touched it and healed him. Luke 22:50-51 tells how it happened.
50 And one of them smote the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear.
51 And Jesus answered and said, Suffer ye thus far. And he touched his ear, and healed him.
Hebrews 4:15 assures us that we can touch Jesus..
15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities;
That word touched is the Greek word for empathy and compassion. Jesus is touched with empathy and compassion for us.
The Problem and the Solution
The root cause of very problem experienced in churches by and between believers is a consequence of people being out of personal touch with God. If we do not touch Him there are parts of us that die.
Don’t you want to touch Him?
- It is not enough to have head knowledge
- It is not enough to come to church
- We need to touch Him
Once you touch Jesus it creates a desire for Him and His presence.
The solution to our problems is the opposite of the root cause of our problems. If you touch God deeply, regularly and consistently He will resolve other issues and problems in your life.
The good news is God is available to be touched right now. God wants you to touch Him . . . and know He is real! Just like Thomas . . . feel the real and know for certain Jesus is alive!
Straight to the Mouth – Revisited
Previously I mentioned that things babies pick up tend to go straight to the mouth. Just as a baby discovers his or her new world by taste and feel through the mouth and tongue, a similar experience occurs when you are feeling and discovering God.
Acts 2:1-4 records,
2:1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Acts 2:11 reveals to us that thse brand new babes in the Lord were speaking forth the wonderful works of God! It is amazing what that initial touch of the tongue accomplished in the Book of Acts.
At the point of conversion Christians need to learn to touch God. It should be a primary part of new convert care. Everyone needs to learn:
- How to pray and fast
- How to study God’s Word
- How to spend quality time with God
- To press forward in the Spirit for special experiences
- To learn prayer, praise and liberty
If this discipline of touching God is not developed early on then the Christian will never attain their potential in God. The possibility of spiritual death is increased.
Everyone must understand the necessity of regular and consistent touches from God.
Go and touch Jesus.
For more of Dr. Fred Childs interesting insights, articles, podcasts, and webinars please visit www.churchmentor.net.