Rite of passage parenting: The last squeeze
I’m not sure how it started. Have you ever been holding hands in a prayer circle and when the last amen is said, the person next to you has a spontaneous hand spasm?
This unusual phenomenon seems to happen worldwide. I’ve experienced the “Amen spasm” in Germany, China, Russia, Hungary, Mexico and a host of other countries where I’ve served. Somewhere in the Bible, it must explain that when you say “Amen,” you should squeeze the hand next to you to let the other person know the prayer meeting is over. I guess my Bible is missing that page.
I think it all started during a prayer meeting Jesus was having with His disciples. When He said, “Amen,” James and John, the Sons of Thunder, who were standing on each side of the Apostle Peter, squeezed his hands. Come to think of it, this may explain why Peter later cut off the soldier’s ear.
As a junior high student, I didn’t mind the Amen spasm too much. The trick was to stand beside the girl you liked the most. If the youth pastor told everyone to hold hands, that meant God had shown up, and it was a good night at church. Squeezing the hand of the girl next to you was the junior high version of giving a hug.
Somehow, the squeezing of the hands spilled over into our family. I don’t know just how or when it started. When my two boys were very young, they had to hold onto our hands whenever my wife or I took them somewhere. I told them, “When I squeeze your hands, I’m sending you a message that says, ‘I love you.’”
This became our secret code. I don’t know how many times I squeezed my sons’ hands as they were growing up, but it worked both ways. I would be walking down a street with a tiny hand in mine when I would feel a quick squeeze. No one said a word, but I always glanced over and caught their eyes to let them know I received the message. I can’t count the number of times during their young lives a squeeze passed between us.
As they grew older, holding hands became less and less important and even, more often than not, awkward. Eventually, the hand squeezes stopped. Whenever I get a chance these days, though, I use my words to tell my sons I love them. And both of them are kind in telling me they love me, too.
As I’ve grown older, I’m becoming more aware how quickly time has slipped away from us. When you’re young, you think you have forever to tell your loved ones how much you care about them. Now that the better part of my life sits in the rearview mirror, I can see clearly how many opportunities I’ve missed to assure my sons of my love. Instead of living with regrets, though, I’ve done my best to become a better father—not an easy task when your children are grown and have lives of their own.
One day, if Jesus tarries, I’ll be the old man lying on his death bed, spending the most of the day sleeping and waiting for Jesus to take me home. I may not even have enough strength or breath to get out a coherent word, let alone string those words together to make a sentence.
But I will want to ask any family members or friends who gather around to please grab my hand. If I have any strength left, my heart’s desire will be to give you one last squeeze. That will be my way of saying “I love you” one more time.
That’s what the resurrection is for me. Yes, the cross is the place where “God demonstrates His own love toward us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). But the resurrection is the last squeeze, our heavenly Father telling us He loves us one more time.
Mom and Dad, please take this advice from someone to whom my two sons refer lovingly as the “old man:” it’s never too late to tell your children you love them. In fact, you can never tell them often enough.
There are many ways to convey your love. Words of praise and affirmation can mean a great deal to a child. So can time spent together. Some of my best moments with my sons have happened when we spent time doing nothing more than being together. And of course, touch means a lot, too. Even when it’s a simple squeeze of the hand.
Above everything else, make sure you let your children know there is someone who loves them more than you do. Yes, Jesus will always be there to give them the last squeeze.