I got hugged by Papa


I suppose that since most of our hurts come through relationships so will our healing, and I know that grace rarely makes sense for those looking in from the outside.”
― Wm. Paul Young, The Shack

She was working at a safe house that night. We got there just in time, just before dark.

She opened the door for us, welcoming in the girl we were bringing. She asked our friend, “Can I give you a hug? You look like you need one.” 

Of course our friend took it.

I walked up next and said, “Can I get one of those, too? I need a hug myself.”

The woman laughed a big laugh and gave me what I needed.

And I felt God in those arms. I heard him in her voice. I saw him in her actions.

In that moment, she was Papa. I got hugged by Papa.

If you’ve read The Shack, you’ll know who I’m talking about. Author Paul Young depicted God inside the body of an African-American woman named Papa because Mack, the main character, needed to dump his outdated image of a cruel God and start fresh.

Sometimes my image of God needs an update, too.

I’m not always open to how God wants to reveal himself. Sometimes he’s fuzzy in his hard hat working a difficult situation, or shadowy as the giver of good gifts in my brokenness. Sometimes I overlook his bag of tools when he’s slower to fix things (people?) than I’d prefer.

I fail to recognize him when he doesn’t look like I expect or appear where I’m pointing or sound like I anticipated.

But when I’m open—really open—I find him here.

  • Maybe in the courage of a friend doing a hard, hard thing.
  • Or maybe in the text of another that says, “She will watch for you; she will let you in.”
  • And maybe in the arms of a large African-American woman who does watch for us and who does let us in, all the way into her heart.

Straight into God’s heart—that’s where vision is clearest. Inside out. It’s our safest house.

It’s where our wounds are healed, our fear is erased, our value is confirmed.

Maybe we’ll never see God here in person, but we can see him in persons here.

I know I have. And I even got hugged.

“I am merciful and very patient. I show great love and I can be trusted.”
God (Exodus 34:6)

* * *

Are you a hugger? Who have you seen God in lately? I’d love to hear.


28 thoughts on “I got hugged by Papa

  1. floyd

    Great post, Lisa. When we or anyone lives above the instinct of this fallen flesh, it is the hand of our Father. I’m not a big hugger, but I’m getting there. Thanks for the reminder, I’ll be looking and finding the touch of God today.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It’s good for me to be reminded that not everyone is a hugger because we huggers sometimes can forget that and thus make people uncomfortable. 🙂 But yes, there are many ways to find and be the touch of God–with or without a hug. I know you are good at seeking and doing them.

  2. Leah

    HI Lisa,
    Well I am NOT a hugger, by an means. But as your top excerpt quoted: “since most of our hurts were from relationships, so will your healings”. Being vulnerable with people feels like walking down the street naked. It’s why I write. The screen or the paper is a comfortable buffer. Its been a slow process, much like prying a clenched hand open, but God has been showing me if I want to serve and help people, which I do, I have to trust people, especially those not like me, and let them know that I am messed up too. I think it was Donald Miller (writer of Blue Like Jazz) who wrote, “if you want people to listen to you, they have to know that you LIKE them first”. And I think it is going to be a pretty tough job to get to like people if you always stand slightly apart with your hands in your pockets.
    Thanks for hug post!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      What a great Donald Miller quote. Thanks for adding it here. (I loved Blue like Jazz.) I sometimes wonder if we have to grow into our vulnerability. I know some are more naturally oriented that way than others, but regardless of our starting points, it still is a journey for all of us. Sounds like you’re definitely on that journey yourself; good for you!

  3. Rick Dawson

    I’m a hugger who became one after being involved in the 12 Step programs. Prior to that? Don’t touch me – as a sexual abuse survivor, I was especially uncomfortable with the whole hugging thing, and it took a long time for that to change. That, along with so many warped and distorted images of who God is, what He was (and wasn’t), and what He wanted to do in my life – all of it was process, not a single event.

    Consider this a virtual hug from a log ways off, Lisa – but a heartfelt one. 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m guessing that the woman at the safe house first *asked* if she could hug my friend because she could have had previous issues with hugs like you, Rick. I wasn’t really aware of that possibility for a long time, so I do try to be more aware of people who might not want to be hugged, for whatever reason, and not force it. I’m glad you were able to work through it though because I’m feeling your virtual hug today!

  4. Leah Adams

    Straight into God’s heart—that’s where vision is clearest. I love that, and it is so true. I stopped by from the link up at Jennifer Lee’s blog. Your thoughts are beautiful. I am a recovering NON-HUGGER. You really can teach an old dog new tricks!! Blessings to you.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It’s interesting to see how many recovering non-huggers there are. Growing up in my extended family we didn’t have a choice except to be huggers. So I’m trying to learn in reverse that not everyone appreciates physical touch in that way and to back off as needed. Yes, old dogs can still learn new tricks. 🙂 Glad you stopped in, Leah.

  5. Carol Longenecker Hiestand

    oh how often I I have felt God’s presence in the hug of a friend. When i lost my brother it was the hugs of people who loved me that felt most like God. there are times when God seems far away, but he shows up through his people. Thanks for this postl Blessings. visiting from “Tell His Story” today

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, I’ve received those kinds of hugs, too, Carol, and am thankful for how comforting they can be! In our moments of intense grief and loss or confusion, sometimes a long hug can speak volumes that words cannot.

  6. Karmen

    So lovely! And may it be said of me one day that someone felt God in my arms and heard him through my words. May I not get in HIS way.

    Thank you for this post!

  7. Melissa

    Love this.

    I grew up in a non-hugging family, and I was that way long into my adulthood. I wouldn’t reject a hug, but I wouldn’t initiate one, either.

    Since I’ve become part of a church family, that has changed. When I’m having a bad day, I can feel the comfort of the Lord in the hugs of my friends. When I’m having a good day, I can feel Him rejoicing with me. I definitely believe in “God with skin on.”

    And now things are slowly changing with my family. My mom was recently in the hospital. When we said Goodbye at the end of a visit, I gave her a hug and said “I love you.” I could tell that she was a bit uncomfortable, but she responded in kind. I’m convinced that she could feel the love, even though she’s unaccustomed to the hugs and direct words. Before the visit I’d prayed that the Lord would help me to let His love flow through me, and so this was His doing more than mine!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I suppose not all churches are filled with huggers, but all the ones I’ve been a part of have been huggers, too. (It would be uncomfortable for non-huggers though; I feel for them!)

      What a beautiful moment for your mom. I’d guess that she’s thought about it several times since, and been blessed by it. Who doesn’t want to be loved? I’m glad the Lord answered your prayer in that way.

  8. Renee

    The Shack was quite a powerful book wasn’t it. I think I need to go back and read it again..I love your post. I have seen God lately in the comforting words and laughter of my swenet husband, in the words from a friend, the pages of a book, His book, and in HS encounters. Would be a good day to look for God in all I meet. Thanks for your words of insight and for coming by my blog….

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I recently reread The Shack since it’d been awhile. I was so glad I did. I understood it better the second time around. I’m now reading “The Shack Revisited”, a follow-up non-fiction book about the trinity. It’s good so far too.

      How wonderful when we can see God in our husbands and so many different places in our day! Thanks for sharing, Renee.

  9. Trudy

    The Shack really resonates with me. From my upbringing, I also need “to dump his outdated image of a cruel God and start fresh.” I have come a long ways, but sometimes it still clings. I’m trying to see God as a kind Papa who comes with love, not swords. The truth, as you said, is that the safest place is in God’s heart!

    I’m still not open to hugs from just anyone unless I feel they’re safe. I do love to give hugs, especially to those I care about. Sometimes if I’m talking to a grandchild on the phone, I say, “Do you feel it?” “What?” they reply. “Do you feel all warm and cozy inside? I just threw you a hug!” Giggles… Love it. 🙂 Thanks for your hug in your words today, Lisa. I am sending you one back… Did you catch it? 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      “unless I feel they’re safe” – that is so important, I agree. There are people I don’t particularly like to hug or get hugged by either. I love the conversation with your grandkids. So precious. And I did catch your hug! Same back to you, Trudy.

  10. Mandy

    I have found that quote to be absolutely true, Lisa. When I set out to pursue healing, I was so pleasantly surprised that the love, grace, and acceptance of me right where I was, in my messiness, by community was healing beyond what I could imagine!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      That’s a beautiful testimony to grace, Mandy. I love when we have an accepting community who loves us into healing from our unhealed state. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Ruth

    I always enjoy your insights. I am blessed to have hugs from those who love me, often. And to receive those as God’s arms around me is very comforting and amazing. That He should love us enough to show up through us to each other!
    Have a week surrounded with His love.

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