Free Hugs – A Lesson In Loving Community From A Six-Year Old

By Craig Petinak | November 19, 2019

As it was the end of Daylight Saving Time, I found myself at church earlier than normal this morning. As I walked in, I recognized someone—an older, widowed woman who sits in the back row of church who I haven’t seen in more than a month. She sits in the same seat each week—against the back wall with others who have mobility challenges and where she used to sit with her husband for decades.

As the woman and I were catching up, a young boy, no more than 6 or 7 years old, interrupted our conversation with his body by walking straight up to the woman and wrapping his arms as far around her as he could manage in order to deliver a huge hug.

The woman was clearly taken aback by the gesture from a stranger, but was even more clearly touched—especially given the fact that she had just finished telling me the story of returning from a joyous visit to Houston where her own young grandson had accepted Jesus into his heart. She had just recounted the story to me, told through tearful eyes, that while there, her grandson prayed with her and asked God to “never ever take grandma away like He took away grandpa.”

“My name is Ezra and I am shy,” the young boy said as he stepped back from the hug. Ezra’s grandma was just a few steps away, putting down a few items at her seat while keeping a watchful eye on her grandson.

I decided to compliment Ezra on his hair style, and, as he talked about wanting a haircut and fiddled with his sweatshirt, he made eye contact with me and came up to give me a bear hug too.

Grandma came to retrieve Ezra and we marveled at his innocent expressions of love to complete strangers—as if we were members of his own family. Another woman nearby wondered aloud what Ezra would be like if he wasn’t “shy”.

As grandma walked Ezra back by us to take him to Sunday School, it became clear he hadn’t yet met his hugging quota.

“I forgot about you!” Ezra said as he hugged the “wondering out loud” lady, thereby giving us all another round of giggles. As he exited, he wrapped his arms around a man’s legs who was just walking by—the closest he could get to reaching up for another hug. The man later walked by telling his wife how cute it was to have a little boy hug him out of the blue.

What could easily be dismissed a cute kid doing cute kid things quickly led me to some thoughts.

  • It is truly important to gather together as a church family. If we are settling for watching services online, racing in as worship is just beginning, and then simply shuffling out to the parking lot to head off to lunch, we wouldn’t have the chance to encounter the Ezras of the world. Or, more importantly, we’d miss the chance to be an Ezra to somebody else who might need a kind word or hug from us. With so much extra time between services now, we all have an opportunity to consider whose day we could brighten simply by being present and unafraid to step out of our relentless individualism and pursue connecting with others as part of our responsibility as members of a church family.
  • As Ezra showed us, his position or standing in the church had no bearing on his desire to show love to others. He didn’t approach us like he was a big deal, or think he was something special because of his good hair day. He was simply relentless in selflessly giving the gift of joy to those he encountered without any idea of the impact it would have on those who were touched by it.
  • It also made me thankful for the Sunday School teachers who were about to work with him and hundreds of others that morning (as evidenced by his name tag) and a reminder to those who haven’t yet found community at Fullerton Free that we’re meant to be in relationship with each other—both for what we have to gain and what we have to give.

We are all part of the same church family. Whether we’re 6 years old or 75 years old. And, on Sunday mornings, we shouldn’t miss opportunities to linger and take the time to give some hugs….or be on the lookout for Ezra who might be looking for you.