When was the last time that you looked forward to checking your mail? Not your email, but the kind of mail that arrives with a stamp. This week has been the first time in a long time that I have been eager to open the mail box. Why, you ask? Two of my three daughters went away to a girls’ camp this week. It was their first stint away from parents, home, and grandparents that exceeded a couple of nights. Did I mention they are not allowed to make or receive phone calls, unless it’s an emergency? Several moms just shivered.
The bright side is that we were allowed to send them letters. Rather than trusting the USPS to deliver my letters, I wrote them beforehand, and gave them to the girls just before we left the camp. Each daughter has her own “dad” letter to read each day as well as a card for them to enjoy together each night. The nighttime cards are loaded with some of our silly sayings and inside jokes with the hope that they will smile and giggle together, and feel as if they are close to home at bedtime.
The writing of letters — and the hope of receiving some — has shown me some things. Actually, it has rekindled something that has been smothered by e-mail, blog posts, text messages and tweets. We live in the age of instant, limitless communication, and it has robbed us of some habits and virtues.
Not so many years ago our interpersonal communication was either face-to-face, via an odd-colored, rotary dial telephone, or by mail. Until a century ago only two of these existed. I suspect that communication was more meaningful then, and also carried out with a more robust vocabulary and better grammar.
In pondering these things a Bible verse trickled through my mind:
“…I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God…” 1 Peter 5:12
This passage shows us that letters are personal. They are written to someone, by someone. Peter’s words were “I have written to you…” The relationship is understood, and being nurtured. The words, thoughts, and familiar penmanship all meant something, something personal, just like FaceBook. Just kidding, Heh-Heh. Sadly, communication that carries a personal touch approaches extinction nowadays.
Let’s place these thoughts alongside the days when folks in our society commonly sent and received letters. In doing so we will learn a few bits about ourselves that will aid us in communicating with meaning, and also reveal what we have lost over the past three decades of e-talk — the personal touch.
There are invisible, internal benefits received from writing and receiving letters. In the days of communication through handwritten and hand-delivered mail there was anticipation by both parties. The anticipation caused both to think of, and perhaps long for the other. As the recipient sorted the mail, anticipation would build: What would be said? How would it be said? As the letter was read, emotions were engaged and the mind skated about freely. Throughout the reading, and even more so afterward, the words were pondered, thoughts distilled, meaning was extracted, a response simmered, and a reply was composed. As the reply was sealed, stamped, and sent away something of meaning had happened. Two people had related in a way that strengthened their bond. Instant communication assassinates this process.
It sounds delightful; it was, and it still can be. Give it a try. A priceless benefit of writing to someone is that handwritten notes can be kept. Kept, and read again, savored over and over. Countless letters and cards have been treasured long after the sender has gone or passed away.
Now apply this to the letters in the New Testament. A whole “other” meaning is added. The letters are from God. As such they carry his eternal truth, and presence. It would be remarkable to have observed the early believers as they held their breath, huddled, and soaked in the words penned by the beloved apostles. I must admit that it sounds fantastical. It was. It still can be. You have the letters of God, read them, bathe in them, reflect on them. Recover the wonder of His written Word that is both eternal and personal. Then, do something with it — take a moment, pray for someone dear to you, and write a letter to him or her. Tell them about what you read in God’s Word, how they came to mind, and that you prayed for them. It will be good for you and the recipient. Letters work like that. By design, God’s design…
Oops, it’s time to go check the mail, again.