By: Mark Mitchell, BASOM Executive Director
When was the last time you wrote a letter, I mean a real letter? When was the last time you received one? I still write an occasional thank you note in longhand, but it’s been a while since I received an actual letter or sat down to write one.
I’m currently teaching a class on Biblical Interpretation. In this class, we examine all the different kinds of Biblical literature (genre), which includes what we call “epistles.” Epistles are simply letters. They make up about 35% of the New Testament and were written by the disciples of Jesus, after his resurrection, to instruct and encourage churches and individuals in their faith. I cannot imagine life without these letters!
One thing about letters is they preserve the past–you can keep them. Letters are often found years after being lost in dusty boxes and dark basements. Years ago I published a biography on Ray Stedman called, Portrait of Integrity. I quoted from a decades old, crackly letter Ray wrote to his future wife, Elaine, while serving overseas in the Navy:
“Do you mind if I write to you?” he wrote. “I know that the last time I saw you or heard from you was over two years ago, but, if I remember correctly, I owed you a letter then-so here it is. Besides, out here sometimes I get lonesome and would like someone to talk to. I hope you don’t mind.”
Apart from that letter, we might have never known the lonesome and tender hearted Ray.
Maybe it is rare these days for us to write letters because it takes time, and it can be hard work. Most of our communication today happens through technology: email, text, social media, cell phone, etc. I think we’ve lost some important things in all of this including the ability to express our ourselves carefully and intelligently, something to hold in our hands that is real and personal (just for me), as well as a physical record of our own communications for future generations to enjoy and learn from. Oh, and the skill of penmanship as well!
A letter is a concrete way to say, I hear you, I see you, I care about you. I once wrote a letter to the well-known author, Eugene Peterson. For months I waited for his response. Finally, I gave up hoping. Then I happened to meet a friend of his and mentioned to her that I had written a letter to Eugene with no response. She seemed surprised because this wasn’t like him. A few weeks later I received a letter from Eugene in which he apologized and explained he had lost the envelope with my return address on it. He had actually kept my letter on his desk praying that the Lord might eventually reveal my address. When his friend told him of our meeting, he sent off a hand written letter that I cherish to this day!
There’s something special about receiving a real letter in the actual mail. I challenge you to sit down and write one with a real pen (get a really good one) and a real piece of paper. I bet it will do you and someone you care about some good. Fifty years from now, maybe someone will even find your letter in an old, dusty box and read it. If it will make you feel better, you can still sign off with an LOL.