Why we need to take back the life-giving art of letter writing

In a day and age where instant messaging has become the norm, letter writing has grown rather obsolete. While there is nothing inherently wrong with today’s form of communication, the permanence of a letter, as opposed to the often-instantly-deleted-text, provides three valuable opportunities: to reflect on your own thoughts from a season in your past, to consider a perspective of the world you would not otherwise know, and to gain truth from another person speaking into your life with love.

Our own experiences

First, reading back over letters I have written in past seasons has positively shaped how I approach my life today. I was engaged to my now husband, Nathan, for most of last year during the pandemic. To help work through those trying times, I wrote a letter to God each day of my engagement about what I was feeling and experiencing. A year later, now married, I have been reading back over those very letters. Here are a few excerpts of the most meaningful.

May 30, 2020
Dear God,
I am coming to see how togetherness exists even in just sharing the same space with the one I love. Thank you for these simple moments with Nathan, Father, of just sitting together, being in each other’s presence. Amen.

June 29, 2020
Dear God,
Today was a beautiful day. I spent the whole time in Nathan’s company and I felt gladness in my heart being able to just be myself with him. I long for the day when we can spend every day together, but I pray for endurance and patience in the waiting. You are my God, and in you I put all my trust. Amen.

July 12, 2020
Dear God,Today was a meh sort of day. I really didn’t feel connected today in Nathan and I’s conversations and it was as if we didn’t understand one another at all. Help our communication, Lord, and grant us the grace to speak well to one another. Amen.

This first letter speaks to the memory of how lovely it was being in one other’s presence during our engagement. Reading over the letter now brings a smile to my face and helps me on days when I feel annoyed or tired with my husband. Similarly, reading back over my feelings of impatience through the season of engagement helps me now with endurance when there is something in our marriage that I must be patient with. Recalling how we struggled with and worked through communication conflicts while engaged gives me confidence today to continue talking through challenges in our marriage. It can be easy to forget how we felt or made it through seasons in the past, but letters can serve as helpful motivators and reminders, aiding us now in the present circumstances of life.

Learning from others

Letters can also give unique insight into parts of life otherwise unknown to us. In the final months of our engagement, I turned 22 years old. For my birthday, my mother gave me a stack of letters, ones she had written on each birthday since I was born. As I read through those 22 letters, I was incredibly moved by her reflections on being a mom in the early years, her hopes and dreams for me as I grew, and her pride as my personality and interests began to emerge. Seeing my upbringing through her eyes gave me valuable glimpses into the world of motherhood — a perspective of life I have yet to know for myself. This new knowledge has helped me to better appreciate my childhood and of the role of a mother.

Perspectives from Scripture

In the Bible, the epistles (which are referred to as letters) make up the majority of the New Testament books. A few weeks ago in the Bible study I attend, I experienced firsthand the impact of a truthful letter spoken into another’s life with love when we began reading from the letter to the Hebrews. This letter has also been called “a message of encouragement.”

The author is writing to the discouraged Hebrews — a Jewish people who are weighed down by the persecution and judgment from those who are criticizing them for their newfound faith as Christians. The letter encourages the people to remain steadfast in the Faith by speaking to the new priesthood and eternal kingdom found through Jesus. The author invites the Hebrews to consider how this new priesthood is not replacing their old faith so much as fulfilling what the high priests of the past could accomplish only in part, for having to atone for their own sins also along with the peoples. Now, Jesus has brought to fullness everything they as Jewish people had hoped and prepared for in serving as “the mediator of a new covenant” (Heb 12:24). The author helps them see how their new identity as Christians is not replacing their Jewish way of life so much as bringing it into greater fullness.

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While reading this letter, I felt it had been written for me as I reflected on the new transitions I had recently faced in my own life: leaving home, getting married, and feeling, at times, that it was all more overwhelming than I had initially thought. But reading this letter, I began to see how in place of being weighed down, I could embrace greater fulfillment in all of the ways my new home and marriage could point me closer to Jesus.

At the end of the letter, the author encourages the fledgling Christian Hebrews with these words: “Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb 13:7-8). These words, written so many years ago, still ring true today. No matter what new ways of life we may find ourselves in, we can find confident encouragement in running the race of faith with Jesus as our surest hope.

Life is busy, but as we begin to enter the holiday season, I would encourage you to spend some time with letters: be it the letters in Scripture, writing a letter to God or yourself that you can reflect back on and learn from in the future, or by writing a letter to someone important to you. May your writing experience be life-giving to the soul.

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