Friday, May 8, 2015

The Lost Art of a Letter



Unless you’re Amish (and if you are let me just say your beard is the envy of many of us bearded folk) social media, texting, and email are virtually a necessity in life.  A day hardly goes by without me sending or receiving a text message or posting something via social media.  But, I am just old enough to remember a time without texting.  I remember life before Facebook.  I remember a time when the term “tweeting” could have been used for going to the bathroom.  I remember life before email and the Internet. 

If you are 25 years old or younger, this may seem like a completely foreign concept to you, but there was actually a time when people would exchange home addresses instead of cell phone numbers and … get this … would write actual letters to each other ... with a PEN!  I remember going to camps or conferences as a middle and high school student, meeting new people, and, at the end of the week, have a notebook full of addresses that would allow me to write letters to my new friends in order to stay in touch.  The mailman used to be my favorite person in the world!  Now he or she just brings me bills to pay.  But, in the distant past, the mailman would bring me letters.  I still remember the excitement of going to the mailbox and finding a letter with my name on it.  In my eyes, a letter was more than simply a way to stay in touch with someone.  A letter was a true investment of time.  Writing a letter meant that someone was thinking of me so much that they were willing to take the time to get out some paper, to grab a pen and then sit down for an extended period of time and write, well, to me!  And, letter writing is no easy task.  It takes time.  It takes effort.  It’s more than 160 characters.  I remember receiving some letters that were 10, 15, or 20 pages long!  I can honestly say that I was thankful for every letter that I received simply because it meant that someone was thinking of me enough that they were willing to set aside an extended period of time to write something to me. 

Maybe that is why I still write letters.  I feel it’s more than simply being a little old-fashioned.  I believe a letter is an investment in the person it’s written too.  Everybody receives a text.  Everybody receives a Facebook message, or a post on his or her wall, or a tweet.  Everybody gets tagged on Instagram.  But, in my opinion, a hand-written letter is a lost art and when received, it stands out.  These days a letter is the “Purple Cow” that Seth Godin so eloquently writes about in his book.  Because few people truly write letters these days, any letter received can really stand out and be used in powerful ways. 

I can look back at several examples of the power of a hand-written letter in my life.  The very first example I can remember was in 1986.  I had just attended a youth conference in Bemidji, MN.  I was a freshman in high school at the time, very insecure, very unsure of myself.  I remember having so much fun at the conference.  I loved traveling nearly 20 hours with friends to get there.  I have so many good memories from the week, but what stands out to me the most from that year is my counselor named Scott.  I had never met him before and have never seen him since.  But, he really poured in to my life at that conference.  About a month after being home from the conference, I received a letter from him in the mail.  In it he said something that he also talked to me about at the conference.  He said he noticed something in me ... a heart for God and a heart to serve.  He said he felt like God had big things in store for me and that I was given some special gifts.  He reminded me that Jesus said to whom much is given, much will be required and he encouraged me to let God lead my life and use the gifts He's given to me.  Even though that was over 20 years ago I still have that letter somewhere.  (If you’ve seen my office, you’d understand).  No one had ever said anything like that to me before and it was the very first time the thought was placed in my mind that God could possibly use me in ministry.

Proverbs 12:25 says “Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up.” (NLT) I'm not sure why I felt led to share this post, but if you're reading it, maybe it's your time to write that "encouraging" letter to someone in your life or to someone who needs to be cheered on or cheered up.  Stamps are a little expensive these days, but using one to write a letter could be one of the best investments you make in to the life of someone else.

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