The ministry of letter writing can be vital and life-giving to those who are hurting, grieving, recovering, homebound, lonely, ill, depressed, or isolated. This ministry embraces intentionality – a purposeful slowing down – as we write, sharing news, encouragement, love, inspiration, experience, and sometimes hard-won wisdom.
Our words can be a glimmer of hope to someone who is hurting.
A handwritten letter is so much more than hope to the one who receives it. It is also a life-nourishing gift to the writer. Studies show that putting pen to paper:
- builds our motor memory
- increases our brain development and cognition
- makes our physical wounds heal faster
- keeps us focused on the present moment
- improves our sleep
- elevates our mood
- decreases our stress and depression
- increases our creativity and critical thinking
- improves our overall well being
Letter writing engages our senses creating a slowed and unique pocket of time for thoughts, dreams, hopes and memories to find their way from heart to pen to page.
“Letters are among the most significant memorial a person can leave behind them.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Letters are some of the most influential and treasured historical documents we have. Much of the New Testament is filled with the letters Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth, Rome, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae and Thessalonica, and his personal letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon. Other treasured historical letters include those written between US President, John Adams, and his wife, Abigail, Einstein’s famous letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s widely read, Letter from Birmingham Jail.
Personal letters can instantly bring back favorite family memories. One of my earliest letters was just six short, simple words cuing my Grandfather in on elaborate prank by his middle daughter, my beloved Aunt Barb. Each evening, my aunt would climb a tree in the small woods just outside my grandparents’ front windows and move a surprisingly life-like stuffed owl to a different perch in a different tree. Each morning, my Grandfather would rise, pick up his binoculars, and eagerly search for this mysterious migrating owl. This continued for days until I could contain the secret no longer and wrote a simple letter to my grandfather, “Pampaw, it’s a fake. Love Cindee.”
We might have remembered my aunt’s elaborate rouse without that letter. Yet those six, simple words instantly takes us all back to another time and place. Personal letters preserve unique moments of our history and echo the voices of our loved ones. The letters are touchstones, a reminder we can hold in our hands as we read and remember.
C.S. Lewis wrote thousands of letters in his lifetime. Many offered advice and encouragement to writers who would go on to become renowned authors themselves: Arthur C. Clarke, J.R.R. Tolkien, Joy Davidman, and Roger Lanceyln Green.
Five of the apostles, Peter, Paul, James, John, and Jude, fishermen, commoners and simple men of faith, filled the New Testament with letters that not only nourished and sustained early followers of Jesus, but continue to nurture and influence believers today.
League of the Golden Pen
Small confession: The first time I read the name, League of the Golden Pen, I fell in love. What an amazing, mysterious, and enchanting name for an inspired group of letter writers! J. R. Miller, author of the book, Intimate Letters on Personal Problems, which was published in 1914, wrote this about the League:
“Have you seen the account of the League of the Golden Pen? It is…a league which a person makes with himself and his fellow members, promising to write at least one letter every month to some person who needs cheer and comfort, strength and help.
“…No one knows the full value of…letters written to sick people, to those in sorrow, to those in special joy, to those who are discouraged or depressed, to those who need guidance and counsel.
“…Go on, my dear friend, in your ministry of letter-writing, and let Christ use your pen in this way for his service. God has given you a big heart — a great fountain of love and sympathy and cheer. Let the streams pour out continually in all directions, to bless the world. Hundreds and thousands of people need encouragement and uplifting. You will scarcely meet one man or one woman…whom you cannot make a little stronger or braver — by saying the right word.”
Letter writing can be a ministry of God’s love poured out into a lonely and hurting world. And letter writing can be therapeutic. Putting pen to paper can help us discover a bigger picture, a new perspective, a clearer truth. Writing letters can’t help but remind us of the many, many blessings in our lives.
It’s the Content that Matters
Letter writing can take place whenever and wherever we happen to be – day or night, seated at a desk, sitting in a chair, at the kitchen table, propped in bed, even while seemingly forever on hold. We can write pen to paper, pencil to notecard, fingers to keys, words on an image – any instrument on any surface at any time – because it’s the content that matters – the gift of your time, the words of your heart, the reminder that whoever receives it matters, that they are loved, cared about, precious, and seen.
When my children were young, we turned early handwriting practice into letters for those in our church who were homebound, in nursing homes, ill, recovering, grieving, or feeling alone. Some of those letters led to relationships that lasted for years. My daughter Anna wrote to widower who had grown bitter toward church. Slowly a friendship sprouted and flourished for years. Anna’s beloved “Paga” somehow found peace with God and the church through their weekly letters.
When we are willing, God can work miracles through the offering of our words.
By now you might be wondering, Where do I begin?
The very best place to begin is prayer, for we who follow Jesus, are “a letter from Christ…written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tables of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:3 NIV)
Ask God who needs encouragement today, who needs to know they matter, who needs to know they are not alone, who needs to know someone is cheering them on, who needs the courage to hang on a little bit longer. Then when He prompts, pick up your pen and write the words on your heart.
Virginia Woolf wrote, “You have a touch in letter writing that is beyond me. Something unexpected, like coming round a corner in a rose garden and finding it still daylight.”
You have something to say! I have something to say, because we, together as the Body of Christ, are His His letters, written by His Spirit. And that is all the qualification we need.
For some inspirational ideas, start here: #PenToPaper
“Letter writing is the only device combining solitude with good company.”
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Cindee Snider Re
Author and Co-Founder at Chronic Joy Ministry, Inc.
Cindee is a wife of 28 years to the man she loves most in this world, mama of five world-shaking creatives (18-27), author of Discovering Hope, Finding Purpose, Embracing Worth and I Take You in Sickness and in Health, photographer, craver of quiet, lover of cotton, denim, Jesus and tea, and co-founder of Chronic Joy®. Cindee and four of her five kids have Ehlers-Danlos, dysautonomia, intractable migraine, and myriad co-existing conditions, through which they're learning the deeper the valley, the greater their capacity for joy.