The Lost Art of Letter Writing

In a generation in which we have become accustomed to communicating with 140 characters or less, the art of writing personal letters has become almost extinct.  This is a sad and unnecessary consequence of modern technology.

I was reminded of this today while watching an ESPN feature on Austin Box.  Box was a linebacker for the Oklahoma Sooners from Enid, OK.  He unexpectedly died this year.  His family, teammates and fans have sorely missed him.  In the ESPN story, mention of made of a tradition between Box and his father.  Before each football game during his school days in Enid and in Norman, the elder Box would pen a letter to his son.  He would write about football and more importantly about life.  These letters obviously mattered to Austin since he kept all of them.  During this football season, Mr. Box has chosen to read again the letters in lieu of being able to write new ones.  His own letters have provided strength to this father.

Years ago a young college woman was soon to be wed.  She wrote to her Presbyterian pastor father asking for advice on making a marriage that would endure and bring joy.  Charles Shedd wrote his daughter a series of letters giving his insights into the subject.  These letters were compiled into a book, Dear Karen, and decades later still sells well.

As a graduate student in the field of history, one of my favorite research projects was to read the correspondence from historical figures.  They wrote to those close to them and exposed their affections.  They wrote to their enemies and demonstrated their courage.  They wrote to their followers and provided instruction.  Formal positions and personal feelings could be garnered by studying these documents.

Most of the books in our New Testament, we call epistles.  An epistle was a letter.  We still read and memorize these letters of life.

At times I have been brought to tears reading a personal letter sent to me.  Some of my most cherished memories are the letters from my wife and from my mother.  During my period of life crisis, I was challenged, encouraged and deeply moved by letters delivered into my mail box.  As recently as a few weeks ago, I received a letter that I read and reread with tears in my eyes.  The words before me forever sealed a bond between me and the author.

When did you last write a meaningful letter?  Well, that’s too long (those of you with some years on you may recall a chili commercial from which I just lifted that line).  Why not ask the Lord to impress on your heart somebody to whom you could write a letter.

In a follow up article, I will offer some bits of advice on stoking this practice of letter writing.

In the comments section, please identify somebody (by name or relation) who has written a meaningful letter to you.  As a bonus tell us why it was meaningful.