When my parents were teaching me the value of getting to know an individual for who he or she was, they also opened the door to something that seems to have gotten lost in these days of instant communication – writing letters.
Writing letters became a pleasure and adventure for me. Two persons became significant to me as a result of letter writing. One was a great aunt who lived over a thousand miles away from me by the time my letter writing was becoming a habit. Without the blessing of a living grandmother, getting to know this great aunt through our letters was a treasured gift to me. It wasn’t until after she died just before I graduated from high school that I learned from her daughter how much of a gift it had been to my great aunt.
I knew one other individual through letter writing as a “pen pal”. Her home was in the Philippine Islands and she was near my age. We had a grand time of sharing about our experiences of growing up in two very different cultures throughout childhood and into our teen years. The big surprise for me was when she came to the United States to go to college and made a trip to our area to finally meet me in person.
Skype, FaceTime, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and more have replaced letter writing as a means of connection now. I confess I use these as well, but they really don’t compare to writing a letter or a series of letters. Letters allow you to consider and share more information at potentially a deeper level. They also allow you to reread and enjoy them many times over.
How touched so many of us were to hear the words written in letters between President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush in recent days following Mrs. Bush’s death.
Many of us could learn the value of thinking about what we want to say and share as we write versus a quick (and sometimes thoughtless) smattering of words that allow for only a glimpse of all we might think or feel that can open a world of potential misunderstanding.
How can we develop rapport and come to appreciate what connects us when a short burst of words expressing a passionate opinion gets quickly posted with no thought about how it will be read or understood, whether it will offend or bless, and whether it will divide or connect?
Those short bursts of words can reveal more about what thoughts are guiding us and what emotions are ruling our hearts than we even take a moment to consider. Too often they seem to divide.
I love Paul’s words to address these issues in Philippians 4:8 (ESV):
“Brothers and sisters, continue to think about what is good and worthy of praise. Think about what is true and honorable and right and pure and beautiful and respected.”
We all have opinions. Those opinions are also subject to change and do not seem to fit the category Paul suggests in this verse. For those reasons, I am challenged to consider what opinions I share in instant communication and whether they will divide or connect.
In the new book, Unified, Tim Scott observed an important truth for us all to remember:
“It’s common in our society to classify people by perceived categories – liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, believer or nonbeliever, Northerner or Southerner – and to categorize those groups according to a short list of presumed characteristics that make it easy for us to minimize, attack, or altogether dismiss the group as a whole. But a group is never monolithic; it is always an amalgam of individuals and individual relationships. People don’t listen, speak, or respond as a group; they respond as individuals. We may see the crowd, but a crowd is simply a collection of individuals gathered in the same place. Likewise, we don’t have relationships with groups; we have relationships with individuals.”
Sure…individuals are often in groups that have some central qualities, interests, or values, but to assign all of those things in type and degree to each individual in the group opens the door to many misconceptions and leads to building the walls that we seem to be too intent on building.
We all get caught in the trap of viewing others or even an individual through the prism of past relationships. When we do that we can start to attribute a great many things to the group or person that can be faulty. Nonetheless, we easily cling to these things as if they were objective facts and truth. This sets the foundation for prejudices and biases in all forms.
Jesus came so that we could be reconciled to God when we accepted Him. He also wants us to be reconciled to one another. His words address that on more than one occasion. Listen to how He speaks in John 13:34-35 (NIV):
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Living this out means thinking the best of each other and giving each other the benefit of the doubt. It means laying aside our tendency to judge and often judge “a book by its cover.”
If we shrug off that truth, we participate in widening the division that is tearing at the fabric of our churches, communities, and nations. We also can come perilously close to identifying with those in Israel at the end of the book of Judges in the Old Testament:
“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Judges 21:25 (ESV)
“Reconciliation requires relationship, and relationship requires fairness and self-awareness. “ Tim Scott