The Power of a Letter Over Email

I was a teenager when my grandma showed my dad some things of my grandpa’s she had found. I remember looking through the little box with my dad and grandma years after my grandpa passed away.

We read letters from his dad — my great-grandfather — that had been written while my grandpa was in college. We grinned at great-grandpa’s teasing about grades and girls, hints of a personality we never knew. “I wish I had met him,” my grandma said. Both the writer and the recipient were gone, but those letters remained, a testament to their relationship and some of my history.

For the most part, the generations after us won’t have moments like that. Telephones and emails quickly took over the communication role once held by letters, and for many of us, texting has now replaced all of the above. In our future, we won’t have our texts unless we do that phone transfer thing every time we upgrade.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m grateful for the ease and convenience of emailing and texting, and I’m really glad we don’t have to wait weeks (or longer) for a reply like they did generations ago.  There are a lot of communication needs that are solved by the quick convenience of digital communication, and questions like, “Do you need anything at the store?” will never be helpfully answered by a letter. But I hope we haven’t completely lost letter-writing.

The value of a letter

When I was the newcomer in our church youth group, I idolized one of the older girls. She left for college soon after I joined the group, but a couple weeks later, her mom gave me a letter her daughter had written to me. I was blown away, and I carried that letter in my Bible for years. I’m pretty sure I still have it.

Texting and emails just can’t do that. When we put time and effort into our communication, it becomes more valuable. A thoughtful question or well-crafted paragraph packs more of a punch than a text that takes much less effort.

When texting, we are juggling a host of distractions like other notifications, the video we were watching before the text, or something else we just remembered we should look up online before we forget again. Our multitasking skills don’t make for stronger communication. In contrast, a letter calls for our full attention.

What to write?

Writing a letter takes more thought and mental energy than most texts, but here are a few simple tips.

Pick a recipient.

Who are you writing to? A friend? Family member? Sponsored child? I saw a Facebook post where an assisted living center was asking for pen pals for some of their elderly residents, and some churches and organizations have options for writing missionaries, military service members, or men and women in prison.

Keep it simple.

Don’t think your letter has to be too long or impressive — it can even be a note. Aim for an encouraging, uplifting tone. This isn’t the place for a hard or heavy conversation. Share something that has happened in your life recently or something you’ve enjoyed. Tell the recipient something you appreciate about them or have learned from them, and include a story of how they have encouraged you if you have one.

Ask a question, but not too many.

Show interest in who you are writing to, but we don’t want them to feel like they’re being interrogated, either. Ask about something you talked about last time you were together — maybe something they had mentioned was difficult, or a goal they had set.

Keep letter-writing supplies close together.

Unlike texting which only requires a phone, letters need pens, paper, envelopes and stamps to come to life. Keep everything in the same place so you can write a letter without driving to the post office to buy a stamp.

Just try it.

Letters will never again be society’s main mode of communication, and letter-writing doesn’t have to be something you do all the time. But I guarantee you that someone will be encouraged by the words you share with them if you choose to try it and send a letter.

Make someone’s day

Loneliness has probably always been a common problem, but isolation brought on by recent events makes loneliness even more prevalent. When we can’t be together, let’s share encouragement and hope by intentionally reaching out to others.

Sometimes texting is perfect for the occasion. Sometimes, a phone call would be better. But sometimes, you just can’t beat a personal, handwritten letter.

Lauren Dunn

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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