Permanently Public

Dad's letterFrom my 2015 Journal. My father was a prolific letter writer, and I followed his example for many years, handwriting weekly missives to all my friends. On more than one occasion, someone has kept a letter I’ve sent and, long after I’d forgotten about it, shared it with me. It’s scary to think that something I said 40 to 50 years ago impacted someone so much that they kept it on file. Technology, meanwhile, has opened up a venue for exposing us like no other medium I know. I’m often surprised to see copies of letters or documents that were kept, photocopied, and posted online for the entire world to see. These become permanent records somewhere “out there” for future generations to mine through and discover.

Back in New Testament times, letters were carefully preserved and copied by hand, shared with several churches, and passed down through the generations. John the evangelist wrote a personal letter to “the elect lady” in II John and told her not to allow certain people into her home and not to give them encouragement or Godspeed. Typically, in the past, I’ve read the Scriptures as if every word were written to me. Thus, when I’d read this passage, I would try to figure out who in the world I shouldn’t “allow into my home.” That is an unhealthy exercise in futility! Since no husband is mentioned in this book, I assume John was giving her some advice about protecting herself and her faith.

The Word of God is inspired, and the Holy Spirit moved in men’s hearts, but sometimes men wrote out of their triggers, and most certainly out of their personalities. When I read the epistles as letters to a specific person or persons at a specific point in time, it feels like I’m peeking into someone’s private mailbag. I’m not sure I’d want some of my Facebook posts, letters, emails, or texts broadcast all over the world, published, and reprinted for future generations!

And then there’s that slanderous reference to Diotrephes.

I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not acknowledge us (III John 1:9 NET).

Yikes! How I would blush to see my name referred to like this in a public letter! Perhaps Diotrephes was too full of pride to care. But I wonder at the time if John had any inkling how permanent his words were to become.

I once wrote an angry letter to an organization with whom I still have a relationship. I regret that now. Did my letter get permanently filed under “Difficult People”? I have since learned my lesson: never respond in writing while I’m feeling triggered. Work through my emotions first and my tone will change.

How would my communication change if I knew my words were permanent?

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