When letters arrive with no return address on the envelope, my immediate assumption is almost always correct: Someone has written a scathing piece of hate mail and does not have the courage to allow a response to that hate.
But then there are other times when things are radically different, and I end up so very glad to have opened the mail. Such was the case this past week when a letter arrived from Chattanooga from a reader of my recent column on "The 'Secret' to Spiritual Success."
The sweet writer of the letter, Janette, is almost 80 years old and not able to get to church much anymore. She wrote, "I enjoy your columns." And then, in words sure to put a smile on any preacher's face, "I like to read five chapters in Psalms every day, one chapter in Proverbs, a few chapters in the Old Testament and a few chapters in the New Testament."
Wow. What a pattern for everyone to follow!
She told me about her sweet family, then gave me several prayer requests concerning people battling serious illnesses. I immediately stopped what I was doing and bowed and prayed for them all and have continued to do so in the days that have followed.
But what really put a smile on my face, and yet at the same time let me know I needed to mention all this in a column, was the postscript at the end of the letter. She explained that the reason she did not include her address was that she knew how very busy I must be and did not want me to feel like I needed to take the time to write and send her a response.
And so I am now doing the oddest thing, something it never occurred to me that I would one day do: writing a letter here in the column to this dear lady and to everyone else who wonders whether or not I have the time to answer, no matter where you read me or where you are from.
Dear Janette, thank you so much for your kind letter! I save each and every one of them that people write to me. When I was just a little boy, my mother had a large wooden toy box built for me. I kept that box, and now it is beside my desk in my church office. These days, though, it does not have toys in it. I call it my Treasure Box, and I save very precious things in it, namely the letters people write to me, the cards I am given and the pictures children draw for me. It is pretty cool to see those pictures actually look more and more like me as the little church kids grow from scrawling crayon stick figure ages to much more detailed artwork. I am saving your letter in that box along with my other paper treasures.
I very much appreciate your thoughtfulness in trying to let me know that I did not need to take the time to respond to your letter. What a sweet thing to do! I hope you are not too shocked by my response here in the paper; I just wanted to let you know how much your letter meant to me. I also wanted you and any other readers to know that I read each response that comes in by letter or email (with the exception of a few rather unpleasant provocateurs whose emails I have set to go straight to spam) and enjoy responding to each and every one of them.
Busy? Oh yes, I certainly am. My column appears in a great many papers in several states now, so I do get a considerable amount of mail. That, added to being a full-time pastor, preaching evangelistic meetings far and wide, writing books and being the all-around maintenance man for our church keeps me hopping. But Christ was busy too, and he set a pattern that I try to follow, taking as much time as was needed to speak directly to individuals. The same Jesus who fed multitudes also spoke one-on-one with adults, took children up in his arms and somehow still had time to do everything he needed to do.
A little girl came onto the church platform yesterday right in the middle of evening worship, just to show me that she could blow a bubble gum bubble. I admired the bubble, hugged her and sent her on her way. It was the coolest moment of my day, and I suspect Jesus would have done the same.
I hope to hear from you again, and I assure you, if you choose to include your address, I will write you back.
Bo Wagner is pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mooresboro, North Carolina, a widely traveled evangelist and the author of several books available on Amazon and at www.wordofhismouth.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.