10 Ways to Write a Meaningful Card

My mother was a champion letter and card writer. She never missed a birthday, anniversary, or holiday. She wrote me frequently and at length.

After Lillian Groothuis died in 2010, I began writing cards and letters more frequently. I did not write enough cards or letters o my mother or grandmother Groothuis, who was also an admirable correspondent.  Now I write many souls frequently, some of whom I don’t know or barely know. Some are in my inner circle of correspondence.

After writing a dear friend’s father, I learned that he read my card to his daughter over the phone and remarked that I should write a book on how to write a short, but meaningful card. I don’t think I could write a whole book on it, but here are a few notions on that theme.

  1. Writing cards is a way to re-humanize a de-humanized culture. Too much is too automatic and impersonal. When you pen (and I mean pen) a card, it bears the mark of you—your handwriting, your choice of ink and pen. A human, you, emerges from the think lagoon of the pre-set, the template, the standard.
  2. I often pray, “Lord, who needs a card?” God answers, and I write many cards to many people on many themes. Someone needs a card because she is lonely or suffering or both. Someone may need a card because they have a gift that is largely ignored. I write to commend them, to recognize another gift to man from God.
  3. I chose my cards carefully, using blank cards with interesting illustrations, such as dogs (always good) or modern art or many other depictions.
  4. I usually write when I have time to reflect on what I should write. I don’t usually dash them off. Too much is already dashed off in our hurry sickened world.
  5. I commiserate, thinking through the life of the one to whom I am writing. How can I speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) to another person made in God’s image and likeness? What do they need to hear? What might they hear from me that few others have told them?
  6. I reflect on how Scripture might speak to them. I may quote a verse from the Bible or write some thing like, See Ecclesiastes 9:11, or some other verse. I want biblical truth and wisdom to inform what I write. There is already enough bullshit out there.
  7. I often end with a biblical blessing, such as 2 Corinthians 13:14 or one improvised on biblical themes.
  8. I write cards of condolence as often as I can. This is an art. I endeavor to enter their sorry, to restate what they might be experiencing. I do not offer cheap consolation. I lament with one who has lost a friend or relation or who is suffering ill health.
  9. I often want to teach through my cards, so I recommend books to read.
  10. I often decorate my cards in sometimes silly ways. Jazz stickers are cool, as are insects. This adds a personal, and for me, a quirky touch.

Consider joining me in my effort to re-humanize the world through the simple, but soulful, act of writing cards and letters.


Gravity and Levity

Meaning demands wisdom and wisdom demands truth. Life is short and we need discernment to separate the wheat from the chaff, the ephemeral from the eternal. If our priorities are off, our lives will rot. The philosopher and scientist Blaise Pascal knew this:

Man’s sensitivity to the little things and insensitivity to the greatest are the signs of a strange disorder.

Before Pascal, Saint Augustine wrote of love’s disease. As fallen creatures, we too often make our love for God partial and our love of things total. We are flippant about eternity and serious about triviality. Why attend church when we could stay home and watch a football game? Why read the Bible when we can play video games? Why give to a pro-life organization when we can take another cruise?

To live a meaningful life of wisdom based on truth, we need to distinguish gravity from levity. In a way, all of life is grave, since it is lived before the face of God in the few years we are given under the sun. The Bible speaks in one voice on this. Moses writes:

Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12).

The Apostle Paul exhorts us:

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is (Ephesians 5:15-17).James writes:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15).

Life is suffused with divine meaning. We should learn seize the day in light of eternity. The wise separate gravity from levity.

By gravity, I mean the things of moment, of importance, of significance. When a deadly or debilitating disease hits a loved one, this is grave. When a corrupt and corrupting politician undermines the foundation of a great nation, this is grave. Even the humor that ridicules this travesty can be serious, and dictators hate humor used against them. As A.W. Tozer wrote in “The Use and Abuse of Humor”:

Dictators and fanatics have no sense of humor. Hitler never knew how funny he looked, nor did Mussolini know how ridiculous he sounded as he solemnly mouthed his bombastic phrases.

Consider Charles Chaplin’s masterpiece, “The Great Dictator” (1940). This film does not make light of political evil; it creatively derides it. We should watch it today and apply it as fitting.

By levity, I mean things of little concern. They are frivolous, trite. Someone recently told me she reads romance novels because they are light. None of them will win a Pulitzer Prize, nor will any of them be in print fifty years hence. Few will be reread. Perhaps a romance novel functions as a literary hot tub—it relaxes and poses no challenges. Levity bids one to read romance novels at the expense of the Bible or great literature or contemporary books. Levity embraces trivia as meaningful or at least as a preferred distraction.

While the best humor is intelligent and instructive, much humor is trivial or worse. As Tozer warned:

Humor is one thing, but frivolity is quite another. Cultivation of a spirit that can take nothing seriously is one of the great curses of society, and within the church it has worked to prevent much spiritual blessing that otherwise would have descended upon us. We have all met those people who will not be serious. They meet everything with a laugh and a funny remark. This is bad enough in the world, but positively intolerable among Christians.

The fall of humanity turns everything upside down. We errant mortals obsess on trivia and ignore tragedy; we fixate on the frivolous and forbid the serious. What can be done?

Holy Scripture is the antidote for the malady confusing gravity and levity. It gives us wisdom and sobriety in all things:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:12-13).

Consider the Jesus found in our four Gospels.

We know that the Son of Man dined and talked with the down and out. For this, he was accused of being a glutton and a drunk. He was neither. He was enjoying himself with others who needed to hear his teachings. There must have been laughter. Since Jesus was the perfect human, he had a jolting sense of humor. But his life lacked levity in the way I define it. Jesus was always doing his Father’s work. He knew when to laugh. He knew when to cry. As John wrote, “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:16). Hebrews tell us: “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

A prig cannot laugh. Stuffed shirts never burst their buttons in hilarity. There is a time to laugh. But there is no time to slough off what should be taken on. There is no time to push aside a cross we are meant to bear. And there is no time to take seriously what ought to be taken lightly.