A few years ago, Bill and Bonnie’s annual Christmas letter had arrived early in December. I was always blessed to hear from these dear friends who had moved from Ohio after retiring. Bonnie had been a treasured friend and mentor while we served together in ministry. But it WAS Advent, the holiday season, and I was busily immersed in all of my preparations for Christmas. I read the first few lines Bill had written, describing fun trips and family times together. Then I set the letter aside to be read more thoroughly at a later, “less busy” time.
Imagine our shock a few weeks later when my husband, Jim, learned that Bonnie had died. I immediately went through the pile of Christmas mail to find their letter. Sadly, I read Bill’s last few paragraphs, written to inform us of Bonnie’s cancer and that she was not expected to live. They had one simple request: Bonnie would be “nesting” in their den, and we could help “feather” her nest with cards and notes to help provide comfort during her last earthly days. I was deeply grieved that I had not taken the time to read the whole letter, and to be able to bless her in this small way. There were so many reasons I was thankful for her life, her friendship. Before moving away, Bonnie had introduced me to a deeper spirituality, a different way to live my faith. She had changed my life so significantly.
Even though I truly regret missing this opportunity to bless her, I know that Bonnie would not want me to be sad. Bonnie did know how much she meant to me and to so many others. But I think Bonnie would be blessed to know that this experience has shown me just how important it is to “read beyond the first few lines.”
In our daily conversations we often begin with the casual, surface-level news in our lives. We share greetings and other pleasantries, then go our different ways, perhaps believing we will catch up at a later time. But if we can take a few moments for additional listening, sharing and observing, we strengthen our relationships by knowing and understanding the other person better. When we read further into the story or even “between the lines” we are more apt to really discover that person’s needs, blessings, dreams and concerns. We get to the heart of the conversation; what is held within his or her heart. In doing so we may even learn of ways we might help or bless that friend.
This also is true of our prayer time, isn’t it? How often do we simply share our daily news and concerns, our lists of requests, and then say, “Amen”? How often do we take the time to truly listen, to ask the deeper questions, to have more meaningful conversations with God? We need to go beyond those first few lines in order to get to the heart of our conversation. As we take extra time in our conversations with God, we might learn to see more deeply into what God is saying to us; what God is really asking of us. Even if it may only be a simple nudge to read someone’s letter.