Saturday, June 12, 2010

Agape letters

Who knows what an agape letter is? You do if you have been on a Walk to Emmaus or ACTS retreat. If you are familiar with the Greek word “agape,” then you can guess what such a letter would be. It is the deepest and most compassionate expression of positive regard (love) toward someone, put in a letter. It could be to your closest friend. Could be a mere acquaintance. Or (this is the biggest challenge) a close family member. Could be your boss, your coworker, the widow who goes to your church, or the person who fixes your lawn mower.
You should be able to write an agape letter to anyone, even someone you do not get along with. Even someone who is an enemy. The letter would be absent of barbs, of revenge, of hidden agendas. If you can’t visualize doing such a thing, might I suggest an attitude adjustment. I guess it could be really short: “I’m praying for you!”
Maybe not everyone feels comfortable with a written format, so you can also deliver an agape letter verbally. You would need to be prepared, and I think it would be so much tougher to do it face-to-face. But one way or another, it’s important to let the most special people in your life know just how important they are to you. You never know how much time you will have with them: “This very day, your life may be demanded of you!” I say this, not having written a letter to my father, sister, or children yet. Or at least, not the end-all letter that I could point to and say, “done.”
I have heard that Jews have a concept of a will that is not financial. Aargh, I can’t look up what it is called, but perhaps it’s a “legacy will” -- the spiritual values they wish to pass along to their descendants. Isn’t it strange that we know we need a financial will, but we overlook the far more important thing, what legacy we leave?
I have been blessed to receive many agape letters in my life, not just from the Walk to Emmaus (and those, I will keep forever, no matter how much other decluttering I may do). I have received several agape letters recently, because it dawned on me that there is another form of letter that really is an agape letter, just dressed differently. That form, I will share with you at a later date when it is more convenient to do so, if I remember.
Such a letter describes two things: the personality of the sender, and the perceived attributes of the recipient. It is the intersection of two souls, and it results in a curious meld that is unique to that relationship. So, I always knew that each person was a unique creation, just like a fingerprint – no two alike. But consider the possible permutations and combinations when you start scrambling people into relationships and families and communities. It results in an exponential multiplication of uniqueness, even while we share the vast majority of everything in common.
Interaction with others changes us and makes us a new creation. Some people are a force for positive change and bring out the best in others, or seek to. Others seem to thrive on chaos, drama, and confusion, and either deliberately or not, cause those results in their relationships. Most of us are dappled things, and our interactions with others are unpredictable. Some relationships make people better, others don’t, and it is somewhat of a mystery why. Longtime friendships usually have good, bad, and downright ugly memories. This is most true of relationships with our parents, our siblings, our spouses, and our children.
The agape letters I have received are so descriptive of the senders that it’s almost incidental that the recipient in each case was the same person, me. If you put them together, it’s not at all obvious that they are addressed to one person. It struck me what a wonderful blessing each of these people has been in my life, and how their words of encouragement sustain me, even (in some cases) years after we last saw one another on a regular basis.
I want you to think about that in your own life. You know that you have a lot of influence with close relatives and friends. At least, I hope you know! –  But did you realize that your influence is pervasive, widespread, and stretches back through your entire lifetime? You are leaving an enormous wake that just keeps rippling outward! (kinda like a carbon footprint – that, too.) I know it often does not seem to be the case, but life is tricky that way. I believe that you can alter even a lifetime of bad choices – it is never too late – and that a huge magnitude of change in the right direction produces an equally impressive effect on others. This is one lesson of the prodigal son.
People you knew years ago may still be greatly influenced by something you said or did to them. I have an example from college. I knew a girl named Susie, barely knew her. We were walking together on campus one day and I popped a stick of gum in my mouth and tossed the wrapper to the wind. Gasp, choke! I used to litter?? My kids would swoon if they found out.
One big reason I stopped is the response she had. She stopped and gave me a tongue-lashing for what I had just done! One that I have never forgotten, obviously. It was not pleasant at all. I was trying to defend myself, and later realized that my action was indefensible. (That’s never something you are willing to admit at the moment you’re confronted.) I simply had never given it much thought before.
Of course, you know I am not advocating that we all get in each other’s faces about what we think is wrong with everybody else. Sometimes that approach works, if you’ve got that kind of personality. I don’t.
Part of living intentionally, and wisely, is to be more aware of the way we influence everyone we meet in every detail of daily life. The influence we exert on others is powerful beyond our wildest dreams, and with that power comes great responsibility. So go forth and do some good now! There is a hurting, needy world out there that desperately needs your special brand of TLC.

This post from another blog I am following speaks about showing compassion for others by asking for their best: "Idiot Compassion"

P.S. The Internet is down again, about four days after the big storms, so I am forced to write in Word and then post to my blog later. I’ve done it before, but it always has a different feel than blogging live. I don’t like it. Also, copying and pasting the text always brings with it some bizarre HTML characters and I have to somehow remove those. I haven’t figured out how to paste text-only for my blog. I don’t think my blog site is the best. Either it’s not user-friendly, or it just doesn’t do a bunch of stuff I want to do. I suppose I need to learn HTML programming. *Sigh*


  1. This is my 100th post! By the way, the Internet was down because hubby had unplugged one of the router boxes. :)

  2. Happy 100! I hope I have "agaped" you.


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