From Pen to Prayer: How the Lost Art of Letter Writing Connects Me to God

Paper and pen set out on white table. Behind it is a few light pink flowers and a white cup of tea. At the back of the image is a white sheet or curtain draped upon a table.
Photo by Sixteen Miles Out on Unsplash

My friend Tanna lives in Louisiana. No, that’s not the start of a children’s nursery rhyme. I met Tanna back in high school when we both partook in an immersive sustainable farm program in Upstate New York. Together, we got up at the crack of dawn, milked cows, collected eggs, repaired fencing, and overall experienced the beauty and hardships of farm life. 

Though there were other girls in the program, Tanna and I “clicked.” We stayed friends, even visiting each other’s homes over the next summer and exchanging emails. After college, however, we kept in touch less often. Things got busy; life happened, as they say. A decade went by before we both desired to rekindle our old friendship more seriously. We connected through Facebook; Tanna sent me a direct message when she learned that the beloved farm where we met unfortunately closed during the pandemic. It was this loss of our shared idyllic memories that prompted us to rekindle our friendship. 

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We could have done so digitally, but we decided to handwrite to each other instead. When we were at the farm, we used to send letters to our family and friends almost every day. Letter writing seemed like a fun alternative to emails, which we both got enough of working in the higher education sector. We both love writing, so we half-jokingly agreed that if we both become famous writers one day, someone would publish our correspondences as a book, like the letters of Henry James and Edith Wharton, or “Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell,” two American poets. 

I think it goes without saying that the immediacy of sending and receiving a text message or email has unilaterally killed the art of letter-writing. Even so, Tanna and I are a year into our penpal experiment, and we are loving it so far. Besides renewing an old friendship, it’s also given me insight into how we can approach our own relationships with God. 

Good things take time and effort

When I write my letters to Tanna, I make it a special affair. I brew myself a cup of tea, curl up under a blanket, and wait until the dog settles on the bed. I take a few sheets of beautiful stationery and pick up my favorite pen. Then, I think about what I want to say before I set pen to paper. 

Writing a letter takes intentionality. I purposefully carve a sacred quiet space to not only enjoy doing it but also to make the letter itself good and meaningful. Because I take the time to craft the letter carefully, it is more thoughtful and well-written than a rushed email or quick text.

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I realized that I should try to do the same thing for my relationship with God: Be more intentional in my prayer. Life undoubtedly gets busy, and I don’t always have the time to make everything just so (after all, my sacred letter-writing practice is not a daily one). Quiet solitude is usually not within grasp in the midst of our bustling daily routines. However, I know I can set aside time to dwell in the Lord’s presence a little more intentionally. When I’m walking the dog in the morning, when I’m making breakfast, or even when I’m transferring subways – those are all moments I can open my heart up to him.

After all, he wants us to talk to him and lean on him. He wants us to share all our worries, fears, triumphs, and tribulations. Nothing is too small for God to hear: “Ah, Lord God, it is you who made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17). Giving ourselves the time to give God our hearts is what will bring us closer to him – with or without tea and blankets. 

Good things are worth the wait

Letter-writing is a practice of patience. I’ve learned to embrace the silences in between letters with joyful anticipation. I know a letter response will come, so I am not anxious about when I receive it. In fact, it’s fun to have a hopeful eagerness when checking the mailbox: Is it coming today? Has the post even arrived yet? When a letter from Tanna finally does get here, I eagerly tear open the envelope and begin reading before I’ve even had a chance to sit down.

I wish I applied the same thinking to my relationship with God. There have been times in my life when I felt frustrated with what I interpreted as his silence. For instance, there was a season of my life when I questioned whether God truly called me to write. I don’t make a full-time living wage from writing. My job and other responsibilities can make finding time to dedicate to the craft challenging. If this was truly meant to be for me, then why would it be so hard?

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But, as my husband always tells me, sometimes time and silence are the best things for us. Those seasons can be fruitful – as long as we don’t give up on listening for God’s guidance. Having truncated pockets of time, for instance, made me prioritize projects and focus on writing magazine articles and essays. Praise God, I’m close to my hundredth published piece! God is good, but he will answer us in his own way and on his own time. We just need to practice patience. Knowing that God will take care of us and lead us down the right path can help quell the anxieties we feel in the more silent seasons. And it’s always worth the wait: “At the right time, I, the Lord, will make it happen” (Isaiah 60:22). 

Receiving letters from Tanna is a wonderful way to rekindle my friendship with her. I still feel like we “click” because we have similar interests and picked up where we left off from high school. Because writing a letter is intentional, effortful, and a time investment, we don’t waste paper and ink on surface-layer topics (What did you do this weekend? What do you like to watch?) and dive right into the deep end of our hearts (What are the stresses and anxieties we feel? What are our hopes and dreams?). The handwritten words feel more meaningful than a text message or email. This is especially true because Tanna’s cerebral palsy makes writing more challenging for her – and yet, she perseveres and wants to do it anyway. That melts my heart every time I read a letter from her.

God also sends us proverbial handwritten letters. He invites us to his heart in every Mass through the Eucharist. And, he longingly waits for us to turn to him each and every day – even when we turn our backs on him. He is eternally patient. We only need to give ourselves the time to write back to him.