I don’t know how I found it, probably while I was snooping through my mom’s dresser, but there, in a dusty, hand carved humidor with nearly black wooden roses adorning the lid, I found a letter, addressed to me. The paper was aging, but not yet old, and I recognized my mom’s scrolling script, flowering across the page. It started, “I love you…” I tucked it back into the box. My name was at the top, so why did this feel like tampering with private mail? I’ve never received that letter; so, I think while it was to me, it wasn’t for me.
I now know some of the explanations she probably had included in the letter, the marriage to my dad, her choices for me and what she wanted me to remember about who she thought I was. There were some family secrets hidden within, from her point of view. I don’t even think I’ve ever talked to her about it, because I’m not sure she’d remember. It was meant to be cathartic, not necessarily informative. I know in my heart that’s the case, even if I don’t know it from her, and that’s because I’ve written love letters like that to my daughters, too.
Love letters are waning in our culture. We text our feelings to one another, just a few bits between romantic partners or friends, missing vowels and deleted to make room for more. It hasn’t been sooooo long since I was a teenager, passing love notes in class and church. In fact, I remember very clearly the meanest thing I’ve ever done was to a high school boyfriend, with whom I had exchanged about 100 love letters. This box looked different, less like a secret treasure chest than the humidor, more like a teen’s art stash – a shoebox covered in metallic wrapping paper, sprinkled with puffy heart stickers and ribbons of glitter. I had tenderly interred each note and would read and re-read them when time permitted or the fancy struck.
When we broke up, I felt hurt and angry and sad and pessimistic about love. In the heat of a girlfriend scorned moment (okay, probably dramatized it a bit under the influence of adolescent hormones), I took out those love notes and prepared for my life as a teacher by hand-correcting each one in red pen. It looked as if I had opened up a vein and bled all over them. I felt cruelly justified in destroying the love letters, because love, I reasoned, was just a crock. I didn’t read those letters again, for shame of what I’d done, for fear of opening up feelings I would rather forget. I tried to unread what I had once read.
Those two attitudes, the one I had that kept me from reading my mom’s letter, and the one that essentially brought me to destroy the ex-boyfriend’s letters, are the same that keep me from reading the Bible in the way it was intended, as a love letter from God to his people. I read the prefaces of all those epistles, addressed to churches long extinct, and feel like the letter isn’t for me. I sometimes read Scripture like an eavesdropper. I imagine that must be how a non-believer would read it, as a legalistic list of “don’ts” and “thou shalt nots” and not as a love letter at all. I have poured over love letters in order to gain some understanding of the author, and that’s how I think now about those books of the Bible I’ve previously skipped – the ones full of rules and laws. What do those rules and laws reveal about the author? What principles and characteristics does it show me of the lover of my soul?
I have had my heartbroken. It instilled me with a bitterness that I didn’t understand, but when it comes down to it, I realize that I ended the relationship that brought about that broken heart. I left and then felt hurt. I walked away and felt betrayed. WHAT? The Israelites did that with God.
The Old Testament contains this allegory: The prophet Hosea was called upon to marry a harlot, who gave him a two sons and a daughter. In chapter 2, Hosea divorces Gomer, his wife, because it’s generally acknowledged that his second son is not his. Then, God commands Hosea to take back his wayward wife, and to not only take her back, but to LOVE her again. By this time, Gomer is selling her body for money and Hosea has to forget and forgive a lot in order to take her back. The story of Hosea is the story of Israel; it is the story of us all. We are Gomer, the adulterous wife, and the Bible is his letter that lets it all go, all the disappointment, all the hurt… the cathartic message to a lost love. We had red-pen corrected the letter in our bitterness and tried to unread the love, there. I had tried to erase what was real because of what was painful – my own responsibility for the break.
I am going to try again, go back to the ultimate love letter and seek out the message behind the words, force myself to read the relationship in every line, to read the love letters as evidence of the relationship, not the precondition for one.
What verses do you see as love letters? How do you know from the Scriptures that God loves you?