Some weeks ago I had to undergo day surgery to have a pacemaker implanted. Although I could not have received better treatment, it was not the most pleasant of experiences for me! I know that in comparison with what other people have to go through, it was not ‘a big deal’, but nonetheless it was a challenge for me. As a result I greatly appreciated all the many expressions of support I received. At what was for me a difficult time they gave me great encouragement.
I was quite moved by the number of people who took time to wish me well. Many were in my fellowship group or in my Rotary breakfast club. Some of the other friends who wrote to me took me by surprise – not least a couple in Western Australia from friends who had learnt of my procedure from friends in Chelmsford!
Most messages of support came by email. Although emails can be a very impersonal form of communication, I discovered they can also express a very personal touch – “Continuing love and prayers for your steady recovery…Take care and go gently” wrote one friend. Then there were cards on which a personal message had been added – and phone calls both before and after the ‘operation’.
As I was reflecting on the impact of all these messages of support, I was reminded of the personal touch which the Apostle Paul gave to many of his letters. For at the end of his letters Paul, who had been using the services of an ‘amauensis’ (a ‘secretary’ in our terms) to write his letters, often added a written greeting of his own (see 1 Cor 16.21; Col 4.18; 2 Thess 3.17,18). This is particularly so in his Letter to the Galatians, where he seems to have written the whole of the final section (Gal 6.11-18). He begins this section with the words: “See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand!” (Gal 6.11) There has been much speculation as to why Paul wrote in “large letters”: on the basis of Gal 4.15 (“had it been possible some of you might have torn out your eyes for me”) some have thought that he had poor eyesight; others have suggested that as a tentmaker (Acts 18.3) he had developed the ungainly hands of a workman. However the general scholarly consensus is that by using a larger script he was doing the equivalent of underlining the importance of his message. Whatever, it seems to me that in taking up the pen itself rather than just dictating Paul was adding a personal touch which would have made all the difference to his readers.
Inevitably this experience has caused me to reflect on the way in which I have expressed my support for others when they have experienced some of the ups and downs of life. How have I expressed the personal touch? Sometimes I have expressed the personal touch quite literally by visiting those in distress, often holding the hand of a dying woman or putting a hand on the shoulder of a friend. From the very beginning of my ministry whenever somebody I knew was bereaved I always wrote by hand a personal note. In the latter half of my ministry I came to see that the sending of a card to anybody in distress with a hand-written note could be a real form of ministry – and as a result I have kept a good stock of cards appropriate to a wide variety of occasions. In recent years I have used the beautiful cards produced by Sarah Goudie cards with messages which vary from ‘Thinking of you’ to ‘When you pass through deep waters I am with you; when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep you away”. As already mentioned, email used carefully can have a personal touch. For instance, if somebody comes to mind in my prayers then I will often drop them a line and ask ‘How are things?’ Often, however, I will just pick up the phone and say “I was thinking of you”– and to my surprise regularly discover that it was God who prompted that call.
The personal touch takes time – but I believe that this is something to which we are all called to do. We are called to share life with one another – to laugh with one another in good times and to weep with one another in tough times. We are called to be there for one another – to care for one another, to pray for one another, and to support one another. What a real difference the personal touch makes!