What’s the best way of ending a letter to a Christian friend? This was the question put to me recently by one of my blog ‘followers’. Whereas if I am writing formal business letters I will end ‘Yours sincerely’ and to somebody whose name I know, and ‘Yours faithfully’ to somebody whose name I do not know, my standard greeting to friends, Christian or not, is the simple ‘with all good wishes’.
True, in some circumstances I alter the greeting. ‘With all good wishes’, for instance, does not sound right in a letter to somebody who has lost a loved one. On those occasions I might end ‘warmly yours’, although more often than not I write ‘May God’s peace and grace be yours at this time of loss’. What is more, whereas most of my letters are in the form of an email, when writing to the bereaved I always write by hand, using a proper fountain pen, and normally on a card with a Maltese cross underneath which are the words:
When you pass through deep waters,
I am with you.
When you pass through rivers
They will not sweep you away
A few years ago a friend challenged the way I sign my letters. ‘It’s not right for Christians to send good wishes. Christians shouldn’t wish something for another, rather we should ask God to bless our friends’. From that you might assume that she ended her letters with ‘blessings’, ‘many blessings’, or even ‘brightest blessings’, yet she didn’t. She simply signed off her letters with ‘regards’. I was unimpressed. ‘Regards’ to my way of thinking is totally devoid of warmth – ‘kind regards’ would be better; but neither has any Christian content.
So how might we end a letter to a Christian friend? In the way in which the Apostle Paul wished his churches ‘grace and peace’? At one level there is nothing distinctively Christian about his words, for Paul was simply combining the normal Greek greeting, ‘grace’ (the underlying Greek word literally meant ‘rejoice’, but in salutations came to mean no more than ‘hello’) together with the normal Jewish greeting, ‘peace’. Whether or not Paul intended a further, deeper meaning I am not certain. However, I like the observation of C.K. Barrett, a former Methodist scholar: “When one Christian wishes grace and peace to another he [sic] prays that he may apprehend more fully the grace of God in which he already stands, and the peace he already enjoys”. Roy Ciampa & Brian Rosner in their 2010 magnum opus commented:
The two words sum up beautifully Paul’s gospel, drawing attention to God’s beneficence and bounty, ‘grace’, the cause of salvation, and the well-being and welfare of those who are saved, ‘peace’, the outcome of salvation.
However, I am not convinced that in this regard Paul sets a model for us. Although from time to time I receive letters wishing me “grace and peace”, within today’s context these words never seem to have a natural feel to them. But then neither do greetings such as ‘Yours in him’, or ‘Yours because his’; nor indeed ‘with Christian love’ or ‘with spiritual love’.
With this question in mind of how Christians might end their letters I went on the web and discovered a host of possibilities. Some are variants on ‘with love’, and wish ‘love and light’; ‘love and laughter’; ‘love and peace’; ‘love, peace, joy’; or ‘love, peace, happiness’. Other variants on the love theme include ‘love, hugs, kisses, and may God be with us’; and ‘In Jesus’ love until He comes’. Then there are more up-beat ways of ending a letter: ‘celebrate life!’; ‘cheerfully in Christ’; ‘grace abounds’; or ‘watching God work’. Some were amazingly long, if not long-winded: ‘May this day offer you just what you need in each unfolding moment, God is with you’; or ‘May you get a taste of God’s never dying love for you. May your heart be open to his spiritual and divine gifts. And may you realize that he is very much present with you at this very moment’; or ‘I truly wish that Jesus Almighty comes down on earth today especially to shower blessing and love upon you, like he has for all other beautiful human beings in the world’. The shortest ending I came across was IHG, which I discovered stands for ‘In his grip’!
Some people I know sign their letters normally, but then add a Bible verse after their signature. For instance, they might end with ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures for ever (Psalm 136.1). One of my former church members always ended with John 3.16 – whether her emails to her friends outside the church also received this verse, I do not know; but if so, then I admire her Christian witness.
There clearly is no one way for Christians to end their letters. Unless I am convinced otherwise, I think that, for most of the time at least, I shall remain with my standard ending of ‘With all good wishes’, but I will always retain the flexibility to adapt my final greeting to the circumstances.