“Letters with Life,” Ensign, Jan. 1987, 65
When you serve a mission or go away to school or to work, brief letters that say, “I’m fine,” “Things are great,” or even “I miss you,” may not tell your family members and friends what they want to know. To keep those you left behind reassured and well-informed, you should include details that will allow them to picture your new life and to understand the feelings and experiences you are having.
You might want to include some of the following information in your letters:
Details of daily life. Describe your apartment or room, perhaps adding a sketch of the floor plan or a photograph. Give the menus for typical meals. Tell what you usually do during a weekday, and how you spend Saturdays and Sundays (or preparation days, if you are a missionary). Describe the weather, and detail different customs, holidays, foods, and living habits of your new home, whether it be another country, state, or city. And don’t forget to describe your new ward. These details will allow your family and friends to imagine your life in its new setting.
News about people you meet. Write about your companions and other missionaries with whom you work, about your roommates, neighbors, or co-workers if you are in school or working. Your descriptions of your friends and the people you work with will enable those at home to feel close to you as they share a vital part of your new activities.
Descriptions of your spiritual and emotional health. Those at home want to know that your testimony is growing and what your feelings are as you face new experiences. If things are not going well, they may be able to provide you with counsel and perspective. As you progress, they will rejoice with you and profit by your example. Non-LDS or less-active family members and friends can be influenced for good as they learn how you overcome obstacles and feel the happiness that comes from living the commandments and serving the Lord.
Of course, not every letter can include all this information! But as you work to include a little more detail in each letter, you will see improved communication with those at home. You may find that you are communicating more, or better, in your letters than you did at home. You may find that you can easily share feelings on paper that were hard to express in person. Such feelings and experiences can strengthen your relationships with your loved ones. In addition, your writing skills will improve and your experiences can provide an example for other family members who may be planning a similar experience.
Finally, ask your family and friends to keep your letters, as they can provide a vital supplement to your personal journal. When we write in our journals, we often omit details or explanations that seem unnecessary to make to ourselves. But as we reread our letters a few years from now, we may be reminded of those “unforgettable,” but nevertheless forgotten, details.
Your letters can help to reassure your family that you are well-fed, warm, and healthy enough to pick up a pen, and that you are interested enough in their love for you to help them feel a part of your life away from home.—Lisa Bolin Hawkins, State College, Pennsylvania