My sons were confirmed this May. So, newly sealed and ignited by the Holy Spirit they followed in the apostles’ perilous footsteps by taking on the arduous task of… er, sending out handwritten thank you notes. What an exasperating mission for two perfectly capable, literate, bright students, ages nine and eleven, respectively. And if you think it was tough on their end—
“What?! We have to address the envelope TOO?! My hand is killing me!”— you should know it was no picnic for me either.
“Did you like the gift that Aunt “so-n-so” gave you? Well, your sketch of a smiling… slug?… is AMAZING, but does NOT qualify as a thank you note. You must incorporate actual WORDS. This is not a suggestion. DO. IT. NOW!”
“FINE. But anyone can tell it’s a DOVE!” Harrumph!
As they stamped their last few letters, my letter-writing challenged boys wondered why anyone would ever go to all the trouble of sending boring old mail. They remarked that e-mail and texting were downright hassle-free in comparison. And while I agree with my sons, who were born AFTER the advent of the iPhone, sending snail-mail isn’t without its own challenges—heck, I can barely manage a few sentences without loads of mistakes in chicken scratch masquerading as penmanship—I also realize that so-called effortless electronic communication: tweets, FB posts, texts, email and the like, present their own set of pitfalls. In fact, I would argue that these newer forms of communication are way more tricky, to get right anyway.
I was recently included in an email chain to a group of concerned neighbors regarding an upcoming HOA project. It was written by someone who I know to be extremely virtuous and upright. Yet, the tone of the email felt somewhat accusatory and insulting. It seemed to lack many of the good qualities I know to be foremost in this person’s nature and so contrary to what I believe they were trying to express. From the amount of hubbub stirred up after the email, I surmised that many people had the same reaction I did. So how did this truly stand-up person get it so wrong? And why is this such a common problem in our day-to-day correspondence? It got me to thinking about all the emails or texts I’ve fired off without as much as a quick once-over. How many times I’ve hit send without considering my recipient or my anticipated end goal. And what about the countless emails I have honestly pored over while composing them, and yet, still gotten it woefully wrong? I can think of at least a few business emails that resulted in curt, combative responses that did not match my desired outcome at all.
Pondering my own failed missives is humbling, but it has caused me to reexamine the perceived ease and regularity in which we approach this all too pervasive part of our culture. I have begun to reflect on what it is exactly that distinguishes really good and effective electronic communication from total cyberspace flops. You’ll probably be surprised to learn that the answer I received to this query wasn’t so much a WHAT as a WHO. And SHE is not just any WHO, she’s someone I’ve come to rely on over the years and who I happen to think holds a whole slew of answers to life’s most sticky questions.
The particular WHO I’m thinking of is our Blessed Mother.
How does Mary, who has never, to my knowledge, tweeted, snap chatted or posted a single update on Facebook, have the answer to my modern-day dilemma of electronic correspondence? (And if you think you have actually received a post from the Queen of Peace, I’m dying to hear about it, but I think you should put your phone/laptop down RIGHT NOW. An internet fast may be in your future.) In fact, how can a mere Jewish woman who walked the Earth way back in the first century single-handedly hold the key to conveying powerful, effective communication on social media and the like? If you’re thinking it doesn’t sound plausible, buckle up.
Throughout the Virgin Mary’s exemplary life, she modeled two virtues that I think she wants all of us to emulate, especially in approaching how we communicate with the rest of God’s children. Those two virtues that signified Mary’s existence are gratitude and humility. Everything she did, whether modestly saying yes to God’s daunting mission of becoming the Mother of His beloved Son, to quietly, yet staunchly remaining with Him at the foot of His cross, exemplified her deep gratitude and humility.
Consider also how she visited and supported her cousin Elizabeth in the advanced days of her geriatric pregnancy, while she herself faced looming uncertainty and peril. Recall how scripture tells us Elizabeth addressed Mary.
“And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” —Luke 1, 43
Elizabeth, also extremely humble, immediately recognizes and honors the greatness standing before her. This would cause just about anyone else’s head to bloat. Imagining myself in Our Lady’s dusty sandals, “No problemo, Liz, though it was an extremely long walk and my back is killing me. But, I’ll try to use my connections to put in a word for you with Big Guy. We go way back.” Heaven help us!
But, Mary, being the sinless human she is, humbly responds with her beautiful Magnificat:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.” —Luke 1, 46-49
She humbly removes herself from the spotlight and gracefully redirects it to where it belongs, on God. Her words are gentle, yet powerfully convey what needs to be said. She rightly acknowledges her place in the history of humanity but she does it with gratitude and humility. She regards herself as a lowly servant who owes everything to God.
When facing the minefield-laden task of sending an electronic missive, we should be asking ourselves: What would the Mother of Mercy write? Do our words communicate true gratitude and humility? Or do we more realistically convey the counterparts to those virtues: thanklessness and pride. In the words of the great modern prophet, Dr. Phil, “How’s that working for you?” I am starting to ask myself does this email contain humility? Will my recipient glean my gratitude? It’s a template for successful and powerful contemporary communication. You can’t go wrong! Mary will not let you down.
Remember those annoying rubber bracelets that displayed WWJD? Did I say annoying, I meant (cough) inspiring. Ok, truthfully, I never got on that particular bandwagon. As much I LOVE the overall sentiment of those colorful wristbands proudly proclaiming, “What would Jesus do?” I just wasn’t loving the sanctimonious fashion statement. But when endeavoring to write an email, I can’t overlook a similar acronym which I find to be highly applicable when trying to communicate in our fast-paced postmodern world. WWMW? What Would Mary Write? It’s got a nice ring to it. No doubt the bracelets are forthcoming.