Several months ago, I was on a flight back to my hometown in Indiana, sipping on some supremely average, American Airlines coffee while reading through the little book of 3 John. This is a brief letter addressed to Gaius, an elder of a local church that the Apostle John “loves in truth.” It’s a very quick letter to send some encouragement notes to Gaius, praising him for his servanthood and faithfulness, with some additional notes just to keep him updated on a scenario dealing with a guy named Diotrephes. This is very much a “checking in” kind of a letter that John is sending to a dearly beloved friend and leader in the church.
But what stuck out to me was John’s final words:
“I had many things to write to you, but I am unwilling to write to you with ink and pen. But I hope shortly to see you, and we shall speak face to face.
Peace to you. The friends salute you. Salute the friends by name.”
– 3 John 13-15
Who knows what else is on John’s mind that he needs to talk with Gaius about. Maybe he’s dealing with some disgruntled church members and he needs a safe space to vent. Maybe he’s being heavily persecuted and undergoing major stress as an apostle of the newly found ekklessia, the Church of Christ. Maybe he witnessed some phenomenal works of the Holy Spirit. Maybe he had some really good food and he just needs to tell a good friend about it. We have no idea what John needs to talk with Gaius about.
But what cannot be missed here is John’s unwillingness to write all these things to him with ink and pen.
We see the Apostle Paul do this a lot in his letters to individuals and churches, where he writes (or in most cases, has scribes write for him) anything and everything on his mind that he wants to address to them. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with John—at least not in this instance. Despite all these things pressing on his mind, John is unwilling to communicate through ink and pen. Rather, he hopes to see Gaius. He hopes to speak with him face to face.
There could be a plethora of reasons why John couldn’t write everything out in a letter at this point in time, but I think there’s an undying principle buried beneath John’s writing. There is value in presence. John could’ve written everything he needed to say in a letter, yet he decided it would be far more worth it to say everything in person, face-to-face, to see his beloved friend—even if it took longer for him to do so. The need for his friend’s presence outweighed his need to spout off his problems.
This was John’s perspective when the only way they could communicate long distance was through writing letters. But this left me wondering: What would it be like for us to have the same value for presence in a world where we can communicate with anyone, anywhere, instantly? Would we be willing to hold off on sending paragraphs of our muddled, emotional text messages and send a “Can we get together soon?” text instead?
Everything we could ever have to say is always done best in the presence of a beloved; in the presence of a friend. Seeing a friend’s facial expressions align with her empathetic emotions as you frantically process everything weighing you down is something a letter or text message or emoji could never replicate. Being comforted with a sarcastic, snarky, yet sincere joke on the spot in the midst of a venting session is something a GIF can’t quite do justice.
Although there is comfort in the instantaneousness of digitally reaching out to a friend, there is still value in presence. If we’re willing to hold off, making the effort to gather with friends face-to-face—even if it takes a little while longer—is always worth the wait.