Dear Pastor

An open letter.

JOAN MARIE COOK is the writer of this article. 

By now you have glanced at the un­heard-of, small-town postmark on my let­ter and at my unfamiliar signature. You don't know me.

I am writing to you about a visitor who is coming to your church this week. With a congregation as large as yours I know you can't possibly recognize every single visitor that comes. Still, impossible though my request may be, could I ask that you try very hard to speak to her? I mean, could you say something especially to her.

Although I am shy about writing to you, I feel it is almost my duty to tell you about Lynn. She was my roommate in col­lege. She doesn't attend church. She hasn't for several years now, since her marriage. Not that she gave up church for husband; I suppose it just didn't matter too much any more and it was more convenient not to go. I've written to her and prayed for her for so long and now, at last, she's going to visit church. "O.K., this will make you happy, Joanie," her letter said. "I am going to church next week. Just for you.' Not such a great motive, I know. But she's go­ing. That's all I can manage from here.

O please don't judge her by her looks. She will look hard and terribly worldly in her elegant way. And although only her hairdresser may know for sure, you will probably have some suspicions about the golden blondness of her chic-styled hair. I am so afraid that this exterior will keep away the warmth she needs to feel. I know her so well and I know how sad and lonely she really is because she turned from God.

She was trying to be hard and careless toward Him when I shared a room and a school year with her. We were so utterly different then, and somehow, probably be­cause of that, we became the closest of friends.

I wondered about girls like her—girls who seemed interested in nothing but clothes and boys. Glasswork did not absorb them, nor did student government or spe­cial clubs and projects. What did girls like that write their themes about, what did they want from the future, what did they talk about around adults? I had a genuine chance to find out. I was surprised.

Lynn was a generous and honest person but she had developed a pattern of masking any such virtues. I have seen her smile coldly during a testimony service and chat breezily with her friends back to the dormi­tory, only to cry into her pillow in the dark­ness. "Why can't I say I love Jesus? Why can't I live so it wouldn't sound ridiculous if I said I loved Him."

I wanted to help Lynn. I was happy when she began to have worship regularly with me.

One day as I washed my hair in the al­cove adjoining our room I heard Lynn come in, talking with a couple of her friends. Lynn was saying, "But Sister White is not the way you think at all. It's just that she was so interested in our problems. You should just read her for yourself. I love her. I wish I had been her daughter."

I had to smile.

Lynn's problem seemed to hinge around the fact that her strong point was her model-like good looks. She worked hard on her grooming and her popularity. Here was her area of excellence. She would pirouette on the grass saying, "I'm so glad I'm a girl!" So were all the boys on campus. Above her looks she was blessed with per­petual energy and what I would describe as a sense of gaiety.

Yet this very success was the cost of the spiritual experience she wanted. Maybe neither of us realized that the two were al­most mutually exclusive. Besides the ele­ment of no time, which was her main plea, the gay image she created was subtly at war with any real experience of spiritual depth. It did not seem wrong to have so much fun, and who would say her friend­ships and dates were sinful? I used to get philosophical in my observation of her. It seemed so strange that her weaknesses were as real as my own, which were concerned with honesty and competition, as real as girls' who warred with inclinations to gos­sip, lie, or read novels. I wondered how many other girls would be too busy for vital meditation if they had Lynn's social suc­cess. It was almost as though her bone struc­ture, the very genes, were against her.

Keeping her in school all year was a hard job. She longed for more money and freedom. She didn't come back another year.

After working for a while, Lynn married a young and successful ad man. Her letters to me have been full of happiness with only an occasional trace of wistfulness—such as when she told me of Ingathering. "I heard that music, and oh, Joanie, I knew what it was. When the man came to my door I was so ashamed of my lipstick and bracelets. I wanted to stop him and say, 'Don't explain; I know.' But I didn't look any different from anyone else he had solicited, so I just gave him all the money we had in the house and cried for an hour after he left. You know how I used to hate Ingathering. It must have been the music and his earnest, happy face."

Now, all this time later she is going to visit church. She's a mother now and maybe this time she can go completely to Christ. Could you help her? Whatever you preach about, however you say it, repeat that Jesus loves her.

As I think of you and Lynn, I realize you must have at least a few people like her in your church every week—one-shot visitors. Visitors who aren't thinking of returning but are, because of some lingering past tie, just visiting. Probably you have thought of them, but in case not, I just wanted to tell you about Lynn.

I have attended a large city church. I know how it is to be too shy to speak to strangers for fear that they might have been members there longer than I. Now I am hoping I didn't neglect someone else's prayed-for visitor. If only someone will speak to Lynn. Some Dorcas member per­haps, noticing her marvelous suit will also see it is handmade and speak to her of Dorcas activities. It seems incongruent, but that is the sort of thing Lynn loves. I know she would go to meetings and work tire­lessly in welfare work.

Would you think of Lynn for a moment as you stand there in the pulpit this Sab­bath, Pastor? Not only because she is my friend and I failed to work for her as ear­nestly as I should have, but because her name may soon be called in a hushed heaven before a throne of light. Whether her name remains in the Lamb's book of life or whether it is blotted out is almost entirely up to Lynn. But in the infinite completeness of her record, Pastor, our influences will show.

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JOAN MARIE COOK is the writer of this article. 

August 1965

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