Commas, Critiques . . . and a Chance to Learn!
When I first joined the editorial team at the headquarters church office, I had no idea how much I didn’t know about writing. The first step was learning proper grammar, and to aid that process, I was given a volume titled Chicago Manual of Style. In 956 pages, it describes when to use commas, hyphens, capitalization, long dashes—every type of punctuation and more, as well as instances when grammar rules may be broken.
There was also much to learn about the importance of word choice, tone, accuracy, and overall style. This part was not taught in a manual, but came as feedback from other editors. Each article is read by many people before it is published, and they make suggestions such as: “Sounds harsh; soften.” Another popular comment is: “Redundant; delete.” And then there’s the unfortunate comment: “Huh? Not clear.”
I have to admit, when I submitted my first articles to the editorial team for review, I did not fully appreciate all the feedback that was given. Sometimes an article would be returned to me covered in markings, and it felt like my work was being torn apart. I wondered, Is all of this truly necessary? Was the article so terrible that it needed all of these changes?
The initial feeling that my work was being torn apart changed to the realization that it was being built up. I became grateful for critiques and welcomed their feedback.
Thankfully, it was not long before I saw the value of critical feedback. I began to realize that a diverse audience can receive a single message in many different ways, and seemingly simple statements can have unintended doctrinal implications. In short, I felt that attempting to write something for the Lord’s work was way over my head, and that the editorial team was providing me with invaluable assistance. The initial feeling that my work was being torn apart changed to the realization that it was being built up. I became grateful for critiques and welcomed their feedback.
Having worked at the office for over a decade, I had mostly forgotten about my initial aversion to being edited by others, but a couple years ago I had an experience that brought back those memories. I had gone to a family gathering and made some jokes about a certain situation. I had no ill intent in what I said, but later, when I was back at my house, I felt heavy conviction for my words. God made it clear to me that my comments were not edifying, were not helpful in any way, and should not have been said. I was sick over what I had said. I felt like an utter failure.
Part of me wondered why I felt so badly when my error seemed relatively small. Yet, all I could do was get on my knees and pray, “God, I’m so sorry if my words hurt You or anyone else. I’d rather never speak again than say something displeasing to You.” I meant what I said; the chastisement from God was so strong that I truly would rather live the rest of my life in silence than feel His displeasure in that way again. Once I had consecrated all my words to God, I had peace in my heart. From then on, I made a deliberate effort to be more cautious with my conversations, even in seemingly lighthearted comments.
A few weeks later, I found myself in a difficult situation that involved several other people, and I had a strong sense that I needed to keep my opinions to myself. Considering my recent prayer, that was very easy to do. Despite the normal human tendency to want to “fix” such problems, I actually had no desire to voice my thoughts or speak up for myself. And as that situation continued to unfold, it became clear that things were much more complicated than I had initially perceived. If I had attempted to intervene, I most certainly would have failed, and would have looked very foolish doing so.
Suddenly, I felt deeply grateful that the Lord had corrected my comments so sternly weeks before. My perspective of that incident shifted, and I could see that the correction was not meant to tear me down, but to refine my character and to stop me from making a bigger mistake later on.
I found myself praying, “God, I welcome your correction in my life.” I was surprised to hear myself say that, but I meant those words too. It is much more preferable to learn a spiritual lesson before a trial comes, rather than after.
Following these events, I found myself praying, “God, I welcome your correction in my life.” I was surprised to hear myself say that, but I meant those words too. It is much more preferable to learn a spiritual lesson before a trial comes, rather than after. I’ve read Hebrews 12:6 and 11 plenty of times in the past, but now they resonate with me more than ever before: “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth . . . Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” The correction certainly felt grievous, but it was truly done in love and brought righteousness in my life, for which I am so grateful.
God’s correction in this situation reminded me of the correction from the office editorial team. We call our editors a “team” because we are working together for a common goal. In a similar way, we can think of the Holy Spirit as being on our team, like a personal editor guiding us toward spiritual success. His feedback is constructive, and to ignore or resent it is to our own harm. Instead, we want to accept His input in our lives for what it is—the very best advice we could ever receive.
Following are a few more points about a proper perspective on the corrections we receive from God.
The Bible is our manual. The first thing the editorial team did for me was hand me a grammar manual. For those who are willing to take the time to consult it, hundreds upon hundreds of questions are plainly answered in that book. In life, the Bible is our manual. If we want to live successfully, it is to our own advantage to study God’s Word. That alone will do wonders in terms of answering our questions about the best way to live, thereby saving us a great deal of unnecessary heartache.
Prior to coming to work here, I thought I had pretty good instincts for grammar rules just from reading and speaking English my whole life. It turns out, I did not. When I go back and read my college essays, I cringe at my inconsistency and mistakes. The same problem will occur if we rely on our instincts and feelings to guide the way we live—there will be inconsistency in our conduct and more mistakes that we will have to go back and make right. Doing the right thing will not always “feel” right, so it’s important that we find out from God Himself how we are supposed to live, and He has provided that instruction in His holy Word.
God’s feedback to me is for me. As an editor, it’s sometimes hard to “turn off” the editor in my brain. I’ve been trained to look for typos, and as a consequence, I often notice them even when I’m not proofreading. A few times, I’ve interrupted friends and family and corrected them without thinking, and it is so embarrassing when that happens. All I can do is apologize.
Unless someone specifically asks for our input or is in some way under our spiritual care, it is not our place to tell others our views of their spiritual walk. The Holy Spirit knows what corrections will benefit each one the most, and He is faithful to reveal them in the right way and time.
As we continue studying God’s Word and allowing Him to correct us, we may notice similar spiritual corrections that we feel are needed in someone else’s life. However, when God chastens us, that instruction is only for us. The teachings of the Bible are meant for us to apply to our own lives, not to others. The Holy Spirit is the best “editor” because He knows us better than anyone and He sees what challenges await us in the future. So unless someone specifically asks for our input or is in some way under our spiritual care, it is not our place to tell others our views of their spiritual walk. The Holy Spirit knows what corrections will benefit each one the most, and He is faithful to reveal them in the right way and time.
God’s feedback is personalized. The rules in a grammar manual are extensive, yet some important stipulations cannot be written in a manual because they depend on variable factors. How long should an article be? How formal should it sound? Which literary devices should be used? Answers to these questions depend on the objective of each piece.
In a similar way, some of the input God gives me is designed uniquely for my life and the plan He has for me. That means He may require something of me that He does not require of others, and vice versa. How much of my budget should I give for the Lord’s work? How much time should I spend reading and praying each day? Which areas of Gospel work should I serve in? I know what God has laid on my heart in each of these areas, but I don’t assume others will have the same convictions because these all depend on what God has planned for my life. When it comes to instructions that fall outside of our manual, the Bible, it’s important to listen closely for what God is speaking to us specifically, and not be distracted by what He may or may not ask of someone else.
There’s always room for improvement. In addition to being an editor, I am also a tutor for English language learners. That means I see the full spectrum of writing skills, from beginner to professional. In every case, my role is to help each written piece progress to the next level. For beginners, we work on basic grammar and spelling. For more advanced English students, we try to expand vocabulary and use more complex sentence structures. At the church office, we do even more fine tuning. In all my years at the office, I have never seen an article come out of the editing loop without any comments—there is always room for improvement!
If a skill like writing can always be improved, then certainly there will always be room for improvement when it comes to glorifying God with our lives. It’s expected that new converts and young Christians will not have the same wisdom and maturity as those who have been walking with the Lord a long time. But even for veterans of the Gospel, there is always more to learn. Just as a new English speaker will get different editorial feedback than an advanced writer, the Holy Spirit will correct a new Christian in different areas than He does a seasoned believer. In every case, if we come to God with a humble attitude and a determination to keep growing spiritually, He will show us where we can improve.
Our “Editor” for life
Thank God that we have the Holy Spirit as a personal Editor in our lives. Constructive criticism may be hard to take, but when it comes from God, we can be sure that it is in our own best interests. His correction in our lives is truly priceless. If we receive it with an obedient spirit, we will be so glad for the peaceable fruit of righteousness that follows.