Thursday, April 6, 2017

To be right? Or right with God?



Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Stuart Miles

By Melinda Jensen
Writers are a pedantic lot. We have to be. We spend endless hours not just crossing t's and dotting i's but also meditating on metaphors, being punctilious about punctuation, honing in on history and all manner of tedious activities in the hope of catching the elusive eye of that most pedantic of all creatures – the publisher.



The competition we face is tremendous. It's huge, totally awesome; no competition is bigger than ours - :) If we neglect our perfectionist tendencies, we simply won't be published. Our manuscript will be tossed aside faster than Donald Trump's hair in a wind gust.



And we'd better get our facts straight because somewhere, sometime, our readers will know we got it wrong, and our credibility will slink out the door with our 'tale' between its legs.



I suspect many who nurse a deep-rooted longing to write are born with this predisposition towards perfectionism. After nature has stamped us, nurture follows up with admirable efficiency. We're both blessed and doomed.



When we're wearing our writers' robes, attention to detail is very much a blessing. It's when we swap those robes for our everyday garb that our pedantry can get us into trouble. Because it's such a life-long habit, one we generally view as a virtue, we often miss the damage it can do to relationships.



Does it really matter if our non-writer friends misspell a word or get the punctuation wrong in their posts? When they've expressed an impassioned opinion, does it uplift them to be on the receiving end of criticism? Or would they feel as though we've completely missed their point, and therefore misunderstood them, by focusing on what they perceive as irrelevant detail? What does it say about us as Christians if we're perceived as 'dis'-couragers instead of 'en'-couragers? Will non-Christians assume our dogmatism in one area also translates to dogmatism in our religious beliefs? I suspect they would.



I know how I feel (embarrassed and indignant) when I share a post that has six out of seven facts correct but one is a bit dubious ... and someone simply will not let it go! I'll quite likely be aware of its imperfection before I post it, but expect my friends, especially my Christian friends, to use some discernment in looking for the message; the underlying sentiment.



Courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.net/StuartMiles
In fact it's my own recent experience with being 'pulled up' abruptly and publicly by someone I respect that led to looking at my own culpability in this area. No matter how long and hard I tried to explain the deeper message, and implore my friend to understand that I don't have time to completely reconstruct a facebook meme copied from someone else's page, her focus remained resolutely on an unimportant detail. It gave the wrong impression, she said. I clearly didn't check my facts, she said. It was fake news, she said. You're wrong, she said! And I, of course, desperately wanted to be right.



I struggled with how to respond in the face of such unnecessary conflict and like to think I stopped short of responding like a petulant child. But my inner child was, indeed, very much wounded.



Yet, at some point in this painful process, I came to understand that my friendship was far more important than continuing to argue over who was right and who was wrong. I stepped back and perceived that my friend was suffering too. She had a deep-seated need to point out the 2% of my post that was inaccurate and no doubt believed she was doing the right thing in revealing my 'error'.

So I conceded her point, telling her I understood now exactly what she meant and appreciated the time and effort she'd put into our conversation. In truth, I understood what she meant from the beginning but was too busy defending myself to notice.



My friend might just as easily have conceded the point first but she was too wrapped up in her own quest for perfection, and the need to be 'right'. One of us had to budge, otherwise our friendship was doomed.



Shortly after, my conscience began to reveal the times I'd been the one to unnecessarily correct another person over trivial issues, and I'm ashamed to say I recalled far too many instances. With that revelation I was confronted with all the pain I'd caused. It wasn't one of my finer moments.

Courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.net/StuartMiles


The pedantic nature of writers is utterly integral to the writing process and is therefore a gift and a blessing. But like all aspects of human nature, it has a dark side; the negative side that

damages relationships in its egocentric push to be right.



We need to discern whether it's worth risking any ensuing emotional damage; and whether or not our 'correction' really clarifies an issue in any important way.



When we wound each other with our pedantry we use our words in a way God did not intend for His children, especially those children to whom he has given the gift of expressing those very words. We can uplift each other as writers by proofreading and editing one another's work; and feed that pedantic little inner monster inside us to our hearts' content. But outside that context we need to exercise wisdom.



God's own Word is very clear about His expectations regarding the way his people use words.



If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. (Proverbs 18:13)

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.' (Ephesians 4:29)





'Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. (Proverbs 17:27)



As writers, we have a choice to make. Do we want to be merely 'right'? Or right with God?

Melinda writes both fiction and non-fiction, along with the odd poem. She has been published on a modest number of occasions, largely short stories and poetry. She does however, harbour a keen desire to write fantasy with an environmental theme for young readers, and is currently creating two such novels. This year's major project however, is a 'how-to' for adults, written from her own experience.
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/StuartMiles
 

5 comments:

  1. What a fabulous post Melinda. Loved your writing style. And yes, we writers tend to be pendantic I agree. I felt deeply for you about your recent experience. It grieved me that your friend could be so narrow mindeded - or so it seemed. Well done for letting it go. I too have been at the receiving end in similar circumstances - and I know what a struggle it is to 'give in'. Thank you for the reminder that it's more important to be right with God than to be right! May God give us sensitivity when needed and boldness when necessary and lots of godly wisdom. Thank you for making me think! Blessings my friend on your writing journey and thanks for a lovely post.

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    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed my writing style. I find that so encouraging! I know I border on the irreverent at times so I have to be careful to not cross the line. :) Thank you. xo And yes - particularly since the evolution of the internet, our tender little perfectionist feelings come in for quite a bashing, don't they? But God can turn that to the good of His people.

      Giving in is still not my strong point but we're all works in progress; in need of God's mercy and grace.

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  2. Thanks for your post, Melinda. I have a friend who loves to 'correct' me on some political issues (the ones we see differently) & swiftly counters any point on make in defense - and it can be annoying but I concede his right to express his opinion. I think it good to hear other perspectives and there are times we we shouldn't be silent though I think we should always be polite & as positive as possible. I can see your point - dismissing a message because of minor errors, being so pedantic that we won't let the discussion go until the other conceded our point is hardly helpful. It's a good reminder that people matter.

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    1. 'I make' not 'on make' and 'it's good' not 'it good' sigh.

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    2. It made me smile to see your correction of yourself here, Jeanette. Good old typos! I'd have done the same thing - I can't possibly leave a typo on the page if I can fix it. :)

      And I most definitely agree there are times when we should not be silent but speak up; telling the Truth in love. It's a fine rope to teeter on at times, isn't it?

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