Rev. Larry L. Long
A Pastor at Fellowship Community Church
I enjoy writing. I especially enjoy feedback from those who read what I write—even when it is critical. My most frequently-heard critical remark is that I need a proofreader. This is true in more ways than one.
One of the mixed blessings of writing with a computer is that it will do some of the proofreading for. As I write, my computer constantly watches for misspelled words and typos. The blessing is mixed, however, because the feature also encourages laziness, which is the chief enemy of accuracy. When a misspelled or mistyped word is still a word, my spell-checker won't catch it at all, and by this time I'm beguiled into believing all is well. I received additional help when software began to check grammar, but this too has frustrating limitations.
There is still nothing like having a real person proofread, and the more the merrier. I used to have my wife do my proofreading, and she usually caught most of the mistakes the computer missed. But Melissa wants to proofread on her time, which isn't always my time, so most of the time I’m left to do my own.
Now I am a well-educated person by most standards, and my language and grammar skills are fairly well developed. So why do I still miss so many of my own mistakes? This mystery deepens when I tell you that I am good at proofreading other people's work. Their mistakes jump off the page and poke me in the eye.
What is it about human nature that makes us so attuned to the mistakes of others, but nearly blind to our own?
If you write and then proofread your own material, you know how the process works and why it breaks down. Words and concepts are first formed in the mind and only then carried to the paper. But somewhere twixt mind and fingers a word-goblin lingers, so that what is formed in the mind sometimes gets changed on the paper. But this is where things get weird. What was formed in the mind is still being projected onto the paper, even though the paper reads differently. We don't see the error because we see what we expect or want to see.
This reality has a wider impact than merely proofing written text. In our more honest moments each of us must admit that we are often blind to the spiritual, moral, and personal foibles and failures of our own personalities. We easily see sin in others even as we remain oblivious to our own. We see what we expect or want to see when we look at ourselves. By creating a false reality in our minds, we become blind to who we really are.
Moreover, the critical spirit necessary for sin-watching in others conveniently diverts attention away from self. Jesus spoke of this tendency when he warned against being judgmental of others: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye” (Mt. 7:3-5)? Those most attuned to the sins of others are often those most blind to their own.
Yes, it is true: I need a proofreader¾not only for my writing, but for my soul as well. We would all do well to have at least one "proofreader" watching over our shoulder—someone who knows us well enough to really know us, while being bold enough and gentle enough to correct us. We all need to be held accountable by someone who is mature enough and objective enough to be trustworthy. Unfortunately, we often resist finding such a person. There is a world of difference between being shown our mistakes on paper and being made aware of the sin in our lives. The former might bring embarrassment, the latter hurts and sometimes offends. But when that happens, we would do well to remember that "[n]o discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (Heb. 12:11).
God's word is our best source of correction, but only if we are careful to listen to the Spirit as he applies it to our lives. Bringing ourselves under the spiritual authority of Christ’s Church is also a necessary step in the right direction. But along with these, each of us should also find someone to whom we are answerable for our actions and decisions. My wife may not be of much help in proofreading my writing, but she is still pretty good at proofreading my life. Add to that my many Christian friends, who also bring correction to my life, and there is hope for me yet.
The fool is not the one who is corrected, but the one who despises correction. Solomon was more blunt: “…he who hates reproof is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1b, ESV).
Wisdom will find proofreaders.