Receiving Correction

At school my written work always came back covered in red ink. Even the most carfuly prepaired essays were dotted with corrections like a nasty case of the measles. The margin was worst effected with the dreaded letters “sp” (short for spelling mistake) squashed uncomfortably together up and down the left hand side of the page. Maths wasn’t much better, as in the days before more understanding teaching methods a red cross left you in no doubt that you had got it wrong. Biros have such expressive nibs, transmitting to the paper the force and finality of those juxtaposed slashes.  I could almost feel the court room hammer go down as my work was pronounced guilty and I was sentenced to write out mistakes multiple times.

Being told I have done something wrong hasn’t goten easier with age, but I have learnt that feelings can be deceptive. A splinter hurts on the way out as well as on the way in so how do you tell the difference between an attacker’s slash and a surgeon’s slice? Its often quite easy. Just ask yourself “is a good friend looking at my finger closely and clutching a pair of tiny tweezers or am I sliding down a banister?” Ok, the banister bit is rather obtuse but its defiantly good to ask if its a good friend who is bringing correction (or a teacher who is trying to help you learn!).

We went to The Isle of White recently during cows (is that how you spell it?) week. There were simply loads of sailing boats whizzing round the island. When you are sailing and a wind comes from the side, you can get blown off course or worse completely capsized. If, however, you know what you are doing and exert a bit of energy,  a side wind can actually drive you forward. I think that’s true of sailing (wiki says it’s called “beam breach”) but it’s defiantly true of correction. Do you want to be more like Jesus and fruitful in all he has called you to? Well then learn to tack well when winds of correction come. Welcome them and work with them to win the race.

I knew there was a proverb on welcoming correct from a friend but when I looked I found loads:

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
but he who hates reproof is stupid. Prov 12:1

Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
profuse are the kisses of an enemy. Prov 27:6

Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold,
is a wise reprover to a listening ear. Prov 25:12

Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction,
but whoever heeds reproof is honored. Prov 13:18

There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way;
 whoever hates reproof will die. Prov 15:10

Whoever ignores instruction despises himself,
but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. Prov 15:32

Then I watched a great preach on receiving correction by Josh Harris:

http://www.joshharris.com/2009/08/proverbs_9_sermon_learning_to_1.php

He says we sometimes reject correction because:

1) the other person is not perfect and you could say 10 things that are wrong with them!

2) they have got some of the detail wrong even though their main point is valid.

3) the tone they spoke to you was wrong or the way they spoke to you was not right.

His point is we may never be corrected by a perfect person with all the information in just the right way, so we might as well take what we can get when we can get it! Of course God is perfect and all knowing and does things just right, and there are times when he may speak to us directly in some way like through his word, but he loves to work through others. He loves to bless us through those around us and one of the ways we get to be blessed is through loving correction. So far so good but, apart from knowing correction can be good, and recognizing some unhelpful responses to is, is there anything that can take the sting out of it?

They key to receiving it well, Josh says, is in proverb 9:10 “the fear of the lord is the beginning of wisdom”, ie living in a place of submission to God. At first I wasn’t sure where he was going with this and how it related to correction but then it all opened up like a peacocks tail feathers:

“At the cross we learn to taste the sweetness of correction and reproof. The cross of Christ says you where wrong. It says that you are a sinner. It says that you are deserving of God’s judgment and wrath. You were wrong in the deepest part of your being….and nothing you can do will ever make yourself righteous before God. That is reproof! That is criticism! That is correction!….But the cross not only says that we are wrong, it says that God sent his Son to redeem us and take all the punishment for all our wrongness….[at the cross] correction and reproof become sweet to you. When you are kneeling before the Lord and asking him to forgive you because you are a sinner and you are receiving his instruction and love and forgiveness and someone taps you on the back and says ‘hey you made a mistake over here’, it’s not so hard to take…. [and say] ‘yeh, I am a sinner and I probably am making mistakes so help me see….'”

So basically when correction comes it should come as no surprise! We should be living in the place of correction and reproof and love and acceptance all the time at the cross.

As I pondered these things a little more I thought that there was something else to consider in bringing a balanced perspective on receiving correction. You see, some people’s “correction” may be totally wrong, or intended to harm or wrong foot you and it’s not good to take everything on board. Satan is an accuser and I would want to draw a distinction between accusation and correction. It’s one of his favorite tricks to offer us poisoned apples in an attempt to harm us through something that has a passing appearance of good. Off the cuff hear is a quick stab at something that might help separate accusation from correction:

Accusation says something negative not only about what you have done but about who you are. (“you’re a loser”)
Correction highlights something negative you have done while viewing you in a positive way. (“your’re better than that”)
Accusation wants you to stay stuck.
Correction wants you to  move on.

(I’m still pondering these things. What I have said isn’t quite right because the gospel says “you are wrong” but “there is a better identity for you in Christ”. The gospel is the only thing I know that can separate  something I have done from who I am. It does that by placing my sin on Jesus).

Trouble is though that accusation is not always as obvious as “you are a loser, you’ll never amount to anything”, “nobody loves you, how could they?” and correction is not always as clear as  “you can be free of that”, “I’m sure you didn’t do it on purpose but…”, “your body is a temple of the holy spirit so it’s not good to…”, “you are so good at X and I really admire they way you Y but I’m sure you would want me to let you know that when you do Z…” 🙂 The context is usually far wider than the actual few sentences that are involved.

Looking again at the proverbs I notice that it’s “faithful are the wounds of a friend” (prov 27:6) and a reprover needs to be “wise” (Prov 25:12). Jesus also forbids correcting people when your own fault is far greater (Mat 7:3-5). So some good questions therefore might be are “is this a friend”, “are they wise”, and “are they making good choices in their own life”.

The problem, as has been alluded to already, is that no one will ever be 100% in all those things and therefore correction will usually come in less than pure form. The three points made above in the preach are not reasons to reject correction but a plea not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Josh does not want us to drink dirty bath water but to pan it for the gold it contains and it seems to me that the more we are living, as he extorts us to, with a sense of God’s ongoing loving correction in our own lives, the more we are able to safely sift the good from the bad, the accusation from correction.

Anyway, I am so glad there are people around me who have loved me enough to correct me at times and I’ll try to make the most of the well meant red ink the comes my way. For some reason I don’t take it personally when Microsoft word underlines something with its squiggly red and green lines. I suppose that’s partly because it also makes some helpful suggestions as to how I can put it right.

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