Under a Cheerwine Moon (A Story)
Prisons of Our Own Design

Living with Style (Rule Five): Be Open to Change


"Revise and rewrite." (William Strunk, Jr. & E.B. White, The Elements of Style)

If you think your life is going well, that while you may not be perfect you may be "practically perfect," as Mary Poppins said, think again. We are not a finished manuscript. The story of our life is being constantly revised and even rewritten, thank God, an often painful process but one in good hands and for good purpose.

Writers know all about this pain, and Strunk and White are right on mark in saying that "it is no sign of weakness or defeat that your manuscript ends up in need of major surgery." In a time before word processors, they used more vivid imagery to convey the seriousness of what had to be done: "Do not be afraid to seize what has been written and cut it to ribbons. . . . [S]cissors should be brought into play." Ouch! Sometimes, the writer is even taken back to one good page, one good paragraph, or one good sentence, cutting away everything that he worked so hard for, had invested so much in. And yet it's not wasted work. Sometimes a writer has to set out on a path, committing himself to a particular story or theme, before he can discover the better path.

Jeremiah reports the Lord as saying "See, I will refine and test them, for what else can I do because of the sin of my people?" (Jer. 9:7). Just as a writer must bring judgment on his writing, cutting away what is dross, so God brings a refining judgment on His people. Sometimes the change is incremental, some specific sin, for example, that besets us. But sometimes, as with the Apostle Paul, we realize that we have spent our whole life serving a God of our on construct and, thus, God reveals how deeply flawed we are and gives us a new place to start from.

A friend of mine recently shared with me how as a teenager he had an image as a Christian youth leader, one he knew was false but one he also tired to carefully maintain. When God revealed his hypocrisy, it was difficult for him to confess it publically, because it meant starting over, confessing that what he had seemed to be was not what he actually was. But he did. He's never regretted that, and his holding on to that image seems ridiculous now, like insisting on writing pulp fiction when you could write a story like "To Kill a Mockingbird." Like him, I have to let go everyday of what I think I am and be open to God's reordering and rewriting of my life.

For Christians, revising and rewriting is really just being open to God's conviction and then responding, being willing to set aside our image of ourselves, our own constructs, and be open to change, even serious change. "Scissors should be brought into play," say Strunk and White. The scissors may cut, but the comfort is that what's given back to us is so much better than what we so tenaciously held on to. He is, after all, the Author of Life. He writes the best stories.