BY LILA CARPENTER
In high school theater, actors did not correct actors. Corrections were left to the director. Even well intentioned peer correction could have resulted in animosity or confusion. Our director, on the other hand, saw the larger picture; she knew which corrections were necessary and what would work itself out, and she knew what each actor was working on. She wouldn’t correct someone’s vocal inflection while they were working on movement.
The “actors do not correct actors” rule can be paralleled in Christian community. I have experienced communities that permit anything, and others that correct everything. I believe Christian correction lies in the middle ground. 1 Corinthians 10:23 (NIV 1984) says, “‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is beneficial.” We know this innately; though we are free through Jesus Christ, we know that some things of this world are not good or helpful. When we see our friends and loved ones doing these things, we often want to help them by correcting them.
But I would like to call your attention to Matthew 7:3 (ESV), where Jesus says, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” Even Jesus, who had no logs in His eyes, was conservative with His correction, so what right do we have to point the finger? Jesus kept company with prostitutes. Did we ever see Him say, “Hey, prostitute. I’m telling you this out of love, but if you’re going to follow Me, you need to cut that out. It’s destructive to yourself and not honoring to God”? No. He had every right to, but Jesus led by example, and I believe His example was not one of finger pointing. He did not want His actors correcting each other.
Even despite our loving intentions, many times those most in need of correction are not in a place to accept it. When I had my eating disorder, for example, if anyone said, “Hey, I’ve noticed that you’re manipulating your food intake. God says our bodies are our temples, and to hurt it, is to hurt Him,” I thought, “Oh really? Well, I notice you judging others. Is that godly?” What I said out loud, though, was, “I’m fine, thanks.” And then I would have avoided that person like the plague. I have avoided those people like the plague. I was offended because, despite knowing in my head that they were (hopefully) speaking out of love, I hadn’t asked them for their opinion or advice, and by offering it, I felt like they placed me in a position of inferiority. The area of my life they were pointing at was one I had already recognized. Most people know when they’re doing something wrong.
But for me with my eating disorder, the eating wasn’t my real problem. The problem was depression and a low self-esteem, and the manipulated eating just was a symptom. I was working on my physical health with a nutritionist and a doctor, I was seeing a therapist for whatever therapists do, and my spiritual side was being mended through conversations with my pastor and Bible study. Despite coming from a place of love, the unsolicited corrections were not only unnecessary, but also were received as condescending and hurtful. The correcting person was an actor correcting me on my vocal inflection when I was still struggling to memorize my lines. The director would never have made that mistake.
I want to make one thing very clear: in this analogy, God is not the director. Yes, God is the director of our lives, but to leave all course correction up to Him permits us to continue down destructive paths, thinking that, if they were really wrong, God would have stopped us. Books have been written about why God permits us to sin, but here that would be tangential and beside the point. What matters is that here, the metaphorical director here is not God but someone outside the situation, who has your best interest in mind, and has the authority to speak into your life. This may be a pastor, a mentor, or a parent or family member. Jesus was that director to His apostles, especially Peter, whom we see Him correcting time and time again. In Matthew 16:23, when Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan! […] You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men,” Jesus did not focus specifically on correcting the action, but spoke into the root cause behind it. In my situation, my director was my pastor. He would have never corrected me on my eating, because he knew we were dealing with something deeper.
In theater, we also often asked friends to watch specific parts and give feedback. Asking people to watch you translates into giving someone authority to speak into your life. I would recommend giving this authority to a small group of friends that know you—really know you—and that have your best interest at heart. Ask them, “I want to give you permission to speak into my life. I know you love me, and I trust that anything you say to me will be out of love. Will you let me know if I’m off track?” We need to have those conversations, because here’s what changes: when those people let you know you’re off track, they’re responding to your request, not being invasive. You’re hopefully close enough that they will know the real issue, or if they comment on a symptom, you will feel comfortable telling them the root cause or searching for it together. Even if they mess up the delivery, you already know they’re speaking from a place of love.
As I write this, I can see some of you squirming in your seats, thinking, “But what if I don’t have permission to speak into their lives, but they’re really screwing up, and I really, really, really want to tell them?” In that situation, I would give two options. Either 1) don’t, or 2) ask. The simple question of, “If I thought you were off track in something, would you want me to tell you?” goes a long way. However, this only works if you respect their answer. If they say no, let it go. They know you care, and if you continue to love them, they’ll come to you when they’re ready. If you push it, you’ll push them away.
An alternative is to speak in generalities, like how Jesus taught in parables, or to talk about yourself. A friend of mine did this for me. He knew I was struggling with a particular sin, and one day he casually brought it up in conversation, mentioning what tensions he was struggling with around it in his own life, how it applied to his faith, and the conclusion he had drawn. Never once did he say, “Lila, I know you’re doing this. Cut it out.” By the end of the conversation, though, I decided to change. His thought process made sense, it was biblically sound, and he presented it without making me defensive. There are ways to get your point across without making the other person cling defensively to theirs. In theater, this is like saying “I think it looks better when I make big movements on stage. The audience will probably be able to see it a lot better.” This comment might galvanize the other person to think, “Huh, maybe I should make big movements, too.”
And finally, a note to the recipient of correction: if someone corrects you, they are not trying to hurt you. It may be human nature to become defensive, but I implore you to be compassionate and patient. Even if you do not agree with the correction or do not think that they are in the position to give it, at least appreciate that they care about you enough to speak up. People will say things in love that you might take offensively. Choose not to.
Our role as Christians is not to correct each other, but to love each other and give space for people to either correct themselves or work in close-knit communities. I encourage you stand on that middle ground between permitting anything and correcting everything. Don’t point fingers, but instead invite a couple close people to speak into your life, and if you really, really, really can’t stop the urge to correct someone, please ask permission or use yourself as an example. Finally, above all else, whether the corrector or the corrected, strive to make grace and compassion your impulsive reaction.