I loved my English Grammar and Composition courses in college. As an incoming freshman I tested well enough that Grammar was not required, but I still took the class anyway, for one reason: the instructor, Jackina Stark. Most people wouldn’t consider diagramming sentences to be fun, but with Jackina, it was. Jackina—she let us call her by her first name—was one of those rare teachers who taught more with her life rather than her lectures. Learning under her was a joy.
I have three lasting memories from Jackina’s composition classes. First, she was a master at diction, always able to choose just the right word. She would curve two fingers by her ear, close her eyes, and move her lips slightly as she helped us phrase our thoughts well. “Doesn’t ‘wonder’ sound better than ‘marvel’ there?” she would ask. She had an ear for words.
Secondly, Jackina always — always — graded with a green pen. No typical red teacher ink for her; she preferred green. “Green for growth,” she once told me. In other words, Jackina loved revision, but not harsh correction. When my essays were filled with flaws, Jackina went to work with her trademark green ink. “Should we cut this part?” she’d ask in the margin. Or, “Develop this section more.” Always helpful, and always in green, until my essays were a veritable garden for “growth.”
Finally, Jackina also required us — to my great displeasure — to turn in our rough drafts along with our final copies. She wanted to “see our revision process.” We’d turn in polished, perfect (or so we thought) papers, with our ugly, handwritten, scribbled up rough drafts stapled behind. Confession time: Forgive me, Jackina, but on more than one assignment, I did not turn in my actual first draft. Second or third drafts, yes, but rarely a first. Most often, I composed and revised at the computer, printed off a tidy final copy, and then wrote out a fake rough draft by hand. I even marked it up (trimly, of course) to make it appear revised. Why? Vanity, I suppose, combined with an unhealthy obsession for neatness. My first rough drafts were rough, with illegible handwriting, disjointed thoughts, slashes, arrows, and doodles in the margins. I just couldn’t bring myself to turn in such shoddiness, so I glossed it up a bit. Jackina could probably see through my phony revision process, but I staged it anyway. I cared about my image.
I’m older now, and Jackina retired last spring. To this day, I still revise all my writing with a green pen. I also purposely waited until Jackina stopped teaching—and could no longer revoke a diploma—before making that confession. But I wonder. All these years later, when it comes to the story of my heart, am I any less absorbed with image?
The truth is, I still try to maintain the image I portray. I don’t want other people to see what a “piece of work” I am inside, and I certainly don’t want God to know how ugly I really am, with all my scribbles and sinful marks. When it comes to my rough draft life, I still don’t like to show the revision process.
So I gloss it up a bit. I pick and choose which parts to reveal, and I’m careful to paint the unattractive parts in a positive light. Rather than admitting, “I acted like a spoiled brat when I yelled at my husband today,” I only say, “Lord, forgive me for losing my patience.” “I haven’t prayed in days,” becomes something a little more self-preserving like, “I’ve been struggling to prioritize my quiet time.” Image.
How sinfully ridiculous. How proud. I suspect that God can see through the phoniness, too. He reads every error in my rough draft heart—every sin I try to cover. Pride, rebellion, unforgiveness … He knows it all. Yet, He is the God of merciful revision! And He doesn’t just want me to “show” my revision process; He offers to fix it for me. After all, God is the author of my salvation.
The apostle Paul knew about the rough draft life. His transformation in Christ was dramatic, and he lived every day in gratitude for God’s revision. In one of his letters, Paul implored the Colossian believers to lead new lives:
You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
In other words, let God begin to work a revision process. No glossing over, no hiding the truth. Allow God to proofread with His green pen—green for growth.
Paul continued, “Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:7-8,10). In the image of its Creator. As God revises my rough draft life, I will begin to look like Him. My heart and my image will reflect His own. “Should we cut this part?” His Spirit gently prompts. “Develop this more,” I read in His word. The author of my salvation is also the author of my every day. Under His revision, my work in progress becomes His work of art.
Like Jackina, God doesn’t grade for the sake of harsh correction, simply to mark me all up with shame. On the contrary, God’s revision is always for my good and His glory. God writes His story—His story—in me, and He longs to make His final masterpiece from my rough draft life.