Lessons Learned From a Typo

by Tom Wacaster

Some years ago I was corresponding with someone about the changed life of Saul of Tarsus. The point I was attempting to make was that the conversion of Saul is evidence of the divine origin of the gospel. In my correspondence I wrote something that made absolutely no sense whatsoever. Originally the sentence read as follows: “Converted in early adulthood, this enemy of the cross because the most ardent supporter and defender of Christianity.” Of course one immediately realized that the word “because” simply did not fit into the sentence, and the thought was quite incoherent; in fact, it just didn’t make any sense at all. The word “because” should have been “became.”

Occasionally a typo can have serious consequences. The change of one single letter can change a positive statement into one that is negative. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” can take on a completely different meaning if we change just one letter: “Thou shalt now commit adultery.” Church bulletins are known for typos that raise an eyebrow now and then: “Thursday night – Potluck supper. Prayer and medication to follow.” Even classified ads can take on a whole new meaning with a small typo: “Get rid of aunts: Zap does the job in 24 hours.” Or: “This is the model home for your future. It was panned by Better Homes and Gardens.” I read the following online; whether true or not, it demonstrates the sobering reality of typo errors: “The rosebud on the altar this morning is to announce the birth of David Alan Belzer, the sin of Rev. and Mrs. Julius Belzer.” Another read: “The Senior Choir invites any member of the congregation who enjoys sinning to join the choir.” Well, so much for the lighter side of typographical errors.

Now let’s go back to the typo referenced above. In order to communicate the point I was trying to make, I had to replace the word “because” with “became.” In so doing, not only did the sentence make sense, it communicated the thought I wanted to make. Here are some lessons we might derive all such typographical errors.

First, communication is only as good as the one who seeks to convey his thought to the mind of another. Occasionally a person might use “double talk” to intentionally confuse a person so as not to communicate. Politicians seem to be good at that. Of course, it is not limited to politicians, or any single class of individuals for that matter.  Here are a couple of examples of double talk: “A doubtful friend is worse than a certain enemy. Let a man be one thing or the other, and we then know how to meet him.” “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” This one is credited to the late Winston Churchill: “The reserve of modern assertions is sometimes pushed to extremes in which the fear of being contradicted leads the writer to strip himself of almost all sense and meaning.” We have some wolves that have entered into the body of Christ who are good at double talk. Rather than openly tell you what they actually believe, they attempt to hide their true intentions with so much “double-talk.” I think it was the late G.K. Wallace who was fond of saying that he could explain his position on any issue on a postcard and still have room for the address. Simplicity, straightforwardness, and singleness of heart are essential elements to successful and open communication.

Second, when once you realize you have “miscommunicated” own up to your mistake and correct the problem. My typo did not hurt anyone; it may have confused my reader, but I do not think any lasting damage was done to our friendship as a result of a misplaced or misused word. That is not always the case. When it turns out that you have misrepresented the truth, take a minute and correct your mistake, apologize for any harm you may have inflicted on another, and carefully communicate what you intended in the first place.

Third, consider the power of one word, and even a few letters within a particular word. Let’s go back to my typo for a closing thought. “Because” was replaced with “became.” But if we reduce the correction to its basic element, the three letters “use” were replaced with “me.”   One of the great failures of many a faltering saint has been the attitude that God “use others.”  “Use others to teach the lost.”  “Use others to help the orphans and widows.”  “Use others to knock doors.” The list is endless; the consequences are devastating.  When we combine the incorrect letters from my typo with the correct letters, we get the submissive plea, “Use me.”  Those two words sum up the attitude that all of us should have when it comes to the work of the church.

While typos often leave a sentence incoherent, or provide a good laugh now and then, typographical errors can sometimes teach a hidden lesson; and even our mistakes can be teachers in disguise.


Do you remember: When it was safe to walk the streets, at night, without fear of being mugged or assaulted, when you could leave your house unlocked, and when a “Club” was something you carried with you when you went walking to beat off the dogs? Can you remember when families usually remained in tact, divorce was shameful, and single parent families were almost unheard of? Can you recall when “gay” meant happy, and “rap” was something someone did on your front door when they came calling? Or when the problems we faced in schools were chewing gum, getting out of line, or skipping classes? If you do, then likely you can remember when each school day was begun with a devotional and prayer, piped into each class room via the intercom, when neighbors talked to each other over the fence. when two week gospel meetings were common and cottage classes were conducted on a regular basis. When church attendance on Sunday morning AND evening were the norm, when we discussed religion with our fellow employees, and encouraged an open examination of one’s belief in the light of the Bible, when mission work was increasing each year, when preachers gave a “thus saith the Lord” for all that we do in religion, and wen the church was united, standing upon the Bible, and preaching and teaching the same. Do you recon there is any correlation between all of these things?

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