I have been accused of being in the grammar police. Many have also speculated that I secretly judge their grammar in my head as they speak to me… and I do, sometimes. But, overall, I think I probably make as many grammatical errors as I secretly (and sometimes less-secretly) judge in others.
The thing is—I never took a grammar class in college. I wanted to, but the undergraduate basic grammar class that one had to take to continue on in those courses was taught by a drunken, tenured, overzealous actual officer of the grammar police, and for that reason, I’ve never been properly taught (not to the level that one would deem me a grammarian, at least).
But I do know some rules and I love those rules. I find comfort in them. When one reads a well-edited work, they don’t even have to think about the grammar. The reason for that is simple: Following grammar rules helps your reader.
John Piper takes this helpfulness a step further. In a response to a question about his well-known love for commas, Piper stated, “I have conviction that grammatical rules and punctuation rules are practical ways of helping us love people.” That’s right… there’s a moral dimension to punctuation.
At this point in my post, I’m absolutely certain that my husband is rolling his eyes. Now, don’t get me wrong—Brian has the utmost respect for John Piper, but his respect for commas is not that strong. I know this because my husband, the writer, often calls on me, the self-proclaimed editor, to spruce up his written communications before they go out. And let me tell you—where Piper sees the comma as “a friend indeed,” Brian sees the comma as nothing more than an optional topping at the end of the punctuation buffet. And though my husband is right about many, many things, I’m going to have to side with Piper on this one.
When you don’t use commas properly, you aren’t communicating effectively. Here are some examples of how commas help in communicating well:
“Let’s eat Grandma” vs. “Let’s eat, Grandma”
“I like cooking my family and pets” vs. “I like cooking, my family, and pets”
Now, these are common examples that pop up all over the Internet, but they are nonetheless accurate representations of the importance of commas, as the absence of commas in either example is gross and/or could land you in prison.
In all seriousness though, when you communicate effectively, you are loving someone well. And that translates to the written word, as well. When you write in a confusing way that leaves a reader wondering what you mean, you are not loving them.
As storytellers, we need to love our readers well. If the goal is to proclaim the glory of God through the stories of what he is doing, then the reader must be able to focus on reading the written story. By putting commas in the proper places, using proper verb tenses, using correct spelling, and editing for readability, we are loving the reader well, and we are providing an enjoyable reading experience. We don’t want the reader of one of our stories to ever be focused on the grammar. We want them to be focused on Jesus.
This requires editors, and it takes time. But good art does require time… and a great deal of effort. Many great writers don’t catch their grammar mistakes, but that’s why God created us all with unique gifts and talents—so we can come alongside one another and help one another.
We have many great writers on our Austin Stone Story Team—my brilliant, comma-hating husband is one of them. And we also have a team of dedicated editors who come alongside the writers in the storytelling process to help them. Most of us are volunteer editors without formal training, but we each have an eye for readability, a teachable spirit, and a love for the reader.
John Piper refers to the helpful comma as a “little servant,” and I completely agree. And a story team needs lots of little servants—the writers, the editors, and the commas—in order to produce quality stories.
Feature image by Sean Mathis