Book Review: Parenting with Words of Grace, by William P. Smith
William P. Smith, Parenting with Words of Grace: Building Relationships with Your Children One Conversation at a Time. Crossway, 2019. 214 pages.
Words are powerful weapons. By his word, God created the cosmos, gives spiritual life at conversion, and conforms his church to the image of Christ. Words are used by pastors to sing praises to God, preach Spirit-empowered sermons, and speak truth and comfort to counselees. But for all their good, words can cut and destroy as well. They can deceive, dismantle, and discourage. Words are powerful weapons, both for good and for bad.
THE DOUBLE-TONGUED PARENT
Maybe as a pastor you’ve experienced the conflict of James 3 in your life and ministry. You spend your Sunday morning praying for God’s power. You encourage and welcome visitors to your congregation. You comfort the afflicted amid hardship. You disciple your flock in a Sunday small group. You sing praises to your glorious God. You preach expositional sermons. Your words are used to praise, comfort, and exhort all morning.
Then, as you get in the car with your wife and four kids to head home, you use that same tongue for harm. You are patient and slow to anger in public, but hot-tempered when your children don’t behave like little cherubs. You heartily sing about grace that is greater than all your sin but are unwilling to show that same grace to the little annoyances your children create in your life. You’re theologically precise in the way you describe sin and the power of God’s grace to overcome it, but not theologically practiced at dealing with sin in the lives of your children.
I’ve been there. I am there. And I don’t like it. I need a pastoral reminder of God’s grace and a parental instruction guide on how to show God’s grace to my children. I also need resources to give to my people facing the same struggles. Parenting with Words of Grace is one resource I’ll turn to repeatedly for help and to disciple others.
Divided into four sections, Parenting with Words of Grace is biblically saturated, gospel focused, and full of real-life application. Part 1 provides a vision for parenting with words of grace, reminding the reader that God has used words to invite us into relationship and we are called to do the same with our children. Part 2 provides the hope of parenting with words of grace, the hope of the gospel that is needed for sinners who are prone to image the great deceiver instead of our Redeeming God in the words we speak. This hope comes only through the person and work of Jesus Christ who speaks the truth in love perfectly in a way we can’t and as the crucified and resurrected Savior now intercedes as a great high priest for his people. Parts 3 and 4 get into the application of these principles by giving instruction on the skills of encouragement and honesty, specifically how to speak the truth in love in practical, day to day life. Sprinkled throughout are extended stories of how these principles worked out in personal ways in the author’s life as a parent. The following quotations were especially challenging and thought-provoking.
“Parenting is not about figuring out the right thing to do or to say to generate a certain outcome; it’s about a person to love. And when you’re talking about loving a person, you realize there are no formulas that always work, which means there are no guarantees and no certain return on your investment.” (p. 22)
“What do your kids hear from you? If they regularly experience you as harsh, strict, overbearing, joyless, gloomy, never satisfied, depressed, or needy, then it’s because you’ve told them you cherish something deep inside—only it’s not them. It’s something else, and their role in life is to make sure you have that other thing.” (p. 30)
“When my heart lines up with God’s—when I care more about my friendship with Him and with others than I care about what I can get from others—then my words will sound more like His. Yours will too. You learn to trust God’s heart for you based on His words to you when you’re not at your best, and your kids learn to trust your heart for them based on your words to them when they’re not at theirs.” (p. 37)
“The predominant thing people heard from Jesus was not irritation, condescension, frustration, manipulation, hostility, bullying, threats, complaints, whining, or bitterness. They heard gracious words.” (p. 50)
“Speaking to your children is a high-risk, high-reward activity. You have the privilege of making the invisible God visible—no higher honor!—and yet you might just as easily paint a picture of him that’s more demonic than divine.” (p. 61)
“When you see that truth without love tears others down and love without truth keeps them weak, then you realize that you cannot really have truth or love unless you have both of them at the same time.” (p. 118)
Proverbs argues that on this side of heaven, what comes quickly, effortlessly, spontaneously, and loudly is foolishness. Wisdom takes time. That’s important to remember when you’re upset or angry or in the middle of a confrontation. Your first instincts may not be your best.” (p. 161)
“You’ll never be a priest if you expect people to work right. I’m not saying that it’s okay for someone to be ignorant and going astray. It’s not okay—it’s unholy. But it’s not a surprise—you should expect it.” (p. 194)
“If I react badly to the times people are ignorant and going astray, they’ll still be ignorant and going astray; I just won’t get to hear about it.” (p.195)
FIGHTING THE WAR OF WORDS
Some “grace” books overcorrect our legalistic tendencies by falling into the opposite ditch of making no demands on the believer, But Smith steers clear of both legalism and license. With a pastoral heart and parenting wisdom, Smith dealt with my heart idols, placed my parenting within the context of God’s kingdom and purposes, and produced a resource that is balanced and biblical. I found this book to be convicting, but hope-filled, personally helpful, but also broadly beneficial for God’s people. As a pastor and a dad, I heartily recommend it to other believers fighting the war of words and tasked with shepherding young hearts. I pray it will help many as it has helped me to remember the gospel and use my tongue as a powerful weapon for God’s glory and others good.