Speaking Gracious Words
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What does it look like to “speak the truth in love” with your children in a practical way? Dave and Ann Wilson discuss with author, William Smith, about how to be honest, yet encouraging.
Speaking Gracious Words
Bob: As our kids get older/as they become teenagers, there will be times when, as parents, we will need to have some hard, very honest conversations with them. Here is William Smith.
Bill: One of the skills that you need to develop in speaking honestly is the ability to mirror someone back to them: “This is what I think I see when you interact with me like this—when you use those words, when you have that tone, when you look at the floor instead of looking at me—this is how I feel when you do that. I’m not saying that’s your intention; I’m not saying that that’s even a correct perception on my part. I’m simply feeding back to you, in verbal form, ‘This is what I’m getting from you.’ Do you see that?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, December 11th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Having conversations with teenagers, or even with toddlers, and having grace present in those conversations—that doesn’t come easy sometimes. We’ll talk today about how we can do a better job of bringing grace into our parenting. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I think we’ve all had the experience of saying something to each other in marriage or to one of our kids—and at the moment we’re saying it, we’re thinking, “How do I pull these words back and undo what I am doing in this moment?”—because we recognize, as we say it, “This is wrong.”
Dave: Are you thinking of a story, Bob?
Bob: I don’t have a specific one in mind. I just know there have been those times, where even in the midst of the words, I’m just going, “I shouldn’t be saying it this way. These words are going to do more harm than good.” Why are you smiling?
Ann: There are so many times that I have felt like that; and then—I don’t know if guys do this—but I know women do this. Then we go to bed at night—and those words just cascading over our minds and our hearts—we’re so convicted. Our kids used to make fun of me, because I would profusely apologize for what I had done and confessed.
Dave: She would walk down the hall, at two in the morning, wake them up—not kidding—when they were little and say, “I’m so sorry for what I said earlier today.” They are like, “Mom, I just want to sleep.” [Laughter]
Ann: Then I would write them letters—and they would all make fun like, “Hey, did you guys get a letter from Mom last night?”—[Laughter]—of saying how wonderful they are, and how I was so sorry, and “I didn’t mean to say…”
Bob: So all of us have had words that we have regretted, [even] in the moment. Some of us can get over it more easily than others of us can. [Laughter]
Bill Smith is joining us this week on FamilyLife Today, and we’re talking about the power of words and about how words of grace in parenting matter. In fact, Bill has written a book called Parenting with Words of Grace. Why this book? Why this theme? I mean, why did you say, “This is the book I need to write for other parents”? What was on your heart with that?
Bill: Really, I wanted to see people develop relationships with their kids and have some real tools that they could use to do that. I also wanted tools that were gospel-infused so that they were driven by the gospel—by a reliance on the Lord/by confidence that God is much more involved in my life than I actually give Him credit for—but it’s not mystical; it actually happens in real time and space.
Bob: Bill is a pastor in the suburbs of Philadelphia. He is a counselor and, of course, an author and a speaker. You shared with us earlier that, in your pastoral ministry, you’ve seen parents/you’ve had parents come to you and say: “We don’t know how to have a solid relationship with our kids. We don’t know how/we don’t know where to begin with that.”
Bill: Yes; I don’t think those parents are unusual. I think a lot of us just assume, “Well, you have kids; and you feed them; you water them; and you go on.” [Laughter]
Bill: You discover very quickly, “No; that’s not the case.”
Dave: Well, it’s interesting—I mean, your title—you could pick that up and say, “Well, this a book that tells parents to only speak flowery, wonderful, sunshiny words/words of grace.” Obviously, that’s true; but not—that isn’t the only thing.
I mean, you even mention there—and I know I’ve said this many times—probably a lot of parents—when you are watching American Idol, and they are doing the trials in the beginning, you’re like, “This person cannot sing. How in the world did their mom or dad not tell them?” You just want to go—because they are like, “My mom told me I’m a great singer!”—[Laughter]—you’re like, “Your mom lied; are you kidding me?” [Laughter] But you’re thinking, “Okay; are they just a parent that only did grace and there was no truth?”
Is it just about giving grace, or is—what’s the balance?
Bill: Jesus speaks, and the people marvel at the gracious words that come from Him. That was the thing that marked Him; when you heard Jesus talk, you got this sense of what it was like to be in the presence of a gracious God. He says things like: “Get behind me, Satan.” [Laughter] You sort of shake your head and you think, “Okay; somehow, in God’s understanding, that fits within grace.” Well, when Satan is tempting you, it is gracious to say, “No; stop. You will not do that anymore.” I think we have a misnomer. We equate grace with niceness and discipline with nastiness—no; it’s not the case.
Grace is very different. The whole Book of Proverbs just talks about two people—right?—the wise man and the fool. You all know this. Who is the wise person?—they are someone who you get to understand by what comes out of their life. A lot of it is communication: they are thoughtful; they are considerate; they think about the impact that their words might have on other people. The fool, meanwhile, is a person who shoots their mouth off; there is no filter between their brain and their mouth. Whatever they are thinking comes out of their mouth and just sort of blows things up.
Gracious words are thoughtful; and they are considered, which I think is a bit of a rebuke to our culture, which values the sound bite, and the snappy repartee, and the back and forth, and the thoughtlessness. I think social media sort of helps push us in that direction. You come into the Scriptures and realize, “No; God has a very different way of communicating.” Actually, His way builds connection and relationship without being sugary.
Dave: Well, it is interesting that you differentiated between—graceful words, sometimes/maybe, come across harsh for that mom or dad to tell their son or daughter, “You really don’t have a gift of singing,”—that’s grace—
Bill: Yes, it is.
Dave: —because it is the truth. I mean, it sounds like, “Oh, you would never say that to anybody.” No; that’s a very graceful thing to say, “You have other gifts—
Dave: —“they’re incredible. This one is not one; I know that is hard for you to hear, son or daughter, but I’m being honest. If you don’t believe me, ask three other people. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong; but I think you’re going to hear the same answer”; right?
Bill: And why would you do that? You’re trying to help them live as well as they possibly can in the world that God has made for them—
Bill: —part of which is the gifts that He has given. Okay, you’re saying, “Yes, it doesn’t matter whether you want to be a great singer; that’s just not one of the ones that you were handed.”
Dave: It’s interesting—toward the back of your book—you have this “Skill of Encouragement” and the “Skill of Honesty.” I would love to talk about that. I think our natural bent, as a person, is we are critical; that comes easy to most of us—am I right? I mean, you can see things; and you speak about that, maybe, are critical or negative.
To be an encourager, and to have a skill of that—that my spouse, my kids, my neighbor would think, “I want to be around Dave; because when I’m around Dave, I feel encouraged,”—man, I don’t know if anybody has ever felt that from me; so talk about this skill, because it isn’t just an attitude; it’s an actual skill.
Bill: It is. The reason those two skills are in there is—I’m learning from
Ephesians 4:15, where Paul talks about speaking the truth in love. Right before then, he says: “Look, there are two options. You can be this immature, wave of the sea, that is just tossed to and fro by the wind—you can be at the mercy of all kinds of foolish teaching—or you can be mature. Which one would you like?” “Door B, please.” [Laughter]
Bill: “Okay, how do you get there?” “Well, your options are what?—Scripture, Holy Spirit, prayer,”—no; it’s speaking the truth in love. Now, all those others are true, and they are true in other parts of Scripture; but in this one, it is honest, truthful conversations with other brothers and sisters; i.e., also your parents; that’s how we develop maturity. You think, “Okay, that’s an interesting combination—truth and love—why those two?”
Because if you don’t have both of them, you don’t have either. We’ve all had that experience—someone has spoken accurately about us; but because they didn’t really care for us, it came across as criticism as you said, Dave, or sarcasm—it was “truth” that tears people down. Or we’ve had the experience on the other side—maybe, Ann, a little bit more in what you were referring to—of someone, who was sensitive, and kind, and didn’t want to be hurtful—so they pulled back; they didn’t say things that were as truthful as they needed to be. That was a conversational style that kept someone weak. You realize that, if you don’t marry truth and love, you don’t have either.
So what is encouragement? Encouragement is for those of us, who are a little more critical: “How do we learn to speak truth in a way that builds people up?” Honesty is for those of us who tend to pull our punches: “How do we learn to have a love that makes people strong by being more truthful?”
Bob: I was thinking about this verse recently—and looking at it in that context of being tossed to and fro by every wind and wave of doctrine—I thought, “Sometimes, I’ll hear people say, ‘We need to speak the truth in love,’—and what they imagine the truth is—‘Is my opinion—
Ann: That’s a good point.
Bob: —“’where I/because this is how I think I need to express how I think and do it in love.’”
Well, that’s/I don’t think that’s what the Bible is saying. Speaking the truth in love is: “Here is what God says”; I think it can also be: “Here are the facts about how this makes me feel,” or “Here are the facts about what this is doing to our relationship.” But speaking the truth in love is not my subjective sense of what is right or wrong, or true or not, in this relationship. It’s got to come back to speaking the truth as God sees it. This requires us to make sure that we’re speaking the truth and not just saying, “Well, because I think that it’s true, I just need to wrap it with some love around it.”
Ann: Do you have an example of that?
Bob: No, I don’t. I was just aware of the fact that, sometimes, people will pull out: “This is true, because it’s true to me.” There may be some factual basis; so a wife could say to her husband, “When you said that, this is how it made me feel,”—that’s true—but when a wife says, “You need to know you are a critical person,” that’s her subjective analysis of how she sees him; that’s not necessarily true just because she thinks it.
Ann: Ooh, let’s talk to the counselor now. How could she have said that?
Bill: So you want a hypothetical response to a hypothetical situation? [Laughter] Okay; good.
Dave: Okay, let me ask you this—
Bill: This sounds like premarital counseling. [Laughter]
Dave: Well, I’ll give you another example that you can say: “Is this right or not?” If somebody says, “You’re a critical person,” my first thought would be, “That might be true.
Dave: “I need to ask three other people, who know me well. If they all three go, ‘You are a critical person,’ and I go, ‘Okay, show me what that looks like,’ I’d have to go, ‘I think that’s true.’”
Bill: You always want to check what someone says; right?
Bill: Otherwise, you’ve replaced God with them; and you’ve allowed that person to be the voice in your world; so yes.
Would I urge a wife to say, “You’re a critical person”? That might be a little strong until we both agree that that’s actually the case.
Bob: Yes; if a wife says, “You need to know that, sometimes, you come across as a critical person,” what you are trying to say is: “…received by others as having a critical spirit.” That now is true because she’s been on the other side of that; and that’s different than saying, “You’re a critical person.” Does that make sense?
Bill: As long as she is willing to consider that, perhaps, she reads something that he’s doing as critical when it’s not.
Bob: Yes, exactly.
Bill: So “I feel this way,”—
Bill: —is a valid statement. Whether or not that feeling actually has a grounding in reality; that’s a different question.
Ann: It feels accusatory, too, when you say to someone, “You are…”
Ann: It puts you on the defense.
Ann: I’m wondering, “Is this a conversation”—as we’re talking about truth and love—“is this a conversation we could have with our spouse to ask them about ourselves or to even ask our kids? Would that be a dangerous place to go?”
If I ask Dave: “Do you feel like I give you truth in love, or am I more critical? Do you feel like I’m encouraging you?”—is that a question I could ask in our marriage, or even ask a teenage son or daughter—like, “Hey, you guys, I’m wondering”—to one of our kids—“do you feel like I come across as critical, or constantly telling you the truth too much, or do you see me on the: ‘You’re so loving Mom, you never tell the truth’?” I’m not even sure teenagers can answer that; but is that a question, at least, for a spouse?
Bill: I like the question from a spouse. I like the question for kids; I might lead a little bit less.
Ann: What do you mean?
Bill: “How do you experience me?”—rather than telling them how they…“Yes,” or “No.”
Bill: Because I’m afraid—if I say, “Do you feel like I’m too critical?”—now, I’m probably going to hear that for the next three months [Laughter]; but if I ask: “What’s it like to live with me?” “How do you feel around me?” “Where are the things that I am helpful to you?” and “Where are the places I am not helpful?” I like open-ended much more than close-ended.
Ann: That’s good.
Dave: I tell you what—I think, if a person isn’t willing to ask that question, that’s a critical sign of pride. I mean, there is part of me that wants to go: “Just deal with me. This is what you got. You married me. If you don’t like it, it’s too bad.” But to have the humility to go: “How do I come across?” “What’s it like being married to me?” “What’s it like being my son?”—and being willing to say, “Okay, God; I’m expecting You to speak to me through them,”—that’s humble.
Bill: It’s humble, and it’s a critical part of being honest with someone. One of the skills that I think that you need to develop in speaking honestly is the ability to mirror someone back to them: “This is what I think I see when you interact with me like this—when you use those words, when you have that tone, when you look at the floor instead of looking at me—this is how I experience it; this is how I feel when you do that. I’m not saying that that’s your intention; I’m not saying that that’s even a correct perception on my part. I’m simply feeding back to you, in verbal form, ‘This is what I’m getting from you.’ Do you see that? Am I missing that?”
If I’ve got the humility to ask, “Am I missing…” I think that is a valid place to go.
Dave: Yes; we had a small group of guys, years ago—that we were together 20 years almost—
Dave: —raised our kids together; it was just a beautiful. I’m still, obviously, friends with all of them; but we had a monthly meeting. One year, one of our guys decided, “Hey, this year, let’s speak into each other truth about their blind spots.” Like, “What do you mean?” “Let’s pick Bob; Bob, it will be your night. We’re going to send Bob out of the room. We’re all going to discuss Bob’s blind spots, bring him back in, and then”—because it’s not just one of us; it’s seven us—“we’re going to go, ‘Bob, we love you. Here’s what we appreciate about you…but here are three blind spots that we identified. Let’s talk them through.’”
I tell you what—it sounds like a horrible experience—it actually was very helpful, because it was honest; but it was encouraging. By the end of the night, you’re like, “Really? So how do you…because you all agreed on this.” They did it very lovingly; it was truth in love.
Now, I’m not saying that this is a model for small groups. Again, I’m looking at a counselor, saying, “Was that a bad idea, or was that a good idea?”
Bill: So how long had the group been meeting before you chose to do that?
Dave: Fifteen/eighteen years.
Bill: So what you had was a group of guys, who were committed to each other,—
Bill: —who knew that they were committed to each other. The ground of that was love that trusted. Without that trust—that “You guys have my back, and the only reason that you would say anything is because you want me to be better than I already am,”—
Bill: —without that kind of trust, what you’re describing, I think, would blow up.
Bill: But having that kind of trust is huge. Having that kind of trust with—so let’s translate it into family—with your spouse, and giving them permission to say, “Yes, these areas are pretty nice…but these areas could use a little work.”
We have one of our kids, who—well, all of them actually are pretty gifted at helping me see me. [Laughter]
Ann: But you’ve allowed them to do that.
Bill: I want that.
Bill: Yes; because I: “What do I know? I know that I am deceived by sin. I know that I deceive me first before I ever try to deceive anybody else; because it/in whatever I’m thinking to do, I’m thinking, ‘That’s going to work out great.’”
The first blindness is in here; I can’t see that on my own. I need the gift of the people of God; and I need the gift of the people that God has placed around me, whether they are the people of God or not, to help me see those things.
Bob: And we’re back full circle to where we started this whole conversation.
Bob: The power of the relationship—the love and trust dynamic in a relationship—when that’s in place, truth can go across that bridge.
If parents and kids are colliding when it comes to these kinds of conversations, you have to pull back and say: “Is the foundation of love and trust understood and realized and experienced?” “Do my kids know how much I love them?” “Do my kids know that they can trust me? Do they have that foundation so that, in the moment, I can say things that are true, and they can hear them without feeling fearful/without feeling less-than?”—all of those things. This is what is at the heart of your book.
Bill: It is; and one of the things that I think is really central to that is the confidence that God is involved and God is in the middle of all that—that the gospel does not ever enter anyone’s world when we’re doing well—the gospel doesn’t come to us when we’re plus-30; it’s always minus-50.
Bill: The gospel is really good there. It’s really comfortable at rescuing us; and when we have invested ourselves in our kids in ways that have not been healthy, the gospel is still there.
Ann: Let’s say parents have listened; and they’ve thought, “Whoa! I have really failed at this.” Give us next steps to help them to kind of build that relationship back with their kids.
Bill: So, number one, hope is essential; the hope comes because God has not failed, and God has not quit, and He has not given up. Second, you have a Redeemer, who has paid for every wrong word that you have ever spoken; therefore, you can trust His words to you when He comes to you.
Third, I think you have to start with: “What can I do to reach out to my child to help them believe that I actually am for them, not against them? What are the pieces that I can do to build that trust when I’ve worked very hard to tear that trust apart?” And to believe: “Okay, maybe, it doesn’t happen in four years, five years, six years. I’m not called to success; I’m called to be responsible for what I can do, which is: ‘Let me offer you a taste of Someone that actually would be good for you to know.’”
Bob: The good news is, if the bridge goes out, it can be repaired.
Bill: It really can. It’s very critical for me/necessary for me to know and believe that, once Jesus rises from the dead, nothing has to remain the same in my life.
Bob: Yes; this has been good. Thank you for the time; thanks for the book. Thanks for coaching us and helping us remember how powerful our words are. I’m thinking of Peter Parker: “With great power comes great responsibility,”—that’s Spiderman for those who—
Ann: I know! [Laughter]
Dave: Peter Parker on FamilyLife Today; never thought we’d be there. [Laughter]
Bob: Bill, thank you.
Bill: It’s been my privilege. Thank you guys.
Bob: We’ve got copies of Bill’s book, Parenting with Words of Grace, on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. Order the book when you go online; or if it’s easier, call us to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number. Again, our website, FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to get a copy of William Smith’s book, Parenting with Words of Grace; call 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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We hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together, one way or another, with your local church this weekend; and I hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to begin an extended conversation about adult children and their parents and how we can all get along better/how you navigate these relationships once your kids are grown, out of the house, married, have their own kids. How do you make sure the bond stays strong? We’ll talk about that next week. I hope you can be with us for that.
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