The Power In The Tongue
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William SmithWilliam P. Smith (PhD, Rutgers University; MDiv, Westminster Theological Seminary) is a pastor, author, and retreat speaker who has served several churches, been a faculty member of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation, and taught practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. He is the author of Loving Well (Even If You Haven't Been) and numerous other books and booklets.
Have you ever struggled with how to talk with your child in a way that seems fitting for the moment? Dave and Ann Wilson speak with author, William Smith, about the balance of words in grace and discipline.
The Power In The Tongue
Bob: When we have to correct our children, what we say to them matters. William Smith says it’s also important for them to know why it is their behavior needs to be different.
Bill: The same words can come out in, probably, close to the same tone and be right and be wrong. “You’re not going to speak to your mother that way because I’m in charge, and I will not allow that,” “You’re not going to speak to your mother that way because that is not good for you. That is not what the Lord has called you to; and therefore, it is not acceptable in my home. I don’t have control and authority outside the home; I do have control and authority inside the home. That’s unacceptable.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, December 10th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. As parents, it is out of the abundance of the heart that our mouths speak. What’s in our hearts really does matter. We’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. There have been some times, in conversations we’ve had here on FamilyLife Today, where I’ve gone, “Oh! I just got my toes stepped on”; you know?—where a guest has said something—and I just went, “Yes; I should have been doing that for a long time.”
We had a guest, one time, who said, “Every time you have a discipline interaction with one of your kids, where you have to correct them,”—he said—“your goal should be that you walk away with them, saying, ‘I want to know Jesus better.’” [Laughter] I thought—
Dave: I’m laughing, because that’s a lofty goal.
Bob: —“That was never my goal. My goal was: ‘I want you fixed, and I want you acting the way I think you need to act. I don’t care what you think about Jesus right now.’”
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Dave: Yes, Bob; I can’t wait to hear you introduce our guest. Will Smith is with us. That’s pretty exciting; isn’t it? [Laughter]
Bob: We laughed, first, about the fact that if your name is Bill Smith, you are among tens of thousands of Bill Smiths in America; right?
Bill: Yes; it’s fun sometimes to Google my name just to see like how many hundreds of millions we are up to now.
Bob: Bill Smith is joining us. He’s from the suburbs of Pennsylvania, pastors a church just outside of Philadelphia. He is a counselor and an author. He’s written a book on parenting with words of grace.
Have you ever thought about discipline encounters with your kids and wanting them to love Jesus more as a result?
Bill: In the moment, that’s a struggle; but I think that is part of grace. I had one person ask me, “How do you know when to give grace, and how do you know when to discipline?” I thought about it for just a moment; and I said, “Actually, I think grace is the umbrella under which discipline is. Discipline is an expression of grace/it’s an expression of love; because the goal, at the end of discipline, is for my child to be better off than they were beforehand.”
Dave: Well, as you think—and I know you write about this in your book—and you think about Proverbs 18:21, which many people know as that pretty famous verse about the power of the tongue—“Life and death are in the power of the tongue.” It could almost be “truth and grace,” in some ways.
How do you, as a parent, balance—because it can’t always be life words; every word to our kids isn’t always affirmation—every once in a while and, again, not death words—but there are moments where you need to correct; and you need to discipline; and you need to bring a hard truth to your kids. How do you balance trying to parent with words of grace that balance the fine line between truth and grace or life and death?
Bill: What I see in Scripture: anytime you interrupt somebody, if they are going off the cliff, you’re being gracious. It doesn’t have to be harsh; it doesn’t have to be loud—but it can be a simple: “Hey, stop. What are you doing?” What have you done in that moment?—you have disciplined; you have said, “You may not continue.”
If your child ignores you, then you get a little stronger, and a little stronger, and a little stronger, and a little stronger: “No, I’m really serious; we are not going down this road,”—but it doesn’t have to start that way. It’s all a continuum of grace that says, “I am most interested in your best, even if that inconveniences me.”
Dave: I’ve also found—I think we probably all agree with this, as parents; definitely as married spouses—if I am speaking life on a/sort of regular basis, catching my kid doing something right and speaking life into it, and he hears that—again, not over the top—but he hears it every day: “Wow; Dad really thinks I’m amazing,” “Mom…”—then you have to speak, “Hey, what are you doing? You’re going over the cliff”; they’ll receive it better; right?—if there is a balance that’s leaning more towards life?
Bill: Yes; otherwise, what are you doing?—you’re caricaturing who God is. When you’re interrupting your child from doing something wrong, you’re speaking as God’s representative to say, “No; that’s not the way that you were designed to live.” But if that’s the only thing that you are saying, that’s speaking as the serpent; because you are refusing to see the other part of who they are and their giftedness. I think you have to have both.
You’re not sort of strategizing: “Okay; if I say three things that are positive, then I can get away with one that’s not.” You’re saying: “No; as God’s representative, I call out what is good in this world; and I call what is bad in this world. I invite you to move from where you are to where you need to be.”
Bob: What is discipline and correction that is full of grace? How does that look different than discipline and correction that lacks grace?
Bill: To be gracious, the primary beneficiary has to be the other person. Gracious discipline always has the other person’s good/best interest at heart. The analogy here is that we discipline like God disciplines us. He only speaks to us in those ways to correct us and curb us for our benefit; He doesn’t really gain anything.
The second part of that is He initiates that. It’s an offer of: “Here is a better world; isn’t this something you would want?”
Dave: You tell a great story in your book about—I don’t know what age your son was—but one of them decided he didn’t want to live with mom and dad anymore. He was going to move on, and you kept having these conversations that were going negative and even didn’t want to be—tell us that story—because I found that/because you had to be introspective and say, “What’s going on here?”
Bill: I think it is a normal experience; right? Some of our kids are little bit more forceful in not enjoying living under our roof. [Laughter] Some of them are a little more passive, but it comes out the same way. This one was a little more passive; you would say something to this child, and it would be ignored and be ignored. You’d have to make it into a fight in order to get it done. Then the next day, you’d have the same fight back again.
One of my huge idols is: “I don’t care if you like me. You just need to respect me.” I think this one sort of understood that. I found myself getting more and more irritated and more upset as the days/weeks went on. The conversation in my head changed. I could start hearing myself—the self-talk that you sort of ruminate over to where you start to think things that you should not say—sometimes, you can control that; and you can walk away, and afterwards start to think, “I need to love my child. I think I don’t even like them right now.” That’s really dangerous because, in that moment, you’re likely to say out loud, “I don’t like you.”
What do I need to do in that moment—I need to understand what is going on in me. I need to have that sense of: “What is it that is controlling me?—because the love of the Father is not. Instead, what is going on here, is the love of respect. It’s: ‘I must be respected in my house for my sake, not for my child’s sake.’” That, then, sparks one of those conversations with the Lord, “Okay; I’m out of line here. You need to wrestle with my own heart and bring me back in line with where You are.”
Now, again, because we are Americans, we want to hear that, then, magically changes everything. The spiritual life doesn’t work that way—it changes me, and my heart changes—but that doesn’t necessarily change my child. But it does give me the resources to deal with his disrespect one more time in a way that does call him to something better without crushing him.
Bob: So coach a mom or a dad: “How do we deal with a child’s disrespect in a way that doesn’t crush them or alienate them?”
Ann: Because, Bob, every single parent—at least, with teenagers—has been to that point of—
Bob: That’s right.
Ann: —“I don’t like you right now.”
Ann: Like we’ve all been there, so coach us and help us.
Bill: So why do your children need to respect you? Why do they need to honor you?
Bob: Well, there is a commandment about that.
Bill: —from Whom?
Bob: —from God.
Bill: So it’s an issue between God and them, not an issue between you and them.
Bob: If I make it an issue between me and them, I’m out of line at that point.
Bill: Exactly; because they were—it was never given to you to require that from them; that’s required of them by the Lord.
Dave: I think we just got counseled, Bob.
Ann: I do too.
Bob: I think so. [Laughter]
Bill: That’s where I have to counsel myself. This is something that I think I have to have in order to be okay today; apparently, I don’t. “Now, Lord, how do I care more about them being in trouble with You than I am about their disrespect of me?” Because I realize, “Man, okay, if they are willing to be this bulled against me, they are actually that much more bulled against the Lord. That could have eternal consequences for them”; and at this moment, I don’t care about that. I would be happy if they just smiled at me.
Bob: So if a teenager is saying something—and you’re instinct is: “You’re not going to talk that way to your mother! You need to respect your mother!”—do I say it that way?—or do I have the conversation with the teenager in the moment in a different way?
Bill: And that’s where I think what the issue, that is so critical, is: “Down, what’s inside?” because the same words can come out, probably, in close to the same tone and be right—
Bill: —and be wrong. “You’re not going to speak to your mother that way, because I’m in charge; and I will not allow that.”
Bill: “You’re not going to speak to your mother that way because that is not good for you. That is not what the Lord has called you to; therefore, it is not acceptable in my home. I don’t have control and authority outside the home; I do have control and authority inside the home. That’s unacceptable.”
Ann: The tone makes a big difference.
Bill: It does. It communicates whether I actually have your best interest at heart or whether I am insisting on: “I’m bigger, and stronger, and tougher right now; therefore, do what I told you to do.”
Ann: Oh, this is so hard.
Bob: Yes, it is so hard.
Ann: It really does take us being connected to the Father and listening to the Holy Spirit continually; otherwise, we’re just going to say what we want and feel.
Bill: That’s where I think the response in that moment is so critical. One of our children really needs to be able to express themselves. In that moment, my counsel to them was: “Say it; just say it.” It was that: “I hate you.” I said, “Good; you needed to say that. Thank you. You can express yourself fully, and I will respond with love. I’ll still feed you, because that’s how my heavenly Father responds to me.”
Dave: Did you say it that mildly?
Bill: I did, as unbelievable as that sounds,—
Bill: —because in that moment, that’s what they needed.
Bill: That would not have been helpful if I had responded over the top.
Dave: Yes; escalation would just lead to more escalation; yes.
Ann: I think it is important, because I did want to know what our kids were feeling. I wanted to know what was going on in their hearts and in their minds, so I would draw that out of them. We did have rules in place of how they would communicate it.
Ann: They are not going to call us names, or they are not going to call their sibling names;—
Ann: —but they can express what they are feeling in a respectful manner. But man, they can be angry about it without breaking or going beyond our boundaries.
Bill: Ann, I think that is so important. Again, the model here is not human parents to human children. The model is divine Parent to human children. You recognize that God, in the Psalms, invites us to say all kinds of really bizarre stuff to Him.
Psalm 73 is wonderful in my mind, where the psalmist starts talking about: “It’s absolutely futile to do what is right.” You think, “God comes along and says, ‘That’s good. I want you to spend a lot of time—put that in verse/put that in Scripture—I will make sure that lasts for thousands and thousands of years. In fact, that is what I want My people to come and sing to Me in worship on the Sabbath.’”
You get a glimpse of a God, who says, “If that’s what you are feeling, I want you to say it. I don’t want you to pretend that I am not interested; I’m not involved; and I don’t care.” Okay; we sort of learn how, then, to talk to our heavenly Father, which reshapes the way that we allow our kids to talk to us—not disrespectfully/not in a way that creates bigger tension—but that says, “No; this really is where I am.”
Dave: Yet, you know, I think the most frustrating—or one of the most frustrating things as a parent—and it’s right there in Psalm 73. Asaph says, “When I tried to understand all of this, it was mindless. I couldn’t understand it. The wicked prosper; and I’m doing good, and it just seems like why waste my time.” Then he says, “Until I entered the sanctuary of God,”—it’s like he gets a totally different perspective.
The frustrating thing about being a parent is we know this—and you say it in the book, and Jesus said it—“The mouth is an overflow of the heart.” We can correct our teenagers—we can say, “You can’t speak this way,”—we can correct their speech, but we know we can’t change their heart.
Dave: And if the heart doesn’t change, it’s just putting a little glue on the outside; it’s not going to do anything. That’s out of our control. We’re trying to get them to respect us or use respectful words; but at the end of the day, if their heart doesn’t change, nothing is going to change; right?
So that’s—how do you do that? I mean, you can’t control that, as a parent.
Bill: That’s so helpful, then, for me to look in Scripture and realize that God does the same thing. We’re preaching through the Book of Jonah now. I love the Book of Jonah, because of how badly it ends. [Laughter] It’s just—in all of its rawness, here is this prophet who has, in chapter 2, experienced the grace of God. He has got an incredible ministry, a 120,000-person city has been repenting; and he is angry and just absolutely furious. God makes this attempt/this inroad in the first part of Chapter 4 to come near to Jonah, and Jonah just blows Him off—doesn’t want to have anything to do with this.
God sets up the vine with the worm and all the rest of that to try to really reach his heart. The book ends with a question: “Shouldn’t I be concerned about that great city?” You’re like: “Well, I don’t know; should You? Should You not be? Where’s Jonah?” I want to hear, as an American, that Jonah repented; and then, everything was fine. God says: “No; you have to learn how to ask that question too.” You realize, “God speaks without necessarily having the guarantee that His words will be received and accepted.”
Ann: You say that your kids mature through conversation. I think about that, even in our walk with God, of having conversations with Him. I was recalling an incident that happened with two of our boys, when they were younger—just hitting each other/complaining—I felt like I was constantly breaking up these fights with them. I got them in a room one day; and I said, “Son, tell your brother what’s wrong; because you keep hitting him. What is really wrong? Tell him with your words and what you’re feeling.” They already know there are boundaries; you can’t say: “Because you’re dumb,” “…you’re stupid!” “So tell him what’s in your heart.”
He said, “I’m just mad at you; I feel like you’re always mean to me.” I said, “Okay; what do you mean? What has he done that makes you feel like that?” I mean, he’s like nine; and he said, “You’re always making fun of me in front of all our friends,” which I thought, “Whoa! That’s pretty deep, and that’s good.” Then he said, “That makes me feel like you don’t like me, or you’re embarrassed about me.” Then I’m like, “Oh, goodness! This is really good.”
I say to the older son—three years older—“What do you have to say about that?” He said, “I was/I thought it was funny.” The younger brother is crying, “It’s not funny; it hurts my feelings.” The older brother apologized; they hugged each other. I thought, “Man, they have matured in being able to express themselves.” It brought a broken relationship healing.
It was interesting—just a few weeks ago, we were with those two adult sons; and they had another conversation very much like that one. Here are these sons, that are expressing their hearts—what they’re feeling/their hurt with one another—I thought, “Look, they’re still doing it; and it’s remarkable.”
Bill: That’s a beautiful story; you don’t always get those. There is plenty of stories you probably could tell, where—
Bill: —the one says this and the other one says, “Like, yes; okay.” But the cumulative impact of: “Let me help you understand: ‘This is the way God built the world, and this is the way God built you. This is your place in this world.’” You can’t make up for that with a book; you can’t make up with some kind of highly-compressed counseling session. What you did for years, and years, and years pays off.
Dave: Yes; the thing I love that you’re doing now, Bill—and you do in your book—is you keep reminding us to go back to: “This is the Father/our heavenly Father with us and even with our kids.” It’s so easy to forget that, as a parent, especially in the chaos of the moment; and you keep taking us back there.
That’s why I would say, “Go get the book and read it. It’s going to put you on the ground floor/a foundation that helps you do it well.”
Bob: The book is called Parenting with Words of Grace: Building Relationships with Your Children One Conversation at a Time. You can order William Smith’s book on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY is our number. Again, the title of the book, Parenting with Words of Grace—order online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY,”—to order your copy of the book.
And let me also encourage you, if you have not been through the FamilyLife Art of Parenting® video series, make plans to get together with other parents. Maybe, after the first of the year, you can do this on Zoom; you can do it socially-distanced—however it works for you—but this series is so helpful for moms and dads to go through the eight sessions in the Art of Parenting and build a game plan/a strategy for how you’re going to raise your kids. Find out more about the Art of Parenting when you to our website at FamilyLifeToday.com.
We talked about this a little earlier today; we’re in the final three weeks of 2020. These are three significant weeks for us, here, at FamilyLife. We’re asking every FamilyLife Today listener—those of you who appreciate this program/who benefit from hearing FamilyLife Today—we’re asking you to make as generous a yearend contribution as you can make, and do it today if you can. We’ve had some friends of the ministry, who have come to us; and they have offered to match every donation we receive this month, dollar for dollar, up to a total of $2 million. We’re still a long way away from taking advantage of those matching funds; we’d love to hear from you today. Whatever you do—$50 becomes $100; $100 becomes $200.
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We hope you can join us back tomorrow when we’re going to talk about how we have, sometimes, hard but honest conversations with our children. There is a good way to do that, and we’ll talk more about that tomorrow with William Smith. I hope you can be back with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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