Words That Hurt, Words That Heal
Speaking the Truth in Love
Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team
On the cusp of Queen Elizabeth’s diamond jubilee, it may be an auspicious time to read a Christian living book written by a doppelganger for Her Majesty (I’m a dual Canadian citizen and British subject), NavPress author Carole Mayhall ‘ at least in her older publicity headshots. On the other hand, anytime is a good time to working towards improving the quality of the words emanating from your tongue. The re-issued NavPress National Bestseller Words That Hurt, Words That Heal: Speaking the Truth in Love by Mrs. Mayhall is such a book.
A brief exposition of the power of spoken words, Words That Hurt, Words That Heal helpfully takes the reader back to the basics of godly speech in a winsome and straightforward way. Mayhall writes for the average or occasional reader, which is to say that this book accomplishes the founding mandate behind all NavPress publications: to motivate Christians to greater holiness and faithfulness in all facets of life. In a word or two, to deepen discipleship. More specifically, the book is geared towards women, but I found myself buying it and reading it because Mayhall was mentioned so often in books written by my wife’s favorite author, Elizabeth George. Intended audience notwithstanding, this male enjoyed the book.
To reiterate: Words That Hurt, Words That Heal isn’t a long read, but this doesn’t mean it doesn’t go deep. The line spacing is generous and the actual text is less than 90 pages, followed by a “Digging Deeper” discussion guide for each of the ten chapters. Mayhall weaves in ample but reasonable amounts of personal stories that highlight the theological points she is making. In fact, her theological points come across as godly common sense ‘ a strength of a good writer, I believe. More than once while reading I began to imagine Mayhall as a kindly but direct grandmother figure ‘ and this is a good thing! Mayhall always goes for the heart, never the jugular:
We may have known God for ten or twenty years or more, yet still go about sinning with our tongues, completely insensitive to the fact we are grieving the Holy Spirit. His voice was quenched long ago by our habitual unconcern and unresponsiveness in this area.
Some readers might object (prematurely) by averring that the Holy Spirit still woos our spirits, even in our unresponsiveness and hardened state. But they would be arguing along the same lines as Mayhall: It is we who are quenching the Spirit’s voice. He is not lowering his voice; rather we are putting our spiritual hands over our spiritual ears, muffling his voice. In the introduction Mayhall also makes the important dual point that words are deeds, and to God, our thoughts are words. Both thoughts and words are actions that we do, which has enormous ramifications for how we use language.
One of the best pages in the entire book comes early in the first chapter, using different types of watercourses to illustrate different kinds of conversations. Following chapters tackle different types of negative speech: bragging, complaining, carelessness, recklessness, slander and gossip, indiscretion, reproving, and speaking when angry. Fear not: throughout these chapters Mayhall does write about redemptive, positive types of speech as well. The final two chapters are concerned with gentle speech and the way we use speech when alone with God, through prayer and praise.
I have but two minor quibbles with this book, neither of which detracts overmuch from my overall impression of it. Firstly, quotes from The Living Bible proliferate. Using TLB is not wrong (my mother has used it for her private devotions for as long as I remember) but to my mind a Bible teacher ought to use a real translation the majority of the time. Secondly, in the penultimate page of the book Mayhall states that she is more and more convinced that telling people about Christ is not the most important ministry we have in this life. Rather,
what pleases the heart of God most are the choices we make that no one sees but God ‘ those everyday moments when God is the only audience; when we offer to Him the sacrifice of praise; when the sweet aroma of our thanksgiving reaches Him.
Point taken; when we are authentically devoted to God in our private moments, God is well pleased. But I would make a case for holistic integration instead of parceling out these varied but related components of the Christian life. Isn’t it also true, after all, that ardent private devotions without evangelism and feeding the hungry and discipling others, becomes an empty endeavor? Having said all that, based on the rest of the book I believe Mayhall would agree with the integration perspective.
Those two minor concerns aside, this is an excellent book for private reading or a discussion group, since the study guide is a built-in feature. To echo Mayhall’s preface, ‘May we bring our tongues to the place where they glorify God.’