I walked into the church library unsure about what book I was going to read next. Being the librarian, I’m well aware of what’s been recently added. I’ve been trying to build up our resources for biblical counseling and my passion is growing in this area. That’s what made me order Loving Well. However, the subtitle had kept me from grabbing it sooner for myself: Even if You Haven’t Been. That made me feel like the book was geared more toward recovery from abusive relationships, horrible parenting, and the like. But still, I thought, I could read this to help me encourage those who struggle from the pain of really bad relationships.
I was wrong.
This is a wonderful book on loving well in all your relationships, no matter who you are. As Smith puts it in his introduction:
We are all fully responsible for the ways we mistreat each other, and we have all learned from the bad examples we’ve had. Nature (your own sinful inclinations) and nurture (the things you’ve experienced from others) join forces to undermine your relationships. They produce what the apostle Peter refers to as “the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers” (1 Peter 1:18, NIV) (xv).
The introduction sets up the book beautifully. Knowing how convicted and discouraged the reader will become as he reveals the different facets of godly love—Comforting Love, Sympathetic Love, Struggling Love, Forgiving Love, and Longsuffering Love (this is just part one!)—Smith pastorally points us to the One who is love:
In my relationship with God, what’s always been most important is the quality of his love for me, not the quality of my love for him. It’s only as the reality of his love becomes my present experience that I will be more concerned about expressing my love to others than insisting they express theirs for me (xix).
That is exactly how he frames each chapter of the book. The focus is on our Savior’s loving work on our behalf, and his ability to transform our hearts. As each chapter is saturated with the gospel, we are encouraged in gratitude to extend the love God gave us to the relationships in our lives.
William Smith is a counseling pastor, so you expect him to know all about how to be a loving Christian. You expect him to have great relationships—and he does. But maybe you don’t expect him to blow his top on his kids, or grumble when someone pops by his house on his day off, or slouch uninterestedly when counseling a teenager—he does that too. William Smith is a sinful human being just like you and me. And although he is growing in godliness, he still falters. Smith shares some of these experiences with the reader and I really appreciate that. It encourages me to know that these struggles are common to everyone. We all struggle to love sinful people, and we all struggle with our own sinful, selfish tendencies.
The five aspects of love that I listed above are chapters that make up Part 1: Love That Responds to a Broken World. Part 2, Love That Reaches Out to Build Others Up, includes chapters on Partnering Love, Pursuing Love, Communicating Love, Serving Love, and Providing Love. It seems overwhelming, doesn’t it? Yet instead of feeling overwhelmed, Smith has a great way of holding up God’s glorious love and inviting you in. I felt like I was truly being counseled as I read. How can you not be encouraged when Smith exclaims, “I have this Jesus who reaches out to me in my unworthiness to welcome me back” (111)? I love the Heading for Part 3: Love That Enjoys Heaven on Earth. He introduces it by saying:
In heaven, sin and suffering will no longer have a role in how we relate to each other. But love will. In the future, pure, wholesome, healthy, engaging, delightful, enjoyable relationships will be the norm (165).
By showing us our sure hope for our relationships, Smith encourages us to experience those aspects of love as we are being prepared for glory. The final chapters in this section are Welcoming Love, Humble Love, Celebrating Love, Peaceful Love, and Hospitable Love. Each chapter has questions to reflect on for applying its teachings. This was a 250 page book that, as the author admits in his concluding chapter, only begins to scratch the surface of God’s amazing love. I enjoyed the journey of reading it and will encourage you with Smith’s last words to the Christian reader:
You and I are becoming experts in loving others.
Count on it (251).