When I began my seminary studies in 2012, I started volunteering for a Houston nonprofit that helped at-risk youth. One of their major initiatives was to mentor young men in a juvenile detention facility each week. I was paired with a young man who was 15–we’ll call him Rob.
Rob had been expelled from school because of drug possession and fighting. Before being “locked up” he was considering joining a gang, or a “clique” as it was known in this part of town. To top things off, he had a troubled family life at home–a mother who was working multiple jobs, and his biological father would be in prison for several decades because of a violent crime. The goal of the mentoring program was to help these youth before they got themselves into even further trouble before becoming adults.
For about a year I met with Rob for an hour each week. We would talk, debrief the previous week, and play card games. My friendship with this young man was very impactful for many reasons–one of which I’ll share as it relates to the third commandment.
During one of our sessions, we started to talk about our use of language. Rob was starting to get serious about his faith and wanted to deepen his relationship with God. But the tough thing was that for most of his life he had been surrounded by curse words and derogatory language. Cellmates used them just down the hall at the detention center. He was accustomed to acting out in school in order to get attention. He heard people cuss all the time. His father even verbally abused him, in addition to many traumatizing years of physical abuse, too. Language had been a very damaging thing in Rob’s life.
As I listened to Rob talk about his history with cursing, he told me that he felt God’s conviction on his life about the kinds of words he used. God was putting it on his heart to possibly change the way he spoke each day…
“When I cuss, I feel like I’m not being articulate,” he told me, after a moment of revelation, “I’m just using worthless words that don’t really do much. Sure, others might use them, but I don’t think I’m supposed to.” We talked about how many times, when we use ugly words, they don’t really “add” anything to what we try to communicate. We often end up just sounding like we want to put other people down.
It was so inspiring to see this young man realize the power words have on our life.
Misusing God’s name can look like a lot of different things. Of course, using “God” or “Jesus Christ” while we are angry are pretty obvious examples. But anytime we carelessly use words, we break this important commandment. Anytime we use our speech to tear other people down, we take God’s name in vain. The only way we ought to speak of God each day must be to bring about God’s love to others.