Saint Nicholas

Is it a sin to swear in your head, Mr. Rob?

I’m an Awana leader. I’ve been one for 7 years now. For those unfamiliar with it, Awana is a Christian non-denominational children’s group. Not so much boy/girl scouts, but a fun activity-driven club for kids to have fun and learn the Bible.

The word Awana is an acronym. It stands for:


…and it comes from II Timothy 2:15. It’s a great club, and the kids are always fun, even if they sometimes are a handful.

Take for instance Nicholas. I grew to love the kid. Truly, he’s completely one of a kind. Nicholas’ imagination works overtime. He spouts thoughts in a stream-of-consciousness rapid fire, so it can be hard to funnel that energy into memorizing Scripture verses.

For instance, when I took roll call for the first time and was writing down middle names, I was so taken aback by his that I assumed he was kidding. “Foley Atchison” was the name Nicholas reported. Two names? Hyphenated? Surely not! I don’t think I ever verified that, but it seemed to fit him. Actually, it’s a strong name, probably a family name.

I found out later that the other leaders all asked that Nicholas be placed in my group. At first, I was somewhat upset, not that I’d be with the kid, but that they didn’t want him because he required so much attention. I wanted to prove them wrong.

I see a lot of myself in Nicholas. His whole creative invention streak, for one. Nicholas loves to bring his inventions to class. One was a little grabber arm thing that could be used to high-five a hand or scratch a back. It was complete with a working elbow joint! The kid’s only like 8 years old! Imagine what he’ll be creating when he’s 20.

Nicholas was also famous for his oddly profound and doctrinally sound statements. He once asked me,

Is it a sin to swear in your head, Mr. Rob?

Seriously, he really said that!

Nicholas has a Muslim friend and he’s very upset by the fact that his friend doesn’t believe in the Christian god. To use Nicholas’ words, “He believes in a fake idol.” So zealous was Nicholas in trying to make his friend see the Light, he was coaxed by his mother to tone down the evangelism. “I agreed not to make fun of his religion anymore.” I tried to console Nicholas that his buddy would learn to see Jesus in Nicholas’ actions, maybe more than in his words.

The Awana season concluded last night. I saw Nicholas and his family, and he gave me one more great quote. “Mr. Rob, are you going to be an Awana leader next year? Can I be in your group?”

Sure thing, Nicholas. I’ll be your leader.

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  1. Exactly Julie, that’s what I said in my first post when I defined lusting….all lusting, not just sexual, involves entertaining, mulling over, and eventually obsessing about things that we should not be focusing our energies on.

    Blending this in with the Malcolm post I think this is one of the areas where he has good intentions but misses the point. Anxiously awaiting Star Wars, or any movie, book, etc. and being excited about it and thinking/talking about it does not mean its a sin or is more important than God. It simply means you are excited about it. Now if you sell your children into slavery so that you can go see it multiple times a day then yes, you may be sinning!

  2. However, if you said “I can’t f@#$@#% wait for that f#@$$% Star Wars movie to come out! That’s some dope %#$ @##R and I can’t wait to get home and build an altar to Obi Wan!” then you may need to take ol’ Malcolm up on his proposition.

  3. I do believe, however, that there actually is some power in language and the way it is put together. Although this has something to do with the meaning that we’ve placed behind it but I also believe there is power there. In America we have a habit of leaching all meaning and power from language as we use words like ‘love’ to describe our feelings for music, pets, tv shows, other people etc. The ancient languages that had many more than just one word for things were so much more meaningful and powerful. And there’s no denying that certain people have a way of stringing words together in such a way that it moves us beyone measure.

  4. I feel like I probably misrepresented myself. In no way am I a perfect saint when it comes to swearing (be it internally or vocally)!

    I agree very much that out of deference to others, we should self-censor. That’s just good use of I Cor. 8.

    Around certain college friends, I can be a sailor. But around others, I am sensitive to their convictions or sensibilities. So you’re right, profanities aren’t always said out of intense emotion. Sometimes they are just colorful expressions.

    Speaking of the F-bomb, my very cool creative writing teacher in college once told us that in earlier times, the word was used in private between lovers only. Since then, it’s been dragged out of the bedroom. That’s too bad, because I believe that “private” words do have their place.

  5. I knew you’d ask that! Hmm, if Nicholas is asking me, I’d say that yes it is. After all, if a man lusts in his heart, he’s lusted in real life.

    But to an adult I’d say that the swear itself is not what “contains” the sin. letters formed together to make words hold no intrinsic value. The deconstructionist view is that language has no inherent meaning. We are the ones that layer upon our language abstraction and meaning.

    What does the word love mean? To quote that Indian dude in Matrix Revolutions, “Karma is just a word, like love.”

    So, all of that to say that any word we use “in vain” as Christians say (read: in anger, in disdain, in mockery, etc.) — that is a swear word. Christ, I believe, is concerned with the heart, or our intent. What’s behind our words? The language itself, the wording, is secondary.

  6. I’ve argued with many a person about the whole cussing issue. I agree that intent has alot to do with whether or not the words coming out of our mouths are sin. For the sake of others around us I believe that we should try to refrain from cussing out loud. I’m not sure how I feel about the whole thought thing though. I don’t believe a fleeting lustful thought is a sin as Jesus had to have those in order to be tempted like us but didn’t sin. Lusting to me involves more willful entertaining of thoughts. So is the unbidden cuss word in your head a sin or only when you purposefully put together a string of venemous obscenities in your head in a fit of anger or frustration? I also don’t really understand why it is that it feel so good to swear. Those words just seem to fit in your time of need! 🙂 My favorite author Neil Gaiman has said that the “f” word is his favorite word…he’s not using it in anger but as an expression of joy or as an adjective and at times I’d have to admit that the word just seems perfect. Sorry, I’m an imperfect saint, but I have to admit it! Anyway, just wanted to put my 2 cents in!!!

  7. The whole question is an interesting one as I’d probably tell a kid “yes” even though I’m not really convinced its a sin, just to hopefully keep him from walking around with a string of obscenities in his head all day. That brings up the whole question of lying for the kids own good! 🙂

  8. Well, I agree it’s not sin to have lustfull thoughts, etc. However, to entertain impure thoughts can become sin and can become a stronghold in our thought life. We are supposed to take every thought captive. The thoughts we entertain do affect us, either in a positve or a negative way.

  9. Wow! Good discussion, everybody!

    I agree that swearing should be monitored, and that it isn’t really a good reflection on Christ in certain situations. The problem that I have with some Christians is that they use “I don’t swear, drink, or smoke” as their only distinction from the world. A woman I used to work with made it perfectly clear to everyone around that she was the most modest, the most conservative, and had the most “graceful” speech. The problem was that she was also the most cruel, bitter, and lazy woman that I had ever met. She would proclaim boldly that she was a Christian, but she honestly alienated everyone around her–not with swear words but with cutting comments and judgments. I had people who knew little to nothing about Christianity that would come up to me and say that there was no way she was a Christian the way she acted. What a poor reflection on what Christ is really about!

  10. Wow, great, great thoughts you guys. That word, gratuity, is a very appropriate one, Patty. And Julie, you are so right about the power of any word when it’s negatively charged.

    I still remember a day when I was with my buddy back in Oak Grove and his dad used the S word on him. Nope, not that one. He called him stupid to his face and in front of me. We were just kids, powerless to talk back. I remember looking at him, biting back his tears. That word was more scarring to him in that moment than any “swear” word that can’t be uttered on national TV.

  11. Yes, there are much more destructive words than cuss words….my wife gets more frustrated when I call people ‘idiots’ or ‘morons’ (which occurs almost exclusively when driving 🙂 ) than when I actually cuss.

  12. Don’t you love kids! They are so honest and sincere. They don’t have the filters and walls with which adults tend to be hindered.

    So, Mr. Rob, I’m curioius. What was your response? “Is it a sin to swear in your head?”

  13. oh my god. i love nicholas. i can sort of see him in my mind and imagine what he must be like. i can’t believe that he brought his inventions to AWANA.

    and now…enough cooing over nicholas…and on to the broader issue at hand…

    you know, from what i understand, many forms of Christianity have a very sanitized (and inacurrate) understanding of the language that is used in the Bible. For instance, I once had a friend of mine that was well educated in biblical studies tell me that most Christians would be shocked to hear a literal translation of some of the language that David uses in the Psalms. Apparently, for it’s time period and context, it was quite harsh- even considered by many to be an equivalent to swearing. I hear things like that and I think, hmmmm…I do think it is a matter of the heart…and my intention in the word. In other words, I can say the most reserved, holy, righteous, rehearsed, sanitized prayer and not mean a word of it. Or, I can use language that many would classify as “bad” and be totally broken before God. Sometimes a curse word is just the most accurate word…and I even think that sometimes the most appropriate place to utilize one is in prayer. Honestly. Not in a gratuitous manner (doing it just to be doing it), but rather when expression makes it necessary, when I am really taking all that I am before God, it is usually pretty intense, and usually manifests itself in some pretty intense language, I guess. This might sound scandelous, but in my weakest, most human moments, sometimes a curse word is the only prayer that I can get out.

    And, as far as I am aware, God has never abandoned me there, but rather he always comes to meet me there. So, I guess that means He is not threatened or intimidated by my potty mouth…

  14. My kindergartener and one of her little classmates were trying to figure out what the “f” word was. She said they decided it must be “fire”!!! I guess we’re taught never to yell “fire”!! 😉

    I agree with Patty, God’s shoulders are broad enough to handle anything we throw His way!!!!

    I’ve rebelled from my childhood teachings on swearing. I am not much of a swearer! At least, not compared to my dad. He was/is very foul mouthed. Every other word I’m sure!!

    He used to refer to most women, including my mom, as b*****s. I remember wondering when I was little, if he thought I was one too. It still wounds me to hear that word used. James never says it out of love for me. Any negative word, cuss word or not, has the powere to wound our spirits deeply.

    I admit, it’s really fun at times when I’m with a close friend or James to cuss- they get such a kick out of it! 😆

  15. My great-grandma, who I was very close to, was a very conservative Baptist lady. She would say, “I might say s*** or d*** but you’ll never hear me use the Lord’s name in vain. I agree that is where it should stop, out of respect and honor for the name that is above all other names. It pains me when Christians use His name as a profanity. To me, it seems, they of all people, should know better.

    Rob, I bet Nicholas’ parents are so glad you are his mentor/teacher. I would hope that my children’s teachers would appreciate their quircky little personalities as you do his!!

  16. Wouldn’t that be nice, sometimes, if we all had an instruction book!

    Petting doggies=white

    Acknowledging that women are attractive when you’re married=black

    (sorry, I just couldn’t resist being silly 🙂 )

    The world would sometimes be an easier place then.

    The whole lying thing reminds me of the situational ethics debate and Christians like to try to stand back and say “never lie”….”never swear”….I guess the truth is that those things are “sin” and we should strive not to do them but that God also understands and forgives when we do.

  17. Hi Rob,
    I looked up your writing of Nicholas. Those kids are really going to miss you. You will have to get involved with AWANAs in Colorado. You have a knack with those young ones!

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