“Oh, but Jesus, I’ve got vices like any other man. Vices that You’re so used to, vices that won’t make You think less of me.”
– Dead Poetic, Vices
My older brother and I had been on a Call of Duty kick a few weeks ago. One night we were playing and I turned my soldier around only to see an enemy (that was exceptionally difficult to kill and exceptionally dangerous) right in my face. In that moment, my filter was removed, and I found myself using a cultural four-letter word. A few days later, I was in my car and I’d been stewing over something going on with a co-worker. I told God, “You know my heart, and You know what I mean when I say what I’m about to say.” I proceeded to pray aloud about this situation, and didn’t sense any kind of “release” in the situation until I used more cultural four-letter words.
Did I feel justified? Not necessarily. In fact, I felt odd afterwards, but the odd feeling you get when you do something you didn’t expect to do without being killed for it.
The only other time I’ve felt that way was when I was in the car with my dad as a 12 or 13-year old boy and with eyes full of tears, I admitted I’d gotten into the habit of looking at porn. Simultaneously, I felt the shame of what I’d done, but I also felt the overwhelming acceptance of my dad, who didn’t disown me and who didn’t in that moment tear me down for all the wrong things I’d done.
This sparks a load of ideas in me. Given the analogy I’ve used, I get the notion that sometimes strong language is okay when I pray, but isn’t necessarily okay as a norm, just as my dad’s acceptance of me was “this isn’t okay, but I still love you and I want to help you.” I tend to not be of the mind that curse words should be in our daily vocabulary, but I also am of the mind that sometimes there are otherwise no words. See, the reason words are considered curse words in our culture is because we ascribe emotions to them. I remember a story of a little boy who couldn’t properly pronounce the word “fork,” so as a two- or three-year old boy, his parents always tried to keep a fork at the ready so that they didn’t have to live through the embarrassment of the kid mispronouncing “fork” (I think you can imagine what it sounded like.) But that’s the absurdity of curse words – you KNOW that kid didn’t mean anything by it other than, “I want a fork.” But for his parents, it was terribly embarrassing because of the meaning ascribed to the combination of the 6th, 21st, 3rd, and 11th letters of the alphabet.
But I’m almost of the mind that they should (or at least can) exist in our private prayers. I beg you to bear with me while I explain.
I think that the Bible uses strong language at times. I seem to recall that in Philippians 3:8, Paul’s words can be translated as “dung” or more specifically, “bull****.” It literally means excrement. And with all due respect, I think that if Paul were talking to the 21st century American church, saying “I’ve lost everything and consider them all poop” probably wouldn’t get the point across.” I think about David and the Psalms, and how sometimes they were brutal in their language of desperation, despair, and frustration.
And that’s the beautiful thing about the Old Testament – it’s full of real people feeling real emotions. We should love the Psalms not only for their theological depth and wonderful praise songs, but because the fact that the Psalms were canonized tells us there’s room in our life with God for being real and honest about things.
I suppose that provides a segue for the biggest questions of all, and the real reason I write this blog. Let’s start with this premise: I can’t possibly surprise God with my sin. Anything I think, anything I feel, anything I do, anything I say – He’s heard it before. There is “nothing new under the sun.”
But still: how real can I be, and how often? I mean, I get using a few strong words every now and then, but am I to embrace that and make it a regular habit when I’m talking to God, or is that simply disrespectful? How much room is there in my walk for being real if it sometimes demands I face the fact that I may be on the precipice of hating someone or something? After all, we modern Christians don’t want to be known for being hateful.
Do you get what I mean? I think that we are kidding ourselves if we say that there aren’t going to be times that people, circumstances, or events shake us up a little and make us feel real emotion, whether that be anger, frustration, desperation, sadness, despair, rage, etc. It’s inevitable. And I’m not saying that we are to be simply reactive to what happens in life and not proactive. That is, in some cases, things are to be done about the things that are stirring strong emotion in us. But life in the Kingdom of God provides an interesting new dynamic – we can be a little bit of both. I’m reminded of a book I read in which the author’s son told him he’d been hit at school. When he asked what he should do, his dad asked, “did you hit him back?”
Now perhaps this isn’t a perfect illustration of what I’m trying to convey here (and the issue of “should you encourage your kid to hit back” is another debate for another time!) but it makes me think of a few different ways this could have been otherwise handled. The child could have been entirely reactive and only told his parents or the teacher what happened. This response is entirely facts-based and has no mind for a remedy – that is, the child himself has no intent of doing anything about it. In the spiritual, this is the equivalent of living in the “sweet by and by,” thinking that we are just victims of our world and in no position of changing it. But the opposite of that would be a proactive response – without seeking counsel, the boy hits his bully back, perhaps sparking a fight. It could end up even worse for him than had he not retaliated (but by golly, us Americans like the sound of that!) Instead, the boy’s real-life (as opposed to the hypothetical) response was to do a bit of both – ask his dad what he should do, and then do it!
So it is with us. We are not left to be victims nor initiators. Our inward reactions to the circumstances of life can be brought before God, and our outward reactions can be played out with the counsel and grace of God, and in a way that He would advise and encourage.