It’s healthy to access the swear in prayer

Andrew Warner

In my family, summer months are the busiest of the year. It’s the season when soccer games and baseball games, recitals and church picnics collide. Carpooling offers one of the only ways to keep some sanity amid it all.

Recently I sent my eldest son off to baseball with another family, rushed my youngest off to karate, and ended up with both kids back at the ball field to catch the last innings of the game. The mom who gave my eldest a ride up to the game came over, a bit sheepish. She was concerned that she’d let the boys listen to music I wouldn’t approve of because of the swears used in some of the songs.

It struck me as an almost old-fashioned concern in an age when congressmen tweet their privates.

I assured her that it was OK with me – it’s the same music I listen to. And as soon as I said that I saw the shock on her face. Her worry was all about me being a pastor and that the pastor’s family wouldn’t know any swears.

I’m married to a former sailor. There’s not a word we haven’t heard.

I thought about this over the last few days – this notion that spiritual people wouldn’t have anything to do with swears, as if to be sacred is to be sanitized. Which is funny, because so many of our swears involve religious terms. Drop a hammer on your foot and you might actually invoke the whole trinity.

The idea of the sacred as the sanitized runs deep. As the saying goes, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” But I believe prayer is not meant to be sanitized or cleaned up. God knows us better than we know ourselves. We can swear. Our conversations with the holy can use honest, vulnerable, raw language. Anything we can feel, we can name to God in prayer.

We carry so much inside of us – stories we have not told, hurts we have not named, hopes we have not pursued. Honest, unsanitized prayers allow us to let go – to name to God, to swear to God if need be, to pour out to God all that we bottle up inside. And when we pour it out, we create room for God’s grace and love and peace.

This week, I hope you will pray passionately to God. Don’t worry about what you say, just say it with honesty. Don’t worry about good, clean words. Just lay it out. In fact, try to use more swears than there are in any of the music you hear. You might want to pray out of earshot of kids. But pray honestly until worry runs out and grace rushes in.