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Communicate the importance of words to your children

July 15, 2005|by LISA PREJEAN

"Mommy, what does 'O, God' mean?"

My 6-year-old and I were working on a project side-by-side recently when she casually asked that question.

I took one look at her and knew that she felt a little uncomfortable with this topic, so I decided to ease into my response.

I've told her that she can ask me anything. I want to make it as natural as possible for her to do so. When parents overreact, children stop communicating.

I looked down, continued working and said, "Well, that depends on how a person says it. Where did you hear it and how was it said?"


Perhaps she had heard "O Lord My God ..." the words at the beginning of the hymn "How Great Thou Art." Or, perhaps she had heard "O, God" uttered in a prayer.

One look at her face and I knew neither was the case.

She shyly explained how a teenager had used the words as an expression of disgust.

"Well, that teenager used the Lord's name in vain, and she probably didn't even realize that she had done so."

She thought about that for a few minutes and then asked, "Mommy, what does 'in vain' mean?"

Good question.

The phrase comes from the Ten Commandments. It's included along with "Thou shalt not steal," and "Thou shalt not kill."

The Old Testament book of Exodus tells the story of Moses receiving the commandments from God on Mount Sinai. In the 20th chapter of that book, the seventh verse states: "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain."

The word "vain" means having no real value or significance, worthless, empty, lacking in sense, foolish.

I explained this to her and also told her that when a person takes the Lord's name in vain, he is in essence saying that God has no value or significance.

"We don't take the Lord's name in vain because we love Him," I said with a smile.

To my surprise, this explanation seemed to disturb her.

"Doesn't everybody love God, Mommy?"

Hmmm. A child's innocence is so precious.

I gently explained to her that some people don't believe that God exists. Some believe in other gods. Others believe in God but use his name in vain anyway. Perhaps they don't realize that what they're saying is offensive or why it's offensive.

Then it was time for a lesson in Christ-like responses.

"We shouldn't be unkind to people who take the Lord's name in vain," I explained. "We can, however, tell them why we don't use the Lord's name that way."

Most people have heard the expression so often that they have become immune to it.

Widely used expressions are easy to pick up. My 10-year-old recently said, "What the!" from our backyard pitcher's mound. I rested the end of my bat on the ground and indicated that it was time for an interruption in play. Then I explained to him why I don't want him to use that expression - Most people follow the "What the!" with some form of profanity.

He thought about that and has been catching himself each time he starts, "What th--Oops."

Words really do matter. They speak volumes about who we are as people, what we believe, what kind of character or level of education we have.

That's a very important thing to communicate to our children.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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