2nd Commandment: What’s in a Name?

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.

What does this mean?

We are to fear and love God, so that we do not curse, swear, practice magic, lie, or deceive using God’s name, but instead use that very name in every time of need to call on, pray to, praise, and give thanks to God.

-Martin Luther, the Small Catechism

Names can define us, either for the best or the worst. Many people have a private nickname that would mortify them if it came out in public. Some of us are a part of a family where we have to deal with either good or bad expectations based on what our siblings or parents have done. The same sorts of things can happen with God’s name. In order for us to better understand what’s happening when we make wrongful use of the Lord’s name, let’s hear about a girl who grew up in a small family.

Christina Swartz grew up as the youngest child of three. Her mom always showed that she loved each of her children in their own special way. For her older brother it was going to all of his football, basketball, and baseball games. For her sister, it was celebrating all the science fair ribbons and taking her to her advanced summer school classes. For Christina, it was a little different. She wasn’t athletic or smart the way her brother and sister were, but she was always very good at making friends. The very first of which was her mother. They always had an inside joke that was just for them. The most important inside joke of all was the name Christina’s mom called her.

It all stemmed back to a time before Christina was in Kindergarten. Every time the family went to one of her brother’s games or sister’s science fairs, Christina always find the playground. If there wasn’t a playground she could always find a nice open area to play in. Usually she would be able to find some other kids to play tag, or cops and robbers, or even pretend like they were in a castle. Christina loved making new friends at these events and her mom loved that she was able to entertain not only herself but most of the other kids as well.

One day, early in spring, the small family bundled up to go to Christina’s brother’s first baseball game. Until now there had been snow on the ground, but the last two days had been warm enough to wear short sleeves. Most of the younger kids that were at her brother’s game were upset that they had to be at the game at all and were only interested in sneaking further under the blankets their parents had brought to warm themselves up on the metal bleachers. But Christina was determined to have an awesome day!

While all the other kids were snuggling up to their parents and constantly asking when they could leave and if they could get a snack, Christina slinked off down the rightfield fence where she found a drainage ditch with a tunnel that went beneath the sidewalk. She decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to play make-believe. So she spent the 1st inning creating a story about a monster that would crawl through the weeds and grab little children as they walked by. By the second inning, she was telling all of the kids about it. By the third inning she was convincing them to move closer. Finally, when she had gotten the kids close to the water on one side of the sidewalk, she snuck off to the other side  and crawled through the tunnel and jumped out at them yelling, “I’m the swamp monster and I’ve come to take you home and cook you for dinner!”

She and the other kids played for the rest of the game, and when it was over Christina’s mom found her. Her mom wasn’t very happy that her clothes were muddy, but she laughed it off and said, “Okay, swamp monster, let’s go.” As soon as they were closer to the car, her mom told her that she was proud of her for including the other kids in the game but asked that next time she not crawl through the mud. From then on, Christina’s mom called her “her little swamp monster”.

How do you think it made Christina feel when her mom would call her swamp monster?

As Christina grew up, she began to feel the pressure of being a Swartz. Her teachers always expected her to be just like her brother or sister. And usually it wasn’t the normal parts of them either. In gym class, people with older brothers would always pick her and expect her to be the best one on the team. When she wasn’t she would always hear them complaining that they wished they could have gotten the “good Swartz”. It wasn’t just in gym class that this stuff would happen. It happened every time she was in a math or science class too. Even though Christina tried her hardest, whenever she got a B on a test or a project the teachers would pull her aside and say that they knew she was capable of more. The worst was the times when they would talk about upcoming projects and use her sister’s projects as examples. They would go on and on about how great the project was and how everyone should look to this as a way to do the project. Christina felt like she was constantly being set up to fail.

What was it like for Christina’s last name to have so many expectations attached to it?

Just before Christmas in her seventh grade year, Christina had a particularly tough day.  First off, in Science class, Christina’s group had chosen her to put together the final report of their month long project, which all of their grades had rested on. They had simply assumed she would do as well as her sister. Today they received their final grades, and were asked to write a review for each of their peers. Apparently the teacher was fairly pleased with the research and information the group had gathered, but when it came to how the final project looked, He was not pleased at all. Although the teacher didn’t tell everyone right away, once everyone was done writing their peer reviews, they were asked to hand each of the reviews to the person it was about. As Christina looked through each of her reviews, her worst fears were coming true. Each of the reviews said that she had essentially ruined the project for all of the group. She was very hurt by this and just wanted to go home as soon as possible, but she knew this wouldn’t happen because she had to go to practice after school.

Earlier in the fall, Christina had tried out for the basketball team to hang out with her friends who all played, though for them it was more about the fun of the game rather than winning. Much to her surprise she was chosen for a spot on the A team rather than on the B team as she had originally hoped. Now each day after school she was sent to the big gym for practice while each of her friends went to the smaller gym. Christina’s mind wasn’t fully in the practice today because she couldn’t stop thinking about what her peers had said about her in science class. After Christina made her fourth, or fifth,or maybe her tenth (she wasn’t sure) mental mistake of the practice her coach had had enough. In one of the coach’s weaker moments, she accidentally let slip a little too loudly that Christina wasn’t anything like her brother and she shouldn’t have ever let a clutz like her on the team to begin with. It was all Christina could do to simply keep the tears from spilling out of her eyes for the rest of the practice.

Thankfully, practice was over early. As soon as she was able, Christina rushed out. She didn’t even bother changing out of her practice clothes, she just threw on her coat and sprinted to the turn around where parents would pick up their kids. Much to her disappointment, none of the parents were there yet because she had rushed out of practice so quickly. So Christina found a corner where she could ball herself up and get as small as possible so no one would notice her. As the other kids started filing out of their practices they all seemed to leave her alone. She really didn’t care if they didn’t notice her or if they were afraid to talk to her, as long as they left her alone. Christina just couldn’t hold the tears back anymore. Her shoulders began to heave as she silently wept.

Before she knew it, she felt a familiar touch on her shoulder. Between sobs, she heard her mother’s comforting voice, “Oh, my little swamp monster, what’s wrong?” Christina just couldn’t figure out where to begin, especially in front of all of these kids. In fact, trying to say what had happened just made her cry even more. Her mom eventually picked up on the clue, “Ok, swamp monster, let’s get out of here.” Thankful that her mother was there to rescue her from a miserable day, Christina managed to pick herself up and shuffle to her mom’s car while avoiding eye contact from all of the other students.

After a bad day, how do you think Christina felt hearing her mom use her special nickname? Why?

The next day at school, something really bad happened. When Christina arrived at school, some of the other kids were playing kickball in the gym before school started. Christina decided she could use a break from the seriousness of her basketball practices and the awful things people had said about her the day before, so she asked the guy playing first base if she could play. He yelled out to the team at bat, “Christina wants to play, she’s on your team!”

A person on the other team yelled back, “We don’t want Swartz the Swamp Monster, she runs like she’s stuck in the mud!”

“We don’t want her either,” someone from across the field yelled, “She’s got swamp water instead of a brain!”

As everyone else on the field started shouting out their own versions of the insults, Christina began to realize that they had overheard her mother comforting her after practice yesterday. What had once been a comforting nickname between her and her mom had now become an insult other kids at the school could shout at her.

Even though Christina’s nickname hadn’t changed at all, why did it feel different coming from another person?

In Christina’s story, we saw the power names have to affect the way we feel. They can comfort us, bring on unwanted expectations, and even be used to hurt us. What we call each other can shape how we see another person, or if they feel respected when we talk to them. For example, when Christina’s mom called her swamp monster, it reminded Christina that her mom was proud of her for reaching out to other people. However, when people at school called her swamp monster, it made her feel disrespected and inadequate.

Through Christina’s story we’ve seen what kind of power a name can have. We also looked at how seriously God takes our use of God’s name in Leviticus 24:10-16. We even examined what God said about God’s own name in Exodus 3:13-15. So one question remains, “How do we use God’s name properly?”

  • Prayer – Within prayer, each of us has our own time to personally interact with God. Think of this time as the time when Christina’s mom would use her nickname and it would make her feel better.
  • Actions – Our actions do one of two things, especially when people know we are Christian. They either 1) Honor and show off who God is or 2) Share our own shallowness and selfishness.

A chameleon is a lizard that changes colors depending upon their environment, almost becoming invisible in order to hide from its enemies. Some Christians are like chameleons. They change when they are with certain groups of people. When they are with their parents or at church, they speak God’s name with respect. When they are with some of their friends, they misuse God’s name because their friends misuse His name. They might not want to look different than their friends. It can be really hard to stand up for God when some of your friends don’t.

Today’s small group activity was to come up with a real world situation where it would be difficult to stand up for God and make sure you aren’t misusing God’s name. Then you’ll make a skit using a storyboard or script and act it out.

This week’s At-Home-Challenge at home is to a) talk with your parents about the situation you came up with and find out what suggestions they have for how you would handle it and b) ask your parents to share with you a time when it was difficult for them to not misuse God’s name.

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