Code Words Aren't Just For Secret Agents

So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know and are firmly established in the truth you now have. 2 Peter:12


A few years ago, when we kept missing the school bus in the morning, I found a way to beat the system. I learned that Horseshoe Road was on our bus route, two streets after ours. As it literally is a horseshoe, I'd drive down the opposite end and pull up wherever I saw children still standing in their driveways waiting for the bus. Although my kids were embarrassed, our driver thought it was hysterical. She started referring to us as "Where's Waldo," because she never knew where we'd show up.

After multiple mornings of having to scream at my kids that we were running late, I shouted out the single word "Horseshoe!" It was amazing how just that one word caught their attention, got them to focus, and most importantly, got them to hustle. When we didn't miss the bus that morning, I knew I was on to something. I started to refer to my little trick as "Code Word Horseshoe," and I used it any time we were running late for anything.

Although I haven't used that code word in years, my oldest son Zack resurrected the code word concept recently when he was struggling with a writing assignment.

Despite the fact that Zack is a fairly good writer, he doesn't think he is. Consequently, he puts up a wall. And trust me, when Zack puts up a wall, it is solid, thick, and high. It takes A LOT of creative maneuvering on my part to break it down. When I do finally succeed, he always does a great job. But the process is painful and exhausting for the both of us.

As he sat at the counter the other day, with tears of frustration in his eyes, I had an inspiration. For the first time, I told him how I see the cycle unfolding: he builds a wall, I take it down, and suddenly he writes a great essay. It was amazing to see him finally understand his own pattern.

How he responded was hysterical. He said, "It's like Donald Trump - how he wants to build a wall between Mexico and us." Although the metaphor wasn't a perfect match, it helped Zack realize he was the one blocking his own ability to write. He went on to say, "How about the next time this happens, you just say 'Trump' and I'll know not to build a wall." "Code Word Trump" has been so successful, Zack even used it with his brother Mason when he was struggling with his writing assignment the following week.

Like our kids, we all struggle with our own issues, issues we've analyzed inside and out. Most times we can determine their root causes, and nine times out of ten, we also know the changes we need to make to resolve them. But with all that's on our plates, we just simply forget to work on them, to change our behavior. A single word that summarizes our issue can jog our memories. Unlike a lecture that hashes and rehashes, a code word is a simple reminder, and a call to action. Furthermore, it doesn't carry the emotion and judgement that make us defensive.

Jesus taught and retaught for three solid years through conversations, preaching and parables. I think He also used code words all the time. "Peace" is one of them. But I think the most important one was "love." It is at the core of every lesson He taught, and it applies to most every issue we have. If every person answered that call to action with love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self, there'd be world peace, and we'd be living Heaven on earth. I think that's why this code word is repeated so often throughout the entire Bible.

Saturday, as Mason was yelling something to me up the stairs, I asked him to "shhh." His sister Jocelyn was exhausted and was trying to take a nap. As usual, because I corrected him, Mason's entire being crumpled. Having lectured him a thousand times that me correcting one small error of his was not me saying he's a terrible person through and through, I decided it was time for a code word. I motioned him up the stairs and we discussed the options. We settled on "Code Word White Out:" when you make a mistake on a paper, you simply white out the small error; you don't toss the entire paper into the recycle bin.

It was like a light bulb went on in his head as he finally ingested what I've been telling him for years. Plus, he was so excited to have his own special code word, he walked away a happy boy. On my end, I felt relief thinking I won't have to repeat that lecture over and over again anymore.

That's how God must feel when we finally realize "love" is His code word: relief that we've ingested His message, and hope that we may finally take action in carrying it out.

Questions For Reflection:

  • What issues do my kids struggle with repeatedly?
  • What code words can I create for those issues to inspire my kids to take action, rather than feel reprimanded? 


Written By: Claire McGarry

Claire McGarry is a mom of three young children, and the founder of MOSAIC of Faith: a ministry through which she offers evening retreats and monthly groups for moms, service projects for kids, and a weekly mommy-and-me program. She posts weekly at “Shifting My Perspective” where she writes about how Scripture always helps her to see the gifts in the midst of the challenges of motherhood and life in general. You can visit her blog at