Gossip (verb): to talk idly, especially about the affairs of others; go about tattling. (source)
Yesterday, my best friend came over to study and have supper with us. We got our studying done quickly and proceeded to chat about life, as usual. Nate was playing a video game in the adjoining space. At one point in our talk, I lowered my voice and proceeded to gossip about someone I dearly love.
Why did I do that? I imagine many women would have a similar answer: frustration, a lack of self-control, and an unforgiving and unloving heart. How many women would admit that?
Later that night, as we lay in bed, Nate brought this to my attention. He calmly and gently told me that he heard what I was telling my friend. He wondered what would make me say the things I said. He recalled another time when we’d discussed my tendency to gossip, and while he knew it was a habit and difficult to break, he asked that I try harder to stop. As he spoke, my heart was hard. I tried to think of some good reasons for my gossiping–who I could blame, what my excuse would be. I wanted to come up with anything that would shift the blame and make me appear less guilty.
Why did I try to do that? Again, many women would have a similar answer, I suppose: shame, sadness, even fear.
Once he finished his speech (if you can call it that), I hadn’t come up with any “good” excuses. And I realized in that moment that I didn’t want to come up with a good excuse. I just wanted him to understand that it’s hard to break a habit, especially when it’s a habit that the world tells you is OK for women to do. It’s hard to be diligent and to exercise self-control with your best friend. But most of all, I wanted to know that he loved me still, would be patient with me, would pray for me. I love the person I was talking about. I really love that person, but you wouldn’t have known it by the words I spoke to my friend.
I cried. I felt ashamed (still do, really). I felt sad. Nate and I talked about my troubles/concerns/frustrations with this person that I gossiped about. We came to the conclusion that I was not forgiving that person for being, well, a regular person. I was not forgiving that person’s mistakes. I was frustrated by inconsistencies in speech and actions. I was not loving that person as I should.
Basically, I was easily frustrated by this particular person because, instead of accepting them for who they are and loving them anyway, I was expecting them to be different every time I’d see them. And when they weren’t different, I became frustrated and my heart hardened against them.
We developed a sort of plan for me: to forgive that person of past incidences, to love them regardless of their frustrating ways, to distance myself from them if I feel aggravated, to not say anything about a person that I wouldn’t say to God’s face (or in front of my husband–that’s a good way for me to think of it). And truly, I can do none of this on my own. I can only do these things with God’s help and guidance and love. Therefore, I’m praying for that person each time a hurt or wrong or apparent hypocrisy brings them to mind–I’m just saying a prayer asking God to help me forgive and to love and to not gossip.
Gossip has long been a problem for women (men too, but mostly women). The Bible is clear on this point, though:
Proverbs 16:28 — A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.
Proverbs 18:8 — The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.
Romans 1:29-31 — They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.
How can you know if you are gossiping, though? Here are a few things I’ve determined to look for in my topics of conversation:
- Would you say it to the person you are speaking about? If you claim you would, then ask yourself if it would hurt them. If it would hurt them or if you would not say it directly to them, you shouldn’t say it to another person.
- Is the information you are giving private? Were you specifically told not to tell anyone? If the person has entrusted you with some information, you usually shouldn’t disclose it to anyone else (life or death situations, knowledge of a crime or something like that is excepted of course).
- How did you come across this information? If you accidentally overheard a private conversation, for example, it is not your right to disclose that to someone else. Were you told this story/information by someone else who gossiped about it to you? Don’t be another station on the gossip train–be the end of the line.
- It’s not often that discussing a person’s faults and shortcomings is excusable. Laying them out to your spouse in an effort to find a solution is OK, I think. Bringing the hurt to a pastor if it’s a church matter is allowable. And discussing the hurt with the person who hurt you is alright if done tactfully after much prayer and with a loving heart (be careful here, though–it’s very easy to hurt someone with “constructive criticism”). Any other time, though, there is no need to tell your friend about another friend’s sin or error. More often than not, a person’s sins, faults, shortcomings, errors are out of bounds for conversation.
I am praying for self-control in this matter. Gossip is evidence of an unforgiving heart, “for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matthew 12:34). Therefore, I’m praying for the ability to forgive and to love the person.