They learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander.
– 1 Tim 5:12-14
Yesterday I wrote about some of my school experiences and one of the things I mentioned was how foreign it was to me, moving here and experiencing some of the gossipy things that went on in the public schools (and, I think, in a lot of small towns in general.) This leads me to something I’ve been wanting to write about for a while now that I’ve grown to hate with a passion and try desperately to get away from whenever, however I can.
I’m going to get really blunt here, and I apologize in advance if I hurt anyone’s feelings, but I’m going to say these things because I believe they need to be said. (And I ought to add that this is the work of several months worth of stewing over many different situations that I finally vomited all over the keyboard in a fit of utter frustration last night, and it reads as such! I’m also very aware that even as I have one finger pointed at someone else, three are pointing back at me.)
I’ve had a LOT of very, very painful and hurtful experiences with he said/she said over the years – within my long-ago school experiences, my more recent friendships and even my own family. Two people, whom I love very much, both give me two VERY different versions of a story, and sometimes try to turn me against the other in the process. But here’s the thing. When it comes right down to it, IT REALLY DOESN’T MATTER to me who’s telling the truth and who’s lying because chances are I’M NEVER GOING TO KNOW which is which this side of heaven. So you know what I choose to do?
I choose to love you anyway.
And I choose to love them anyway.
I choose to love you and make myself vulnerable and believe you – BOTH of you – even though you both tell me two different things. And you know why? Because the reality is that no matter whose version of the “truth” is the honest-to-God-this-is-how-it-really-happened-and-not-just-the-way-I-experienced/interpreted-what-happened TRUTH, the story you’ve shared with me is YOUR truth. It’s the truth that YOU have chosen to believe and share with the world and I’m going to accept it as such and I’m NOT going to base my relationship with you on what someone else says about you. I’m going to base it solely on who YOU ARE TO ME. And to ME you’re my mom/dad/uncle/aunt/friend/sister/brother/neighbor and until you tell me to get lost or hurt me so badly I can’t stay healthy with you in my life, I’m sticking around regardless of what ANYBODY ELSE says about you.
And when you talk bad about my mom/dad/uncle/aunt/friend/sister/brother/neighbor in an attempt to pit me against them (or – to use the “Christian” version – “warn” me about them), it really makes it that much more difficult for me to be around YOU, because I’m now having to guard myself against your words and put mental plugs in my ears against what you say.
Because you know what? I may not recognize it at the time, and I’ll try to be apologetic and supportive while you “vent,” but your words against my mom/dad/uncle/aunt/friend/sister/brother/neighbor eventually work their way in and lodge themselves inside me (Proverbs 18:8) and it takes me a lot of time and effort and work to get rid of them and see those people clearly without your words obstructing my view. Seriously, I don’t need that. I have enough crap inside of me that I don’t feel like having to work to get rid of someone else’s crap, too!
Do I sound a little impassioned? A little fed up?
Well, I am.
Are your feelings hurt?
I’m truly sorry. But maybe they should be.
Here’s the thing. I’m your daughter/sister/niece/friend/neighbor. Sometimes you’re hurting and you need someone to talk to, and I’m that person. I’m incredibly THANKFUL to be that person and I want to be here for you. But if you’re going to try to tell me how I should deal with the person who has hurt you, if you’re going to try to “warn” me about how he/she has done it to you and is going to do it to me, then I’m sorry, but you’re getting dangerously close to losing me as a confidant, because I’m not interested in your valiant efforts to “protect” me from the people I love. The fact is, in most cases, I don’t want or need your protection (and, really, neither does anyone else.)
I’m convinced that the majority of what lies between you and the person who has hurt you is the result of either a misunderstanding between two people who refuse to talk to each other and tell each other how they really feel, or a lack of forgiveness. Please don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying you shouldn’t talk to someone. By all means, tell me (or another close friend, relative, whatever) all about it if I’m your sounding board for the conversation you’re planning to have with your person. Tell me all about it if I’m your sounding board to help you forgive and move on. But please do NOT tell me anything about it if all you’re trying to do is turn me against someone. I don’t need or want that in my life (and neither does anyone else!)
Let me reiterate my stance on this subject…
I’m going to love that person you’re warning me against based on MY relationship with them, not yours. And I’m going to love you based on MY relationship with you, not theirs. They hurt you. You hurt them. I get it. I’m very, very sorry things have turned out this way. But thus far, they HAVEN’T hurt me, and even if they have, I have to decide for myself how much hurt I’m willing/able to handle. Forgiving those who hurt me and those around me is really the only way I’m able to stay healthy and my struggle to forgive isn’t going to be improved by your whispering against them in my ear. Please don’t do me those kinds of favors, okay?
But what if it’s an important issue? What if you’re worried about my personal safety, or that of my children? What if someone has put you or your kids at risk by their lying/cheating/stealing/whatever, and you honestly fear for my safety/health/livelihood/whatever? Yes, please do tell me what happened to you and why you’re worried about me. I consider that a loving thing to do, and I’m sure I would do the same for you. But there’s going to come a point during that conversation when I’m going to say to you something along the lines of “thanks for letting me know” and make some sort of obvious attempt to end the conversation. At that point, I’d like for you to let it go and not mention it again. I’m now informed, and I have my own praying to do. Please show me the grace of allowing me to follow the Holy Spirit as He directs MY life, not yours. And please pray for me, too.
But seriously, I don’t want to hear about how so-and-so did such-and-such to who-and-who in an attempt to warn me/protect me against thus-and-so (health/safety issues not withstanding.)
I don’t want you to “inform” me about the ways that so-and-so is “living in sin,” or the “wrong” ways that such-and-such is raising her children, or the “bad” decisions that who-and-who has made regarding hot-button personal/spiritual issues so that we can agree together over how wrong and misled they are.
And I don’t want to hear about the time when so-and-so did such-and-such with who-and-who in an attempt to make me laugh (at their expense), or feel sorry for you, or be angry/frustrated at them on your or someone else’s behalf.
(Just to clarify: there is a difference between venting to someone you know will help you work through things and complaining for the sole purpose of pitting someone against someone else. One has the power to heal and the other seeks only to destroy. And there is a difference between revealing something personal as a focus of prayer, and revealing something personal for shock value, or so that others can be disappointed, frustrated, saddened and/or angered by someone alongside you. Sometimes “prayer requests” are just gossip dressed in religious clothing. Not always, of course and I’m sure the line is even more fine than I’m aware of. Search your heart, and I’ll search mine, too.)
To all the friends/siblings/parents/etc. I’ve been too cowardly to confront in the past, I apologize and thank you for calling me out on my cowardice (and if you have a beef against me, and we haven’t talked about it, I ask that you please walk in the light with me [that’s a link, please read it!])
To all the friends, etc. to whom I’ve been the one whispering against others in your ear, I apologize sincerely and ask that you call me out on it if it ever happens again. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that I do this more often than I think I do, and that I don’t even recognize it half the time I’m doing it. I need to be held accountable.
To all the friends, etc. who have confided in me about problems with your mom/dad/uncle/aunt/friend/sister/brother/neighbor(s)… if you’re worried that you’re one of the people I’m talking about, first of all, let me say that if you are, I love you and I forgive you. I know a lot of you are struggling not to do this very thing (as am I) and I support you in our mutual struggle and pray for mutual grace as we make mistakes and work to keep each other accountable. Second, I encourage you to search your heart because the unease you feel may have nothing to do with me and everything to do with some things you’re holding there. Or it might just be what you ate for lunch. I don’t know. Feel free to ask. (I gave serious thought to contacting some people individually but then I realized that this is really a rant directed across the board to everyone who has ever participated in gossip and that pretty much makes it applicable to everyone in some situation or another, especially myself.)
I love you all. I really do. No matter what so-and-so says about you.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
– Eph 4:29