Someone comes to you and says, “You’re not going to believe what I just heard about so-and-so….” And in the blink of an eye you find yourself caught up right in the middle of it. Gossip. The dirt. The inside scoop. Whatever you call it, we have all done it, we’ve nearly all been hurt by it, and we all know better. Then why is it so hard for us to not do something that the Bible clearly tells us is wrong? Is it because society treats it lightly, even promotes it with entire TV shows and magazines and websites dedicated to it? Is it because it makes us feel good to be “in the know” about someone else? Or is it much deeper, much more personal than we would really like to admit?
I recently taught on this subject and got several requests to blog on it. Although I can’t include everything from that lesson in this post, I’ll try to hit some key points and answer some really tough questions about gossiping so that we can all learn to get a handle on this problem that seems so minor, but can lead to a legacy of sin that we will hand down to our children if we don’t get a handle on it.
There is a big misconception out there that if you are sharing something that is true, then it’s not gossip. Gossip is anything we say that raises questions or doubts about another person or their character. It is conversation that occurs behind someone’s back that puts them in a bad light (even if that was not the intention). And then there’s gossip’s evil twin: slander. Slander is to speak critically of a person with the intent to hurt their character or their reputation
I don’t think we usually begin our day with intentionally gossiping about someone or harming their character on our list of things to get done. Sometimes we have a real concern or compassion or curiosity for a person and/or their circumstances and we convince ourselves, “If I can just get more information about this situation, or if I just share this with someone, we can pray for them or help in some way.”
But, if we are really walking with Christ on a daily basis, you know when your talk has become gossip. You get that tug, that pit-in-the-stomach- feeling from the Holy Spirit that tells you that you have shared too much.
Several years ago I encountered a difficult situation with a person that I disagreed with and felt justified in my opinions. I was speaking at a parenting conference and one of the speakers was teaching techniques and opinions that I whole-heartedly disagreed with and even worse…the speaker wasn’t even a parent! I thought it was outrageous. I couldn’t wait to talk about it with a couple of my friends because I knew they would agree with me that I was right…..it was outrageous what was taught and especially coming from someone with no practical experience. I repeated word for word for my friends what was said, even imitated the inflection and gestures used by this person. Then I got that feeling…that tap on the shoulder….uh oh…I was gossiping.
So, why do we talk about others even when we know gossip is wrong, harmful to us and others and we don’t really want to hurt other people? I think it’s like this: I once forgot that I had left a cast iron skillet in the oven and the oven had been preheating. Without thinking, I just grabbed the handle and burned my hand pretty good. Later that day, as I was taking a shower, I realized that the hot water was burning my hand further. However, it was too hard to use my left and hand and wash my hair with just one hand, so I decided to just go ahead and use my hand even though it was hurting, because it was easier to do what I had always done. That the same thing we do with gossip. It’s hard to change habits or to be the one to stop the conversation, so we just go ahead and do what’s easy if we know we are going to pay for it later. That’s the lie of sin. It seems so minor…or fun….for the short term. Then it turns around and bites you. Habits are hard to break.
We as women are naturally talkers and relationship oriented. (That’s not to say that men don’t gossip too) but we as a whole tend to be characterized by having loose lips from time to time. We are by design social creatures. Many of us desire to be included, to be in groups, to fit in and know what is going on in other people’s lives. These things all create the perfect storm for gossip.
We want to be valued, feel connected and get affirmation from those around us. When you share a certain opinion about someone, you are being vulnerable and laying it on the line. When the other person affirms your opinion and shares their true feelings, there is a “bond” -an intimacy that is formed by sharing a “secret” or knowing “inside” information.
If we are really going to get real about gossip and do something about it, we have to feed that root need behind the gossip in a more productive way.
The question is what is your root need that you are trying to fill with gossip? Is it that your self-esteem is low and you need to feel superior to someone by criticizing them? Is it that you feel left out in a group and want to be “in” the group? Do you just need someone to tell you that your opinions are valid?
Let’s be honest, at times we are all that 12-year-old girl inside that still wants to fit in and be accepted. That girl that needs to be in the “in” group and wonders if people really like her and if they are talking about her and judging her behind her back. And the tactics we used in jr. high to feel like part of the group are sometimes the same old tactics we use now, except that now the stakes are much higher! Now there are careers, marriages, testimonies and church unity that can be damaged by our words. Not to mention our children and our legacy.
So, here are five reasons to avoid gossip:
1. It tears apart homes and families.
“A wise woman builds her house; a foolish woman tears hers down with her own hands.”
One of the ways we tear down our own homes and families, as well as other’s families is with our foolish words.
2. It leads to bitterness.
Hebrews 12: 14-15
“Try to live in peace with everyone, and seek to live a clean and holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord. Look after each other so that no bitter root of unbelief rises up among you, for whenever it springs up, many are corrupted by its poison.”
One little comment made about you or made by you about someone else can start a root of bitterness and pain that can grow into weeds that choke out even the closest of relationships.
3. It changes how you perceive other people.
“What dainty morsels rumors are – but they sink deep into one’s heart.”
Someone asks a leading question like, “Is everything okay between Mark and Susan? I’m really concerned about their marriage.” You’ve had no reason to think anything was wrong….but now you start to wonder.
Even if the gossip you share isn’t a big deal to you, or if what you hear about someone isn’t even true and you know it’s probably just gossip, it plants a seed of doubt in your mind. Your mind is then forever changed about that person. You sometimes then analyze it and make it into something huge in your own mind. Then begins the speculation, the suspicions, and the judgment- all which may be based on hearsay or something that may not even be true.
4. It defiles you.
To be defiled means to be made unclean. It makes you dirty…basically. Jesus, talking to the Pharisees who were all wrapped up in the religious rules about what was clean and unclean to eat, says the following:
Matthew 15: 11-12 and 16-20a
“You are not defiled by what you eat; you are defiled by what you what you say and do. ……Anything you eat passes through the stomach and goes out of the body. But evil words come from an evil heart and defile the person who says them. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all others sexual immorality, theft, lying and slander. These are what defile you.”
Slander is right there on the list with murder and adultery as things that defile you. What comes out of our mouths is a reflection of what is going on in our hearts. If the heart is right, the speech will be also
5. It has lasting impact on your circle of influence: your friends, your family and your children.
We are supposed to be discipling our children – that is, leading them and teaching them to follow the Lord. They are our first and most important mission field. I know we would all tell our children not to be gossips or tattle-tales. But we can’t take our children any further than we ourselves are willing to go. We must get this right now – if we don’t, we are creating an open door of generational sin to flow right down to our children. Is that the legacy we want to leave our kids with? Is that how we want to be remembered, “My mom was always on phone with her friends talking about people?” It’s a hard question, but we must take it seriously.
There is no doubt that as women we will fail many times in the area of gossip. We will talk too much from time to time in an effort to deepen our relationships. If we are going to talk though, let’s at least make our words encouraging and beneficial. Let’s commit to use our words to build each other up instead of tearing each other down.
Wouldn’t it be great to know that the women in your life have your back no matter what? They aren’t going to slander you, they aren’t going to criticize your weaknesses, and they aren’t going to talk about you to other people? We can do that for each other! As Legacy Moms, we can commit to be women of integrity, women who stand for what is right, and women who have the self-confidence because of who we are in Christ. We don’t need to drag other people down with gossip. We don’t need to gossip to feel more connected and included.
We are all in process of becoming more like Christ by growing in faith and in spiritual maturity. We have all failed. Don’t focus on your own failure and the failure of others. Instead, let’s forgive each other and help each other to grow, improve and move forward from here. Let’s encourage one another to be better moms and better women today than we were yesterday.