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Get a Grip on Gossip

DSC_0553-Jeff_Robinett_blog_portraitDo you remember playing a game where everyone sits in a circle and the first person whispers something simple, like “I like potatoes,” into the next person’s ear? By the time the phrase had gone around the circle it always turned into something entirely different, like “my bike has toes.”

Now, do you remember the name of that game? It was “Gossip!” Everyone enjoyed playing because the results were so funny.

In real life, gossip is not funny. It chips away at people’s character and mars their reputation. It plants seeds of doubt and breeds distrust. It destroys relationships. Yet a lot of adults “play along” because gossip is so easy…and enticing.

That includes people in the church. However…

Gossip sounds a little different in church because it often comes as a “prayer request.” We tend to think anything is open for sharing as long as we say “please pray for them” at the end.

I don’t think that’s what James had in mind when he wrote…

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

– James 5:16 (NLT)

Some years ago I heard a great saying that’s absolutely true. It’s not from the Bible, but reflects biblical principles:

“The only sins you can confess are your own. Anything beyond that is gossip.”

As Christians we should always to be ready to stem the tide of gossip. So, when those juicy “prayer requests” begin to flow, how do we change the course of the conversation?

First, talk to people, not about people.

When talking with others, focus on developing a healthy relationship with them. Rather than talking about people you know, share your personal experiences. Encourage others to share their own experiences, too.

The past few weeks a verse from Ephesians has popped up during my study time, and in other (seemingly) random communications. (God is obviously trying to get my attention!)

Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.

– Ephesians 4:29 (GNT)

That’s easy to say, but tough to do. Gossip is everywhere. In a lot of circles, it’s more acceptable than ever. But gossip isn’t God’s plan. He wants my conversation…and yours…to be filled with words of strength and encouragement.

Next, practice the Golden Rule with your tongue.

What’s the Golden Rule?

Treat others as you want them to treat you.

– Matthew 7:12 (CEV)

How do want others to talk about you?  Do you want them to air your dirty laundry as a “prayer request?” Or use your problems as an “example for others?” Or do you want those things kept confidential?

“Over-sharing” is common in our media-saturated world. We talk about people who have no effect on our lives just to fill the many channels available to us. In many cases what’s happening in their lives is none of our business.

Occasionally, sharing problem areas is appropriate, but those situations are extremely rare. If you’ve been asked to provide a job reference, you need to be kind but honest. Another is when selecting a leader. And of course it’s appropriate to warn your children of potential dangers. In these and a few other instances, sharing the “hard truth” is important. But those are certainly exceptional circumstances.

Paul gave us a great filter:

Let your conversation be gracious as well as sensible, for then you will have the right answer for everyone.

Colossians 4:6 (TLB)

Finally…clean up the mess.

It’s easy to fall into the “gossip trap.” We all do it from time to time. But you don’t have to make gossip a habit!

I’ve learned that, although I can’t repair the damage my words have done, I can confess what I’ve done. Again, this is easy to say…but hard to do. In case you have problems getting started, I suggest you meet them in private and say something like “You remember what I said about ___________?  I shouldn’t have said that. It was none of my business and I was wrong for talking about them.”

When you “eat crow” it won’t “taste like chicken.” But it’s good for the soul. And it’s exactly the sort of thing James meant when he told us to

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

 – James 5:16 (NLT)

The next time you find yourself in the gossip trap, try it! Commit to cleaning up the mess. Yes, it will be hard…but the difficulty will be a great deterrent the next time you’re tempted to share something you shouldn’t.