Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips. ~
Several years ago, I was serving with a team of women in the church. I was the person in charge of the task, although I had a leader over me that I reported to. Every month I met with my team, and we would come up with plans for accomplishing our assigned task. Every month I would present it for approval, and every month we were shot down. We felt like we were just treading water and honestly questioned if they really wanted this task completed. We could never make headway.
That is when it started, the frustration building.
“Why are we even bothering to meet?”
“You should just tell the church to do whatever it wants, and stop wasting our time.”
“Maybe we should just do it on our own; they don’t even care.”
The excitement that once motivated us toward volunteering for this project had faded. As the appointed leader, I heard their complaints. I must confess, I was frustrated too. The complaints about the project, however, began to shift to complaints about the church, and then to specific people.
“If more people from the team would speak up, they might listen.”
“It’s all Pastor’s fault; he’s never supported projects like this anyway.”
“I’m not surprised; Pastor has always been dismissive of ideas. Sometimes I think he just gives enough permission so that you’ll leave him alone.”
The more talking was going on, the more frustration grew. Thoughts were beginning to influence how we all viewed the church, the people overseeing us, and even our place in the body. This ultimately led to a confrontation with another member.
What I had not realized was that I was working with a very unhealthy team. I didn’t catch on to their complaints shifting into gossip. What I saw as a legitimate conversation about our frustration had turned into a gossip and complaining session, and I was just as guilty. I wasn’t just guilty the moment I began to share my opinions, I was guilty the very moment I allowed their feedback to turn into gossip. I had let their voices influence me.
Then when the fellow leader and I ended up in a confrontation, those voices were unsurprisingly silent. I am very grateful that the Lord put someone in my life who could help me see what was happening, and that I was able to apologize and reconcile with my fellow leader. Gossip is a sneaky, sneaky thing.
Gossip is a like a spider web. Have you ever walked down a sidewalk and into a web? You couldn’t see it coming, and you may not have immediately realized you walked into it. But, as your senses catch up you realize what you have done if you are like me, panic follows.
When we think of gossip, we often think of the intentional spreading of lies about someone. However, gossip can also be spreading truths… truths that were not ours to share. In church, gossip can often be disguised as “prayer requests” or “venting”. When serving on a committee or ministry, it can often come in the appearance of complaints.
We can often get caught up in gossip and not sense it until it is too late, just like the spider web. And, like a spider web, once it is on us… gossip clings to us, and it’s hard to shake off. We may even panic as we realize what we have done.
Once someone knows you are receptive to gossip, they will return to tickle your ears again. When something is so sneaky and pervasive, how do we know the difference between someone who really needs to just talk something through or someone who is spreading gossip?
Some cues I watch out for:
- Is she speaking about herself & her own problems? If not, ask her if she has permission to share this with you.
- Would she say these words to the person(s) involved? If not, she shouldn’t be speaking them to you.
- Is she trying to involve you in a situation that doesn’t concern you? If so, point her back to those involved and encourage her to take the issue up with them.
- Is she trying to get you to handle or solve the problem for her? If so, suggest ways in which she can resolve the issue herself. Take yourself out of the equation.
- Is she speaking lies or truths just to make conversation or make herself feel better? If so, don’t hesitate to point out that she is gossiping, and it is inappropriate.
When you begin to put boundaries in place on how you handle gossip tossed in your direction, you will change everything. True gossipers who are just out to run their mouths will avoid you. Those who may not realize what they are doing will learn to tame their tongues. An added benefit is the more you put up boundaries against gossiping, the less often you will find yourself getting caught up in them.
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.