The other day I was at Panera doing some freelance work while I ate soup and sat in a booth lit by warm sun. I had found a quiet corner and my introvert-self was pleased and content when suddenly a group of 5 women decided to occupy my territory. While I hated sharing, I will never regret sitting in that small space with those ladies near by. Without knowing, they left a permanent impression on my heart.
While I clicked away on my laptop, their conversation was so sweet and tender I couldn’t help but wish I was one of them. They were stopped for dinner and heading to some sort of sporting event together. As they made their way through salads, sandwiches and baguettes they discussed one of the women’s job prospects and complimented another’s new shirt. One of the lady’s had slurred speech and her voice was high-pitched. I couldn’t understand her, but her friend, her loving interpreter, kindly relayed her comments to the group without missing a beat. Most of the time, the interpreter initiated conversation while the other women ate. While I normally hate a pause in conversation, I have recently been learning to enjoy the quiet. The silence among friends that I use to find awkward really can be beautiful. When you can sit together and not fill the air with mindless chatter and just enjoy company…
As the meal reached its end, when I knew the reviews of all their dishes, and that the one woman was the other woman’s daughter, and the other lady’s parents enjoy the tomato basil soup there—another lady they all knew was mentioned. Her name was Mary. I didn’t know who Mary was to any of them. I didn’t know whether or not she had special needs like the majority of their group—whether she had a new shirt that was a bargain and fit her well. But suddenly I knew that Mary had a tremor in her hand. “Poor Mary” I thought. A tremor must be horrible, and what from? Was she right handed or left handed? Could she still hold a fork or write a letter?
What is Gossip?
As my mind trailed on about Mary—the interpreter, the mother in the group—quickly and ever-so-gently put invisible arms around Mary and tucked her back where she belonged. Back where I didn’t even know that she existed. She said, “Mary isn’t here right now so we’re not going to talk about Mary.” The daughter continued on about Mary’s tremor how she didn’t know how long it had been bothering her. And her mother gently persisted, “Dear, Mary isn’t here right now so we don’t need to talk about Mary.”
She didn’t say anything bad about Mary, I thought. She was just making an observation. Perhaps she was concerned! Maybe they could all keep Mary in their prayers…
Days later I’ve been thinking about that precious group. About how they had a coupon and paid on one bill and then all divided their money and paid for their own meals once they were seated. About how I, like the one lady’s parents, like the tomato basil soup at Panera and how I wish I had the discipline to protect another person’s honor before their name, their very soul is tainted with someone else’s thoughts or words about them.
I haven’t thought much about Mary—about her tremor. Mainly because there’s nothing more for me to think. And I’m so glad for that.
It’s simple really. Mary wasn’t there so they didn’t need to talk about Mary. The conversation about Mary wasn’t bad. At that point it was just an observation, a concern. But how often do we innocently start talking about someone and then find ourselves sharing just a little too much? Enough to plant a seed about someone in someone else that shapes thoughts and emotions.
Are You a Gossip?
Gossip is often so casual, so unintentional. But all of us deserve to defend our story. We shouldn’t be defined by the way someone else has shared information about us.
Gossip Girls, gossip columns, gossip in the news on social media. Gossip is basically our culture’s way of sharing information—casually with unconfirmed truth and speculation. But Mary wasn’t there so they didn’t need to talk about Mary.
Is it Ever OK to Gossip?
So when is it ok to talk about Mary?
It’s not. If she’s not there then talk about something else. Let’s talk about ourselves. About our new shirt or our deep need to be loved and accepted. Gossip tries to fill our need for love and acceptance by discussing the nuances or mistakes or business of others.
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.—James 1:26, ESV
It’s so pathetic how we gossip in the name of “blowing off steam” or “getting advice”. If someone has wronged you, that is between you and that person. You’ll accomplish so much more by discussing your concerns with them than airing your grievances to a third-party. Turning that persons actions over and over, analyzing why or how they would do such a thing is degrading and judgmental. Who are we to judge?
How to Stop Gossiping
Next time you’re talking to someone and you’re tempted to discuss or analyze a situation involving a another person—STOP. Just STOP. Say to yourself, “Is that person here?” If Mary isn’t here, than we’re not going to talk about Mary…
This is so convicting because I’ve realized how many of my conversations spin out of control. I’m literally thinking about the last several times I’ve met with friends and there’s not a time that’s passed that we haven’t discussed someone who wasn’t there in the room with us.
I hope that one day I run into Mary, at Panera maybe, and we chat about our food and discuss the weather. And then, having become fast friends, Mary tells me about her tremor. She asks me to pray for her, and I do right there over soup. Then I ask her to pray for me and my brokenness. And right there we are both forgiven and healed.
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. —Ephesians 4:29, ESV