(from a series related to narcissistic abuse)
Gossip is a long train of lies hitched onto half-truths, sprayed with graffiti, speeding its way down the rough, bumpy track. Who knows where it’s going? It’s dangerous, but it seems like everyone wants to jump on board, and it can cost people their lives. It’s not easy to slow it down, but if you’re willing to be the caboose, you can put an end to it.
The bible says, “In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines” (Prov. 18:17 New International Version). It’s astonishing how many people are willing to believe lies and settle for a one-sided story, without asking any questions of the other party. Why? It’s because gossip is a selfish sin. The listener wants to be perceived as loyal and is expecting something in return. It may be attention, money, status, job ranking, or the love and friendship from a relationship based on insecurity.
It’s just as sinful to eat up gossip, as it is to spread it. Participating in gossip is tempting, but it becomes deeply ingrained, skewing thoughts, and blinding the listener to truth. Gossip festers, causing people to believe lies for a long, long time. It destroys families and friendships, while eating away at your spiritual life. It may be years later that the truth comes out, causing righteous anger and sadness. People will grieve over the lost relationships that God had intended for us to enjoy.
Many people believe they have a “safety net” around them if they have a close friendship with a gossip, but they are in more danger of being betrayed, because they believe they are safe to share secrets. No one is immune from gossip, and those who participate will eventually get burned. If someone gossips to you, she or he will gossip about you. If we hear negative information, out of line with someone’s character, do we accept it, or ask the gossip why we’re being given the information? Do we ask for the other person’s version of the story, or sit back and enjoy the gossip as a sweet dessert? After all, the bible says, “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts” ( Prov. 18:8).
Are we willing to give up valuable friendships because of a story that may not even be true? Do we question why we keep a gossip as a friend? Some people feel powerful when they have access to inside information. Yet, the listeners are being used as fuel to make the gossip feel important. The gossip basks in the attention. Of course, the gossip also omits any crucial pieces of truthful information that would place him or her in a negative light. In extreme cases, a gossip is found to be a narcissist: entirely self-centered, self-absorbed, and selfish, purposefully using gossip as a vicious weapon to manipulate and control people. This allows a narcissist to turn friends and family against each other, so they will all depend on the narcissist as the most important person in their lives.
There’s a difference between someone warning us about an ungodly person who could cause us harm, versus downright gossip which causes us to lose our positive view of a good and godly person. Or, maybe we’ve been given a first impression of someone we haven’t yet met. When given information, we should ask God for discernment about the situation, and pray about it. We should ask why the information is being shared with us. It may feel uncomfortable at first, because people expect us to participate in gossip. We can be bold, without being rude, by asking precise questions: “Why are you telling me this? Where did you get your information? Do you agree with what you are telling me? Why don’t we go together and ask this person for his or her side of the story?”
Even Christians can get weak, and fall into the trap of “subtle gossip.” An example of this is when just enough details are given about a situation, but the name of the offender is purposely left out, so as to avoid “gossiping.” Sometimes the name is mentioned, because So-And-So “needs prayer” (or someone needs prayer because of something So-And-So did). Self-pity comes into play and subtly works hand in hand with gossip. People’s sympathies naturally lie with the person voicing sadness, so they miss the fact that the offender is probably hurting too, maybe even more. The offender may have even been forced to create boundaries for a situation others don’t see. This is further isolation for the person being gossiped about. Wise people remove themselves from gossip.
Christians can especially be deceived when gossip comes disguised as “concern” for a brother or sister in Christ. Gossip is actually concern for oneself and one’s own reputation. Upholding one’s false self, becomes more important than keeping the confidence of a fellow Christian, or making the necessary amends to improve the relationship. An example is when someone visits other family members, stating “concern” for an adult child or a sibling. Even real concern is not a free license to gossip. Is this person’s life in danger? Or, is it just someone with whom the gossip has a rift? Gossip is a big, red flag. If you find yourself in between two friends or family members, and only one of them is repeating negative, “concerning” things, while the other says nothing, you’ve been given a huge clue as to whom to really be concerned about…the gossip.
People also deceive themselves by believing they are only telling “one or two people.” This is damaging, because those two close people each tell their two close people, and then those six people each tell other people. Even if, like me, you’re not a math genius, you can tally up the large number of people who shouldn’t have access, and who are likely misinformed. Just as in the childhood game Telephone, the gossip’s story has sifted through several sources, with facts added onto, twisted, and turned around, and even omitted. How can this be okay with God?
The bible says gossiping ruins friendships. It does. It causes division and makes us unable to trust our friends. We feel isolated, abandoned, and rejected. These spiritual strongholds are not of God. Feelings get hurt and hearts get broken.” A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends” ( Prov. 16:28)
If you can’t keep a friend’s confidence, do your friend a favor; admit your weakness, and ask her not to share private information with you. If you are trustworthy, appreciate it as a gift from God, and honor Him by keeping the confidence of others. Trust is revealed when people share information that stays between you and God. There are only a few situations in which a trust must be broken. However, situations involving suicidal or homicidal thoughts, or sexual or domestic abuse are still not reasons for gossip. These are situations where wisdom and discernment must be used to involve the fewest number of people possible to gain the greatest amount of spiritual and professional help. One must use proper disclosure by seeking out a trusted spiritual advisor in authority, such as a pastor, or other respected individual, known for caring and keeping the confidence of those they lead towards Christ.
Are you a gossip? The silver lining is in repentance. You can ask God to forgive you for gossiping. If possible, and if necessary, ask forgiveness of the person you have betrayed. If you participated in gossip (including listening to it) say you’re sorry and ask forgiveness of the person you talked about. It may be scary to admit to someone that you gossiped about him or her. God understands this. Ask Him to remove your fear and cleanse your heart. Take along a trusted friend who cares about both of you. But make sure you are the one to apologize. You may find that the person you gossiped about is actually relieved, and grateful to have a chance to clarify the situation and be heard. Stick with the issue at hand. Even if your friend does not forgive you, God does. God says you are forgiven, and He can make good out of a bad situation; He can heal hurting hearts, and redeem lost souls along the way!
If you are the one hurt by gossip, and your offender does not apologize, you can still forgive him or her in the name of Jesus. This will make you feel lighter, and it will free you from anger and bitterness. Give Jesus your pain. He can take it. He already took it at the cross for you!
“Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.”
(Photography includes model trains exhibit at the Brunswick Heritage Museum in Maryland.)