Someone posed a question on Facebook recently, asking how you know when the story you’re about to tell someone is actually gossip.
Gossip. It’s a topic I’ve actually thought about quite a lot over the years.
I was at a women’s Bible study once, many moons ago. While I had been a Christian for a long time (at least in label if not necessarily in understanding), it was my first Bible study ever, my first women’s event ever, and I was really new at this church. The women broke off into small groups for prayer – another new thing for me – and started going around the table and sharing fairly lengthy stories about people they were requesting prayer for. Details that included at least first names as well as specifics about situations, illnesses, etc.
One women started talking about her baby sitter, requesting prayer for her while revealing where she lived and some specific details about her family. Turns out, I was pretty sure she was talking about a friend of my daughter, and when the story was finished I asked a question about the girl. The woman leading our group turned to me and said, “Joanne! We’re not here to gossip!”
I’m sure I turned 50 shades of red. I didn’t know any of these women, had never been to a Bible study before and was mortified that I’d been found out as an ignorant Christian. This was gossip?
The truth is, I had sat through some very detailed “prayer requests” that, if you really think about it, were just gossip. That they were shared in a Bible study didn’t change that fact. But in my zeal to learn how to be a Christian, I also learned how to share and receive prayer requests.
Yup, I learned how to be a better gossip in church.
Generally, I tend to talk first and think later, so I’m not always sure what came out of my mouth until a while after I said it. Gossip? Absolutely. Intentional? Rarely.
I think the defining moment in my road to gossip recovery was when I had shared a very personal prayer request in Bible study (yup, I kept going to that study for years, further proving that I’m a glutton for humiliation) about a medical problem I was having of the female variety. A week or so later, a man I didn’t know well came up to me after church and asked how I was doing with said female medical problem. I was aghast. AGHAST. Turns out a woman in the group where I shared it shared it with her husband. He in turn shared it with the mens’ prayer group, which this man belonged to. And viola, a near stranger was asking me about my cervix over coffee in the church foyer.
It hit me like a lightening bolt: how many times had I passed on prayer requests in the same way? Uh oh. I am a gossip.
There are no 12 step programs for gossips. Then I heard preacher Greg Laurie share on his radio program this little acronym that has been a huge help in determining if something I want to share is really gossip. Ask yourself if what you’re about to say is:
If it isn’t all of these things, then you need to really thing about whether or not you should be sharing it. That’s not to say it’s definitely gossip, but just taking time to think about it often leads to the realization that maybe it’s not really something you should pass on.
I get it. We like to share stories. I mean, I am a writer who for a long time made a living sharing “news” about Christian musicians and entertainers. While most of it information those celebrities or wannabe celebrities put out there to begin with, it wasn’t always necessary or helpful. Interestingly, while the mainstream community is hot for gossip mags like People, the Christian community is just as hot for “news” – a.k.a. gossip – about their Jesus-fish idols. I just finally decided I didn’t need to be a cog in that wheel.
Do I still gossip? Of course. It’s human nature. But I’m more aware of what I share so I hope that the gossip is minimal.
And one last thought on prayer requests: I’m now always suspect of the motives of people who ask for prayer, especially for other people. If God knows everything, he knows your prayer requests without everyone needing to hear the details.
This post is part of my series, “50 thoughts on turning 50″. Read more here.