If you have been a reader of mine for any length of time, today’s blog post is going to seem a bit harsh. Generally speaking I don’t come at a topic full throttle. My friend Aimee uses the term “velvet hammer” to describe a gentle approach to a hard truth. I tend to lean toward yielding a velvet hammer. I believe coming at a topic full throttle puts people on the defensive, and people who are on the defensive can very rarely hear truth… they are in fight or flight mode. I do my best to lay things out in a way that prompts others to think for themselves, putting them in a position of willing to listen, and then letting God do the rest.
However, there is a topic I’ve been wanting to write on for quite some time. I’m not sure that I can bring out the velvet hammer on this one. I also want to put the cards out on the table that I’m as much talking to myself as others. I know I have in the past been guilty of this (even if I didn’t realize it at the time) and now that I’m aware of it… it sticks out like a sore thumb. I catch myself. And, I catch others. To the point in which I will call them on it before they finish speaking.
We, as women, tend to be the worst at it… veiling gossip as a prayer request. We, as women, also seem to be the most oblivious to it. I think I know why.
First we have to set the parameters on gossip. Many people assume that gossip is full of slander and lies. Gossip can be 100% truth. The definition of gossip is: casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people. Casual. Unconstrained.
Second, we have to look at the fuzzy lines between GOSSIP, VENTING, and PRAYER REQUESTS.
Gossip is about other people, and purposeful gossiping is about changing the way others see a particular person. It can be an outright attack on their character in order to bring them down, or it can be a little more subtle with the intention of raising ourselves above. Sometimes gossip makes us feel important because we have information that others do not have. And, sometimes gossip is just a way to stay relevant to the conversation. It gives us something to add when there is a lull in the conversation or we feel left out. The one thing that is clear is that whatever we are speaking is about other people. Gossip is also opposite to the Fruit of the Spirit of “self control”. Note the definition used the word “unconstrained”, which means it has no boundaries.
An example of gossip: “Did you hear that Margie’s husband is having an affair? I can’t believe it! She always seemed like everything was great in her life.”
Venting, is sometimes a good thing that can go really poorly. Venting is where we are under so much weight from life that we are going to just explode unless we can talk about it with others. The problem with venting is that it can very much turn into gossip, if we are not careful. How does this happen? One of two ways. First, it can happen because we are trying to provide context for what happened or who hurt us in order to make the person we are confiding in understand why we are upset.
Second, we are sharing information in order to justify why we are upset. Venting becomes a mixture of reporting on another person and explaining how it affected us. Venting can also become unconstrained, because it can be like turning on a faucet and the knob breaking off. Once you get going, you almost can’t stop. Before you know it you are accounting for all of the wrongs this person ever committed against you, or all the terrible things that have happened to you over the course of your life that have culminated to this one moment. Unconstrained.
An example of venting: “I am so angry with my Mother in Law. She’s never been nice to me. <insert 16 years worth of laundry list of wrongs>. I finally had enough and I snapped at her by saying…. “
Venting can be coupled with a prayer request by starting off the vent with a prayer request. Which is why we need to understand the difference between gossiping and a prayer request.
A genuine Prayer Request should be as simple as seeking our sisters and brothers to Christ to go before throne with us over an issue/person. Prayer requests can also slip into the realm of gossip. First, we can use a prayer request as a way to share information about a person that is out right gossip but sounds like a prayer request:
At small group, prayer request time: “I think we should pray for Margie, she just found about her husband has been cheating on her.”
Second, we can set up the prayer request by providing context in order to justify the urgency or importance of the prayer request.
Example: “We need to pray for my neighbor’s son’s friend Christopher. He has been in and out of trouble his whole life. He’s been in jail. Gone through rehab multiple times and failed. <insert sordid details> Now, his girlfriend who is also a drug user, is pregnant…”
In even our best of intentions, we are thinking that others will not take our prayer request seriously enough unless we describe all the gnarly details. Then, we hope, they will see how dire the situations is and how much those prayers are needed. Yet, they don’t realize they are actively gossiping.
Gossiping is a messy thing, and when you gossip about others (even in a prayer request) we become known as untrustworthy. We learn who not to trust with our important stuff because of who we hear sharing news that they shouldn’t be.
Recently, I received a phone call from someone alerting me to a tragic scenario & a family in need of prayer. I had not heard, because I really wasn’t in contact with that family any longer. When I explained this to the woman, she still continued to speak out the horrifying details of what happened. I went so far as to say to her “I really don’t need to know that information, and I don’t want to know that information”. That didn’t stop her from continuing her train of thought… it didn’t stop her gossiping. I had to call a spade, a spade. That is always an awkward conversation.
James 1:26 is about as straight forward as it gets. If you think you are a godly person, and you gossip in the guise of a prayer request, your religion is worthless. You are not guarding your words, you are not reigning in your tongue. You are sinning.
So how do we do better?
In the first example, we just need to stop. Just because we KNOW information doesn’t give us the right to SHARE information. I use the following question as my guiding principle…
Have I been given permission by the person to share this information? If I have not been given permission to speak about a situation by those whom are directly involved (not just one person, but all involved) then I need to keep my mouth shut. It is not my story to tell, it is not my place to speak about it… even if it is 100% true. In fact, I’d go so far as to say especially if it is true. Without their permission to speak about it, it is gossip. There is no debate our exception. If you do not have expressed permission to share, you are gossiping. Period. End of story.
In the second example, about venting, I’m learning that for it to be a true release… I do not need to share every gory detail. In fact, the story should be less about the person and the situation and more about ME and how I am handling it. I can speak in generalities (we don’t ever seem to agree, we rub each other the wrong way, etc.) without giving the laundry list of every slight. But I need to focus more on how I am responding. Even if the person hurt me and is totally wrong, I can be just as wrong in how I responded. I use the following question as my guiding principle with venting…
Am I trying to find a solution or relief, or am I trying to justify my own feelings and behavior? If I am venting with the intention of gaining people on my side by listing all the dirty details, I am gossiping. If I am setting a general context, then focusing more on my own response and my desire to have a better relationship or better circumstance… I’m looking for restoration and reconciliation. It also means, even thought I am venting, I have a willingness to hear that I am wrong and what I could do to make the situation better.
In the third example, it is much simpler. I simply make a prayers request like, “Please pray for my friend Margie.” Guess what? God already knows what Margie is going through. God doesn’t need me to inform Him of the details. And, those who are praying with you, they don’t need to know the details in order to pray. I’ve learned over the years that we never know who is in the room with us that may know the people we are praying about. We may be speaking details related to a situation that is not public knowledge and unknowingly shared information to someone who was not to know or who may go back to our friend/family member about what we have shared. For prayer requests, I use the following three questions as my guiding principle…
Have I asked permission to share this prayer request with my group? Have I asked the person how much information I can share in the request? Does this group of prayer warriors need to know the details in order to pray? If the answer to any of these questions is no… then that is a prayer request that I need to either keep to myself, or keep in the most general terms. This is why I am a HUGE fan of the “raise your hand if you have any unspoken requests” time in prayer groups. It is the opportunity to corporately lift up what is on your heart without sharing the details with others.
I do believe in some situations the prayer requests are genuine, and that the heart behind sharing so many details is to establish the urgency of praying. It isn’t uncommon to say we will pray for something and ultimately forget. By creating urgency, we hope that it will cause the person to take the request seriously & not forget… perhaps even stop in the moment to pray about it, or keep praying about over a length of time.
However, if we do not have permission… we are gossiping. We are not reigning in our tongue. We are sharing information without constraint and without consideration.
It really is as simple as filtering your words through that first question… Have I asked permission to share this with others?
If you don’t have permission…
If you didn’t ask for permission…
Don’t say a word. Stop gossiping.