“Now wait,” I hear you saying, “I thought she was going to tell us about the good stuff that has come from two and a half years of unemployment.” Well, yes, I am going to talk about the good stuff. In fact, in this post, I’m going to tell you the very best thing that I have learned (besides the financial stuff I talked about in my last post). But first I need to set the stage.
Gossip–now who doesn’t do it? As Christians, we know we aren’t supposed to gossip and we disguise it in lots of ways. One of the most popular ways is to disguise it in the pretext of giving out the information so that we can “pray for that person” when that is not the intention at all (if we will admit it). Ouch. As I was reading a devotion this morning from RBC Ministries, my eyes slipped over to the next page to the devotion for tomorrow titled “Zero Tolerance.” And it’s about… you guessed it… gossip. If you are familiar with “Our Daily Bread” (the monthly devotional booklet I am referencing), you’ll know that these devotions have an amazing capacity to get to the point of the message in very few words. I like to call them “zingers.” Zingers get to the heart of the matter very quickly. Here are a few “zingers” taken directly from this devotion:
Zinger #1: God has a zero tolerance policy for gossip and slander among His people (Lev. 19:16)–“You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD.” Idle talk that foolishly or maliciously spreads rumors or facts about another person was forbidden.
Zinger #2: Solomon said that speaking badly of others could have disastrous effects. It betrays confidence (Prov. 11:13)–“A gossip goes around revealing a secret, but the trustworthy keeps a confidence”; and there’s more–
Zinger #3: It separates close friends (Prov. 16:28)–“A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends” and (Prov. 17:9)–“Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends”; and still more–
Zinger #4: It shames and saddles you with a bad reputation (Prov. 25:9-10)–“Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not reveal another’s secret, lest he who hears you bring shame upon you, and your ill repute have no end”; and yet even more–
Zinger #5: It perpetually fuels the embers of a quarrel (Prov. 26:20-22)–“Without wood, fire goes out; without a gossip, conflict dies down. As charcoal for embers and wood for fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife. A gossip’s words are like choice food that goes down to one’s innermost being.” People rarely can undo the damage their untrue words have done to a neighbor.
Now, I’m not pointing a finger at anybody because, as I’ve said in a previous post on another topic, I’d have to point one right back at myself. Gossip is so pervasive that we can find ourselves doing it without even realizing it, or if we do realize it we might be too embarrassed to stop. Or, if the truth was known, we love hearing all the “latest” information from the “grapevine.” I remember a work colleague of mine asking me (after I mentioned to her that I hated listening to gossip spread about other people who weren’t there to defend themselves) how did I expect to be kept informed on what was going on around campus if I didn’t listen to the gossip–and this was on a Christian college campus. Gossip is everywhere and it’s very hard to ignore and even harder to avoid. We all have most likely been the unwitting victim of someone else’s malicious gossip, and the sting goes deep, and it destroys reputations, careers, relationships, and worst of all, it destroys the one doing the gossiping as it destroys their own relationship with God. God hates gossip.
At this point is where my own true confession comes in. It’s true that I’ve always hated gossip especially in the workplace. I’ve watched it destroy and alienate other people and end careers. There’s a meanness to gossip that knows no end. It’s vicious and comes from the pit of hell. And it’s pervasive in the church at large as well as the work setting and the myriad of other places where gossip takes place. But for years I practiced a form of gossip that I was unaware of as being gossip.
I love technology. (Say what??? Now stick with me.) I cut my teeth learning technology from it’s very early stages during my twenty years in higher education. I got my first email address in 1992 when I was a doctoral fellow at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. It was DOS-based and very unforgiving if you made a spelling error and didn’t discover it until after you hit the “enter” key to progress to the next line (some of you can relate). Over the years I loved everything about it, from simple DOS commands to the very complex systems we have today. Technology is one of the great wonders of this current age. But like everything in life, even the very best things can have a very bad side if used for the wrong purposes.
Back in the mid 90’s I lived and worked in Miami for about three years. During that time I developed a friendship with a man I called my male mentor friend. This was not a romantic relationship but over time he became a very dear friend to me–sort of like a father figure. We did not live in the same city but we developed a relationship by correspondence starting with letters sent via the Post Office.
Well, by the mid-to-late 90’s email became more widespread and I convinced my male mentor friend who was almost twelve years older than me to move our correspondence from letters via the Post Office to email. He balked as he was not a fan of technology and often said, humorously, that computers were “of the devil” (mostly because he hated them). Well, I convinced him to try email and from that point on that is how we communicated.
Our friendship spanned fourteen years, and I wrote hundreds of emails to him regarding all kinds of topics and he always responded. He was a former pastor and counselor in his role as pastor and had a great sense of humor. I considered him one of my closest friends, even though I can probably count on one hand the number of times we ever actually saw each other over all of those years. He became the confidant that I confessed my deepest fears and my greatest frustrations to especially in the workplace. He became my sounding board. I would write to him about stuff going on at the workplace or when I was frustrated with my family or others and when I was really upset about something I wrote using, well, let’s just say “colorful” language that expressed my deepest frustrations. Over the years he became sort of like an “email spouse” to me. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered that email is not a confidential way to communicate to anyone especially about deep hurts, frustrations and personal issues.
I ended the friendship and my email correspondence with my male mentor friend in April 2009, just nine days before I was fired from that job in Houston. The reality of what I had done, unwittingly, all of those years really hit home in the most horrible of ways. But even the loss of a job wasn’t the most devastating reality to me–it was the loss of my relationship with God, who never during all of those years deserted me. While I never recognized that I had lost that closeness with God, I had literally replaced Him with a god of my own making–my male mentor friend. And the stuff that I wrote to my male mentor friend was stuff I should have been taking to God all of those years. The price I paid for my own brand of “gossip” has been enormous, but as soon as I recognized it for what it was, I repented. It took me months to get over the horror of what I had done, but God is ever so gracious. I John 1:9 states “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And that verse is written to believers, folks, not unbelievers.
The most important lesson I’ve learned during this time of unemployment is that engaging in harmful talk about others no matter how we do it or what medium (such as technology) we use to gossip about others, it is deadly. Gossip is not to be trifled with and is a most serious matter to God. We do reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7). God is a God of justice, but He is also a God of mercy and love. Indeed, if we do confess our sins in heartfelt repentance, He is faithful to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
It’s been an enormously hard lesson for me to learn, with some staggering consequences. But in looking back on it all, I wouldn’t trade the hard stuff I’ve gone through these past two and a half years for how it lead to the restoration of my relationship with the Lord in a way like I’ve never known before, which has also, in turn, restored my relationships with others, including my family. And that is worth more to me then anything this world has to offer. Money comes and goes (as noted in my previous post) as do possessions (I lost most of mine in Houston), but the amazing, incredible love of God for His children outshines even the sun.
I’ll end this with the last paragraph in the devotion I’ve referred to earlier. “Let’s ask the Lord to help us not to engage in harmful talk about others. He wants us to set a guard over our mouths so that we’ll instead speak all the good we know about everybody.” I couldn’t agree more… and don’t forget, that includes our enemies, too.
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
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