I was an awkward, introverted little girl. When I attended kindergarten, I spoke out loud to my teacher only a handful of times. School was scary to me and I would anxiously wait for the time of the day that I could return home. Wisely, my parents chose to hold me back, repeating another year of kindergarten. My second year of kindergarten was very different, however, because my younger brother Dan joined my class. Dan was gifted socially. He had no problem making friends, playing sports, or making others laugh. Everybody loved Dan! I loved Dan! As his older sister, I believed it was my responsibility to protect him from danger or conflict. This idea soon got he and I split into separate classrooms, but for that one year of kindergarten, we were together in school. Dan was adorably cute, daring, and gradually drew me out of my introverted ways.
One morning during our kindergarten writing time, the teacher stepped out of the classroom, leaving more than 20 five-year-olds to manage ourselves. This would not have been much of a problem except that Dan had misplaced his extra thick blue writing pencil. Unable to find it after looking under his desk and book, he openly accused me of taking his pencil. After all, I had one just like his. He hadn’t meant to cause the class to pick on me, but his audible comments caused his friends to come to his defense. Within about 60 seconds, half the classroom was demanding that I return my pencil to Dan. I hadn’t taken his pencil, but with a mob mentality building in the classroom, my anxiety increased under the pressure of their accusations. Luckily, within moments Dan found his pencil inside his book, and the intensity of the moment deflated. No one else seemed to think it was a big deal, but the experience hurt me. I was shocked that a group of people could turn so quickly without knowing any facts.
Through the years, I’ve found that age does not change the human nature of people. People like to take sides. It can be interesting and entertaining to hear the news of other’s struggles and offer up our two cents. Yet I wonder, is it helpful? Daily, we are exposed to hearsay at work, church, and home. We hear it amongst friends, coworkers, and family ready to give us the latest scoop on someone else’s failures or troubles. Caught up in our own boredom, hurt, or jealousy, careless words take the form of rumors, slander, mockery, and whispers. As I’ve learned firsthand, gossip is ugly. It is hurtful, tarnishing not only the name of the person being spoken of, but also the person who is passing the information.
Let’s be honest. We’ve all said too much and we’ve all been hurt by others words. If we are to be known as Christians, we must guard the reputation of Christ in our behavior. Proverbs 12:18 says, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” As we strive to do the right thing, aiming to live lives that reflect God’s love, we must guard our words and guard our reputation.
Several years ago, I went through a painful work situation where my superior twisted the truth about me. I was angry and hurt and I wanted to guard my reputation. I wanted to shout “unfair” for all to hear! If I had listened to my emotions, I would have been mouthy and picked a fight, but letting my emotional words fly would have only discredited myself. Instead, I left that place of employment quietly, and by doing so, those that tried to tarnish my name have instead tarnished their own. Time went on and slowly the truth began to be revealed. Because I held my tongue, I had no hurtful words to recant. I didn’t have to apologize or explain. Truthfully, It was difficult to hold in my rebukes, but it was worth it. During that time, I had to choose to stay away from people who rehashed the situation. I had to change conversation topics, and I even had to bluntly tell some that I wasn’t gonna talk about this person.1 Peter 3:11 says, “Turn from evil and do good; seeking peace and pursuing it.” I had to pursue the right way of handling the way I spoke, avoiding gossip and as I did, it got easier and the temptation decreased. I began to find joy in knowing that I had handled it correctly. There is a lot to be said for self-respect.
When we choose to remove ourselves from gossip, sometimes it seems we are standing alone. But when one stands with character, that character is often recognized and even rewarded with trust. Removing ourselves means we not only avoid participating in the talk, but choose not to listen, too. That sometimes can be even harder! Matthew 5:9 says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” That’s what it’s all about! Our character should reflect the character of God our Father.