Not all girls are outdoorsy types, but have you ever had an outdoor experience that made you feel like one with nature? Like you were a part of what was happening in the serene world that others may never see? I had an experience like that a few years ago when I went salmon fishing in Upstate New York. The fall foliage glowed in ribbons of crimson and gold. Each morning we waded out to the middle of the river as soon as the sun began to rise above the trees. Bird calls and rushing water were nature’s symphony playing encore after encore. And occasionally there’d be an off-beat thump as someone cast for new positioning of their line.
Standing waist-deep in the water, feeling the warmth of the sun overpowering the cold air and snowflakes, hearing only the peaceful rhythm of nature–it was like nothing I had ever imagined. For a brief time, we were an integral part of that mysterious world. And then chaos cut in. A fish would bite, the fight between beast and angler ensued, and everyone cheered as the fisherman (or fishergirl) wrestled with reel and line to land the monster fish before it broke free. It was bittersweet. Yes, the salmon were on their way upstream to spawn and then die. But we were interceding in the process to the detriment of the fish we admired.
There’s another kind of phishing that can hurt people we like and admire.
I don’t mean phishing where we try to get someone’s online passwords or credit card info. I’m suggesting that a lot of us go phishing for personal details about close friends and colleagues that we then feed to others as gossip.
Whether we get the insider information because we’re a trusted friend or because we’re the only one around to listen, we learn juicy tidbits that are too good to keep to ourselves.
Even if we’ve agreed not to tell, we decide it’s still okay to share a few details with one or two people. But then they tell two friends. And so on, and so on.
Sometimes we’re asking others to pray for that person. Sometimes we’re telling friends what’s happening so they’re in the know. Sometimes we’re laughing about it with other people behind the back of the one who’s struggling.
There’s a fine line between pertinent information others need to know and gossip.
Gossip hurts people. It hurts their reputation. It divulges personal information that isn’t common knowledge, and shouldn’t be. It causes rifts when someone finds out something they weren’t meant to know.
Gossip hurts friendships. It betrays trust. It wounds those we care about. It makes our friend vulnerable, because others know too much about their personal situation.
Gossip can’t be retrieved. Once it’s out of our mouths, it’s out of our control.
Even if we aren’t malicious in our sharing of someone’s personal details, it can have the same effect as dirty gossip. Have you heard the saying, “Loose lips sink ships”? I don’t know where it originated, but it confirms that I don’t want to be on the gossip boat. So let’s honor our friends and be deserving of their trust. Let’s think about what they would tell others, and what they wouldn’t, and respect their boundaries. Let’s protect their privacy and their reputation by limiting what we share with others, even in prayer requests. God knows everything about their situation. Other people don’t need to.
Here’s the litmus test: If we wouldn’t share the details of someone’s situation if they were standing next to us, then we shouldn’t share the details at all.
“Troublemakers start fights; gossips break up friendships.” Proverbs 16:28 (MSG)
May I pray?
Jesus, we know gossiping about others is wrong, and sometimes we don’t realize that’s just what we’re doing until it’s too late. Help us to think before we speak. Help us to carefully weigh the potential hurt we could cause, and how our friend would feel if they knew we had shared the details of their situation. May we honor others in what we say, and what we don’t say. May we be the kind of trustworthy friends that we wish others would be for us. Amen.
Q4U: What helps you decide whether or not to share personal details about someone else?