Something happened that made me decide it was high time I put a stop to this sin.
While I’m not proud of being a (hopefully recovering) gossip junkie, my Olympian abilities in this area are worthy of study. Like the way I can dress a dagger in a white cloak, a tone of concern: “Sally brought her kids to the playdate sick again. I feel so bad for her dealing with sickness so often. Maybe they’re all anemic … maybe I should fill her mailbox with Flintstones Vitamins …”
Now my phone buddy and I know I’m simply gossiping about Sally — when I should be praying for her and offering to help this friend who is so frazzled that she consistently brings her kids out sick. I know I’m gossiping, but I walk away away from the conversation with my pride intact. “Everyone does it,” I tell myself. “My irritation was justified; my tone humorous. There’s no way I’m a gossip.”
But I am, and I know I’m not alone in the struggle.
Even Pope Francis can relate to the temptation to gossip. It’s one of the sins he speaks about most frequently (he says gossip is like dropping a terrorist bomb on somebody’s reputation) and in a 2013 homily, he acknowledged that it’s a temptation we all struggle with, even the pope: “When one prefers gossiping – gossiping about another, it’s like clobbering another … it happens to everyone, including me – it is a temptation of the evil one who does not want the Spirit to come and bring about peace and meekness in the Christian community.”
Even though I’ve become rather an expert at this sin, every once in a while I come across someone who won’t take my bait, and I always end up liking the individual a little more.
That’s how I want to be, I tell myself. I want to stare blankly into the face of a gossip-disher and return their hot, steamy offerings with silence.
Or better yet, I want to be able to change the subject to something simple like the weather or a topic that’s actually “talk-worthy,” like a current event or a great book or even an act of human heroism (i.e.: use my words to celebrate the accomplishments of my fellow man rather than his failings).
Recently, though, something happened that finally encouraged me to make a change — to try harder, to love better and to stop gossiping.
Someone — or a group of someones — gossiped about me. And it stung. Here’s what happened: A relative visited after a family reunion I couldn’t attend. Her report of the affair: “No one wants you to have another baby,” she smiled, as my sixth unborn child thumped against the walls of my womb, “but I do. I always wanted a bigger family myself.”
While this good intentioned relative thought she was the bearer of encouragement, I couldn’t erase the picture she’s unintentionally painted for me: Distant relatives gabbing negatively about my super-sized family, specifically the perceived worthiness/unworthiness of the precious, innocent child I presently carried.
I imagined aunts, uncles and cousins using me as fodder to fill lulls in conversation as they passed potato salad — and it hurt.
I’d been hit by a fiery dart (or a terrorist bomb) and my brain exploded:
“They’ve gossiped about me?”
And the Holy Spirit whispered back:
“Yes and youdo the same thing all the time.”
While painful, the experience was a good one. It’s the first thing that’s really inspired me to try better, to love harder and to finally … shut my big, fat mouth.