More Lessons from Shelly and Deb

Yesterday I introduced you to Shelly and Deb; longtime friends whose relationship was challenged by differences in how they approached being well known by one another. Both were godly women who cherished one another and wanted to enjoy a growing friendship. You can read more about them here.

One of the things Shelly struggled with was assuming anything she shared about her challenges with her husband, Ben, was okay. After all, surely Deb knew Shelly loved Ben, and she certainly needed a friend in whom she could confide, right?

Deb, however, needed to learn that only saying positive, kind things about someone (in her case, her unfaithful ex-husband) isn’t an automatic anecdote to gossip. How could she receive genuine help and benefit from the compassion and counsel of others if she was unwilling to honestly disclose the pain and temptations to anger that his adultery produced? Could others, including Shelly, enter in to her single motherhood world when she refused to share her worries, frustrations and loneliness?

Ken Sande, author of The Peacmaker, defines gossip as, “To betray a confidence or to discuss unfavorable personal facts about another person with someone who is not part of the problem or its solution. Even if the information you discuss is true, gossip is always sinful and a sign of spiritual immaturity.”

Shelly began to understand that her unbridled comments about Ben were too often motivated by a sinful desire to gain sympathy and a desire to vent her marital frustrations. The Lord surprised her with the self-knowledge that she had rarely invited Deb to be a part of the solution to the problems between she and Ben; therefore, Deb was merely a sounding board, not a solution provider.

But were Shelly’s comments always gossip? God used Deb to assure her friend that while she could see roots of bitterness and gossip in Shelly’s heart, there were times when compassionate affection for Ben came through. She reminded Shelly of times her tears were over the state of Ben’s soul, not just his lack of care for their family.

God is always concerned most about our hearts, and not just our words. The fact is Deb started seeing that her unwillingness to talk about her ex-husband was often motivated by embarrassment (“People will think I’m foolish for falling in love with someone like him“), self-protection (“Talking about this will be too painful so I just need to keep this to myself”), or shame (“It’s probably my fault that he cheated because I wasn’t a good enough wife”). These quiet heart issues could be just as personally destructive as Shelly’s bitterness, sinful anger and complaining. Deb’s heart issues were neatly tucked away. Shelly’s were loud and clear. But both women needed God’s help.

Navigating these kinds of waters requires wisdom that can only come from above. While the Bible is clear that gossip is sin (see ), it isn’t clear on whether a person is gossiping in every situation where concerns or perceptions about someone are shared that reflect negatively on him or her.

Here are some questions I’ve found helpful to ask myself:

  • Would the person I about whom I am about to speak/have spoken be hurt by my words?
  • Do I desire help to work through the difficulties with this person? Or am I simply looking for sympathy?
  • Am I as eager to see the way(s) I have contributed to this breakdown as I am for him/her to see their responsibility?
  • Does the person I am talking to/planning to talk to have the Christian maturity to understand there are two sides to this issue?  Am I willing for my friend to go to the person I’m discussing to ask for their perspective after hearing mine? (Even if talking to the other person is impossible or unwise for any reason, what would I think if it was possible?)
  • Is my motive for talking about this person redemptive?

Please know that there are times when these considerations don’t need to be at the forefront. Abuse, for example, requires open disclosure of another’s sin to a wise and compassionate friend or counselor without concern about putting someone in a bad light. What this week is about is not those situations. Rather, I’m talking about the normal every day stuff of doing life with people who are just as flawed as you and I.

Recently, I talked to a friend who was hurting over a young adult child’s rebellious attitudes and actions. She honestly communicated her frustrations, fears and concerns. She disclosed some painful decisions her child had made and was clearly anxious about what the future may hold. Yet her intense love for her child came through loud and clear. We cried together, then prayed. Did she share some unfavorable things? Yes. Was I aware that her child would likely have a different perspective to share? Yes. Was God’s word dishonored by my friend’s speech? I don’t think so. Her love, care for and eagerness to acknowledge her child’s gifts and strengths came through, too.

Having a hard time figuring all this out? Wishing there was a list of do’s and don’ts you could follow to know when honesty has bled into gossip?

Me, too.

But this good news is this. The Holy Spirit lives inside us and will govern our temptations or convict us of sin. He is faithful and His sheep know His voice. Unless our conscience is seared and we’ve hardened our hearts to the gift of conviction, He will let us know when bitterness or fear of anger bubbles up from out hearts and out of our mouths.

And hopefully we’re well known enough by others to get help along the way. After all, being well known includes our sins.

A Younger Sheree Learned a Few Things….

Over the past couple of days I’ve been talking about being well known in a culture where isolation and independence are celebrated while biblical relationships are too often defined by Sunday morning greetings rather than sharing real life together.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is relationships can become an idol — especially to us girls. (I’m humbled by and grateful for the guys who frequent this blog, and perhaps this post applies to you, too.)

I have six adorable granddaughters. Watching them relate to each other and to other little girls is pure joy. I more often hear “Are you ok?” or “I’m sorry” or “That’s ok, it was an accident” from them than from my grandsons. Many little girls define their best friend as whoever they just sat next to in Sunday School. The little ladies in our church flock to the babies and toddlers to help, hold, play and cuddle while the boys typically chase each other around the room or create guns with pens or pointy fingers.

Years ago as a young wife I remember picking up the phone to call a friend after a conflict with Benny. I wanted counsel…and sympathy. While it was fine for me to reach out to a friend, some months later I noticed this was becoming a pattern. Rather than prayerfully go back to my husband to resolve our conflict biblically, I turned to friends for support and advice. With a partial motive of genuinely wanting the perspective of a godly friend to help me get things right with Benny, over time the Lord revealed a pattern of wanting sympathy more than godliness. .

Wait — am I contradicting myself? In a blog series on being well known why am I warning against being well known?

There was nothing wrong with me reaching out to my friends when I was hurting, confused or needed advice. And honesty doesn’t always equal gossip. (More on that tomorrow.) The problem was I was looking to them for things I needed to work out with the Lord and my husband, and using friendship as an excuse to subtly whine. Talking to my friends was much easier than reaching for God or hashing things out with Benny! They listened; asked questions; expressed empathy; identified with my struggles and temptations; and offered gentle counsel. Girl talk left me feeling heard and understood in a different way than many of my interactions with my husband. It was during those years that I discovered men are from Mars and women are from Venus. While Benny and I have grown considerably in our communication since those early years, I still often find it easier to connect heart to heart with the girls. Gender does make a difference in communication!

God has designed us to love people and to benefit greatly from our social circles. But being well known doesn’t mean finding more comfort in people — even family members — than in God. It also doesn’t excuse dumping on a fried when relational tension creeps up in our lives. I watch people rush from relationship to relationship looking for significance, value, friendship and affection — and have done so myself! — when God’s offer of relationship stands as the only source of timeless love.

The fact is this: we are completely well known by God. He made us; personally constructed our appearance and personality; gave us both limitations and gifts; decided if we would love or hate strawberries or sports or prefer the mountains or the beach; and then died so we could know Him back. No one will ever love us so powerfully yet tenderly.

What a friend we have in Jesus.

Idols aren’t just little statues that sit in the homes of religious non-Christians. As Ken Sande says:

“Most of us think of an idol as a statue of wood, stone, or metal worshiped by pagan people. But the concept is much broader and far more personal than that. An idol is anything apart from God that we depend on to be happy, fulfilled, or secure. In biblical terms it is something other than God that we set our heart on (Luke 12:29), that motivates us (1 Corinthians 4:5), that masters and rules us (Psalm 119:133; Ephesians 5:5), or that we trust, fear, or serve (Isaiah 42:17; Matthew 6:24; Luke 12:4-5). In short, it is something we love and pursue in place of God (see Philippians 3:19).”

People can be our idols and pursuit of friendship can easily become “something we love and pursue in place of God.”

Has God been stirring your heart to be more well known? Guess what, you ARE! He knows you best and loves you most of everyone anywhere. He knows how your jaw clenches when you’re inwardly angry before a selfish word comes out of your mouth. He knows your temptations and anticipates when you’ll be lonely or jealous or anxious long before you do. He helps, strengthens and protects you when you don’t even realize it and even when you think you chose to do right all by yourself.

And when you fail or reject or push Him away because someone else seems more available or fun or loving, He doesn’t pull back but continues to stay close with patient pursuit.

I pray that you feel not just well known today…but well loved.

P.S.  If you would like to read more about the subject of idolatry you can read the article I quoted from here.