I have never been one to pee in a swimming pool. I don’t want to swim in someone else’s urine, so I won’t increase the odds of them swimming in mine. Recently, I’ve gotten an uncomfortable feeling in one of my social groups. Folks who used to greet me by name with a warm smile now mumble “hey” and avoid eye contact. It’s as if someone is saying I peed in the pool.
This past weekend, the sermon at my church was about the sin we won’t acknowledge. Well let me clarify—I’m not sure what Jim was preaching about, but that’s what was in it for me. I trust God in my life, I am doing my best to follow Him and grow closer to Him in every way. But what sin am I holding back from God? I mentally ran through the Ten Commandments in my head as the sermon wound down. Idolatry? No. Taking the Lord’s name in vain? No. Taking a day off for the Sabbath? I do that. Am I honoring my parents? Yes. Murder? Not recently. Adultery? No. Theft? No.
Then I remembered #9: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
When I taught Sunday school, I always taught the kids that the ninth commandment referred to gossip. While specifically targeting lying with the intent of hurting someone, the commandment can also be seen as an umbrella over the many ways our words can hurt others. When we talk about others and say things that we would never say in their presence, that’s a good way to determine that we shouldn’t be saying it at all.
I am a direct person. When I have a conflict with someone, I typically take it to them in an attempt to work it out in love. I do my best to not accuse, and mainly share how the situation or behavior is causing me distress. Unfortunately, not everyone appreciates this. When I bring it up, the other person sometimes gets defensive and explains why it’s all my fault, or I’m imagining things, or that I deserve what I get. It’s not often that the problem is resolved and the relationship improves. In fact, it usually gets worse.
When I’m blocked, dismissed, or blamed, I don’t want to bring the topic up again with that person. That’s normal. The problem lies with where I choose to dump my hurt, anger, and resentment. Instead of taking it to God, sometimes I complain to a mutual friend. I gossip.
A couple of weeks ago as I was serving all day for Easter services, I got the distinct impression that somehow the tide had turned. Many of those on the team who used to be quite friendly with me were now avoiding eye contact. Was it my imagination, or was I being avoided? No one has come to me with a problem, yet it seems clear that I have made some error (or many). It’s a horrible feeling. It would appear that I’ve been accused, tried and convicted, yet never to my face. I am left to guess my crime and I have no way to rectify it. I feel ashamed, rejected, and powerless.
Now perhaps it’s all in my head. Perhaps I said or did something thoughtless that hurt the feelings of someone and I’m unaware of what I’ve done. Maybe the fact that I’m outspoken for the cause of Christian singles (which is not something our church chooses to support) has worn thin with the married people on staff. Then again, maybe I’ve acted faithfully as God has directed me and as a result, I’ve made someone feel uncomfortable, which was God’s intention. The point is, I don’t know, and if I don’t know, I can’t rectify the situation. Maybe I don’t even need to fix anything. How do I know?
I only had to acknowledge these uncomfortable feelings for about a minute before I realized that the Holy Spirit was making a point. How I feel (regardless of whether or not I’m imagining things) is how I can impact others when I share my frustrations instead of turning it over to God. This is a terrible feeling. I don’t want to make anyone feel the way I’m feeling. If I am dismissed for bringing up a concern, perhaps I need to back off and reassess the friendship. Maybe I need to work through my feelings and seek a solution with a neutral third party in confidence. One thing is certain: bellyaching to mutual friends is slimy.
Just like peeing in the pool, I don’t want to swim in someone else’s gossip about me, so I should never put it in the water for anyone else, either. There’s an appropriate place for my frustration: to God in prayer.