Six Questions to Diagnose Subtle Gossip

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I was moving fast when my friend texted me her grievances against another. Company was due to arrive within the hour, and everything seemed to be happening at once. Between combining the liquid mixture for the corn muffins and texting my husband about what I needed him to pick up from the store, I texted some hard truth to my friend in response to her message.

Then, with messy hands, I forwarded my response to three people who were aware of the situation and who were praying for my friend. I wrote, “Just sent this to our friend. Please pray. Her heart is so hard.”

Then I realized I had accidentally included my friend in the group text. Ugh, ugh, double ugh.

Yes, I had been growing increasingly concerned for her, but after this incident, I realized it would have been best to share my concern with just her and God. Instead, I hurt her deeply. Where did I go wrong?

I was moving too fast. Proverbs 19:2 makes clear, “Whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.”

I assumed the role of savior, which only belongs to God. How much better to pray for my friend: “[I] do not know what to do, but [my] eyes are on [God]” (2 Chronicles 20:12).  

I forwarded a text which reeked of gossip. Paul warned of those who “learn to be . . . gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not” (1 Timothy 5:13).

I shared a prayer request about someone else without her permission to do so. As Proverbs 25:9 says, “Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not reveal another’s secret.”

Three Boundaries for Prayer Support

As I asked God to change my heart and make me a more trustworthy friend, I set a few boundaries in place.

1. I resolved not to share sensitive prayer requests about anyone without permission.

Proverbs 11:13 says, “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.”

Someone who reveals another’s secrets is a slanderer, according to the Bible. The King James calls such a person a “talebearer.” We probably don’t think of prayer requests as “bearing tales,” but if we dropped the “Please pray for so-and-so,” would it look any different than talebearing? Let’s not use prayer as a way to gossip through the back door.

2. I resolved not to forward others’ messages (or my responses) without permission.

We may think of this as a specific application of the first resolution for our modern times. In our connected world, we can simply flick our thumbs and broadcast the struggles and sins of others to those who might have no business knowing them.

It often feels necessary, maybe even loving — after all, we believe in the power of prayer, right? How could more people praying be wrong? But often, this is not the case. Too often, we solicit prayers as a thin guise for spreading our gossip or frustration.  

3. I resolved to delay sharing hard truth with others until I can talk in person or on the phone.

This requires slowing down. It requires not freaking out in the moment and thinking that a problem’s resolution depends on you and you alone. It requires boldness to address a problem without the protective wall of electronic text between you. And it requires crying out in deep dependence to the one and only Savior, rather than trying to do his work for him, as if he’s on vacation.

Deeper, to the Heart

These resolutions are broad principles that can protect us from hurting others that we want to help. But deeper than that, we want to confront our own hearts. It may help to ask ourselves the following questions before sharing someone else’s business.

1. Has my friend given me permission to share this “prayer request” with others? Am I considering my friend before myself (Philippians 2:3)?

2. How much time has passed between the time I learned of this need and the time I’m sharing it with others? Am I sharing it impulsively?

3. If very little time has passed, am I sharing this in a panic? Am I trusting in the Lord to act (Psalm 37:5), or trusting in myself to be the savior?

4. How seriously have I prayed about this issue myself before reaching out to others? Have I knelt in prayer? Have I prayed at all?

5. Do I believe that the earnest prayer of a single righteous person avails much (James 5:16)? Or do I think my prayers are not enough to move the heart of God?

6. Could I, at some point, be embarrassed that I sent this text or email?

Trust Is the Greatest Compliment

It’s easy to think our intentions are good. I thought that originally, too. But maybe we should distrust our intentions a bit more than we do. Even if our base intentions are good, we should always be on guard of having mixed motives. Love can often attach itself with the sinful desire to know other people’s stuff, to be “in the know,” or to feel puffed up that our lives aren’t so messy.

In my case, regardless of my original motives, I broke trust, and at that point, the only fitting response for me was one of repentance.

So that’s what I did. That evening, I called my friend and left a voicemail asking for forgiveness. I gave her space to call me when she was ready to talk. Eventually, she graciously forgave me, but because of the trust that I damaged by sharing what was not mine to share, it will take time for her to be able to regard me as the fully faithful friend that I desire to be, with God’s help.

How about you? Will you strive to love faithfulness more than the pleasure of gossip? The stakes are more important than simply having and keeping friends. By our faithfulness (or lack thereof), we are saying something about God. Paul encouraged women to grow into the maturity of being “dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things” (1 Timothy 3:11), because this is how Jesus is.

We serve and represent the most trustworthy and faithful friend of all. As we follow him, we want to look increasingly like him.