Maybe it isn’t the forgotten sin, but maybe it is. For me it is the sin I don’t always realize I’ve fallen into until after the fact. I’d be willing to be that most of us fall into it without realizing we’ve done so because, like me, our definition of it is so limited.
Up until a few months ago (thanks to my awesome spiritual director) my definition of gossip was limited to something along the lines of: talking smack about people behind their backs in a knowingly malicious way with the intent of slandering them because they were/are irritating. Intent, as with any moral decision, matters, but so do actions. My spiritual director challenged me to broaden my understanding and definition of gossip. In reality, the definition of gossip isn’t dependent on my conscious or unconscious intent. Gossip occurs anytime you or I speak, write or otherwise communicate something negative about person A to anyone other than person A.
“But, but…what about venting? We all need to vent!”
That’s what I said. Sure, there are times that things are beyond frustrating or we’ve reached our point of ‘no more patience’. I get it. But who are you venting to? Are you venting to a group of people who only see one side of the situation? Or are you venting to your longest and most trusted friend who will not only hear you out but will also challenge you be holier? Here, the intent matters a whole heap.
Let’s say Anthony and I have a big, colossal fight. I’m frustrated and hurt and he won’t talk to me (this hasn’t actually happened – I’m talking hypothetical here!). There are those trusted friends of mine, the friends who know me and love me, the friends who love and honor marriage. Then there are those friends who maybe don’t know Anthony as well or don’t honor marriage as much. I could rant to either group, but clearly one option is better than the other. My good friends, the ones who challenge me to be a better person, will hear me out but won’t let me wallow in my own pity party. They’ll challenge me to live out our wedding vows.
Why does it matter? It matters because I love Anthony and he – even in the times he frustrates me – is a child of God. I have no business whatsoever dragging his name, his character or our marriage through the mud under the guise of ‘making myself feel better by venting’. That’s a cop-out. If I vent to someone (or perhaps worse, a group of someones) who don’t know Anthony, I’ve sinned not only by gossiping, but by dishonoring a child of God.
This, of course, isn’t limited to marriage. The dictionary definition of gossip is “idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others.” Remember that saying about how idle hands are the devil’s workshop/playground? What then is idle talk? Is it uplifting? Does it honor God or is His children? If idle hands are the devil’s playground, then perhaps idle talk is from the devil too. (Because it is. It is a sin.) So the next time you or I feel the need to vent about someone or something, take a second to ask yourself, is what I’m about to say uplifting? Is it necessary? Is it kind? Does it honor this person, who is a child of God? Speak carefully, because you never know how your venting forever alters someone else’s perception of the person you are venting about (and that, too, is a sin).