I spend a lot of time with people. At least, judged by an introvert’s standards I do. Recently, after attending a couple of major conferences, I’ve spoken to more than ever. I count that a blessing, as I love talking to people and getting to know them. I love hearing about their lives and their experiences. People are endlessly fascinating.
But today, I think back to some of those conversations with a measure of regret, a measure of shame. I think back and realize how quickly so many of those conversations turned to people—to people who were not there.
It’s not that the conversations were all full of gossip. Not quite. It’s not that the purpose of our conversation was to tear apart other people. Not quite. But so often other people’s names came up, and so many times I walked away thinking a little bit worse of another person rather than a little bit better—someone who was not even there. And so many times I fear the person I was speaking to also walked away thinking worse of another person, another brother or sister in Christ. If we didn’t actually gossip, we at least tiptoed along that line.
I am responsible, to be sure. But it’s not only me. Wherever I go I hear people talking about people, people joking about people, people muttering about people. That’s true at conferences, it’s true at church, it’s true in my own living room. We are so harsh with others and so forgiving with ourselves. We are so quick to speak ill of others and so convinced that no one would ever speak ill of us.
I know it is not the perfect standard by which to judge, but I often find myself thinking it: If others speak of me the way I speak of them, I would be devastated. If I could hear what people say about me, and if they could hear what I say about them, I don’t know that I would have a friend left on earth. Why do we do this? Why are we so endlessly cruel?
On my flight home yesterday I read Iain Murray’s short biography of Amy Carmichael, and he quoted one of her little sayings: “Let nothing be said about anyone unless it passes through the three sieves: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” (These questions sound like they come right out of Ephesians 4:29 and a whole collection of Proverbs.)
Do I speak the truth about others? Yes. But do I speak the whole truth, and I do speak in kindness and out of necessity? No, not all the time. And I rarely ask others to stop when they are spekaing ill of others.
What is true, what is kind, what is necessary: This needs to be my standard. This needs to be every Christian’s standard. If it sounds so easy, why is it so incredibly tough?
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