God has given us two ears, but one tongue, to show that we should be swift to hear, but slow to speak. God has set a double fence before the tongue, the teeth and the lips, to teach us to be wary that we offend not with our tongue. –Thomas Watson (1620-1686)
My latter elementary and early middle school years comprised some of the toughest times of my life, so much so that watching the movie Mean Girls seems more like a documentary or a biopic to me than a Tina Fey teen comedy.
There were many days when I arrived home from school in tears because of catty arguments ranging from unbelievably silly stuff, such as one Beanie Baby being less cool than another (That’s a true story. And for the record, Waddles the Penguin rocks), to more reasonable “I-liked-that-boy-first-so-back-off” stuff.
Now, I’m not going to lie and claim that I was a hapless victim at the hands of snotty girls like the notorious “Plastics” in Mean Girls; to the contrary, I was often times shamefully similar to the wicked queen bee character Regina George. For example, going back to the Beanie Babies, I started my own Beanie Baby “magazine” in the fourth grade (by “magazine” I mean huge bright pieces of construction paper stapled together with polaroids of our favorite beanies pasted on each page with a miniature, made-up bio of each cuddly creature) and excluded a girl from being a part of it simply out of spite. (Who knew adorable stuffed collectibles could be so divisive?)
I could write a book of short nonfiction stories about my various Mean Girl squabbles and cat fights, but I’m sure the ladies reading have enough anecdotes and painful/humorous/embarrassing memories of their own. And as for the gentlemen, I’ve probably already lost your attention! As I’ve grown up and talked to many women of different ages and from diverse places, each shares similar preteen experiences. “Girls can be so cruel” is a common, well understood refrain… I’d like to say we grow out of it. And I’m writing this post because I believe that, in a way, we do.
But we still have a lot to work on.
Before I continue, I want to say that most of what I write, from fitness books and nutrition articles to spiritual musings and improvisational Instagram poetry, stems from my own personal discoveries and issues the Lord has brought – or is bringing - to light in my own life. I wholeheartedly believe in the writing adage, “Write what you know.” The power of the tongue and the havoc it can wreak is something I know a little about. It’s something I believe we all know a little about.
After middle school, I sort of snapped out of the Mean Girls era of my life. High school and college, by the grace of God, were fairly drama-free (for the drama surrounding my first broken heart and the onset of my eating disorder, see this post). When it came to gossiping in the restroom, taking sides in the locker room, writing and passing around secret “For-Your-Eyes-Only” notes in the classroom, my inner Regina George was virtually nonexistent. Hurray for maturity!
That brings me to today. I’m 27 years old. A Christian woman. A wife. A friend. A daughter, sister, writer, trainer, sinner. I, like many other Christian women I know, may not pass around secret notes (In this day and age, it would be more like a secret Facebook group or text conversation!) gossiping about the latest rumors, but I still struggle to tame the most stubborn muscle in my body: my tongue.
I cannot tell you how many women’s Bible studies and Christian sorority meetings I’ve attended in which prayer request time quickly transformed into “pious gossip hour.” Here’s a fictional, albeit not unlikely example of this metamorphosis:
“Did anyone see Megan at church yesterday?”
“No, her husband told me she’s still out of town. For work, I guess?”
“Uh…huh… We’ll pray for her. Jessica, add ‘Megan’s marriage’ to our prayer request list.”
Now every woman in this hypothetical Bible study is suspicious of the state of Megan’s marriage. Some are probably 100% positive Megan is “having an affair” (such a curious expression) with her dashing personal trainer, while others may suspect her husband’s workaholism is finally taking its toll. And odds are good that at least one woman is not keeping such thoughts to herself. She is piping up, asking to know more because she’s just so righteously concerned, thereby opening up the entire can of marital woe worms, tempting women to talk about either their personal marriage problems or somebody else’s until forty-five minutes later… “Let us pray.”
Everyone says “Amen” and no one, least of all poor Megan, has any idea that the devil just made their Bible study group a rumor mill.
Here’s another example of an out-of-control tongue, one motivated by bone-rotting jealousy:
“Have you seen Amber’s new profile picture on Facebook?”
“Yes, she looks amazing! She’s lost quite a bit of weight!”
“Yeah. She used to be bulimic in college. I pray that’s not the case now.”
BAM! Sleek, insidious gossip strikes again. Why did she have to mention bulimia? Why can’t she simply be happy for Amber? Furthermore, if she truly has genuine concerns for Amber’s former eating behavior, why doesn’t she share them with the Lord and perhaps Amber directly? What good does discussing it with another individual do? Short answer: Zero, zip, zilch, nada.
James the brother of Jesus has this to say about the tongue:
“ For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” –James 3:7-9, NLT
I might paraphrase that passage as, “Not even Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1970s biceps would have been a match for the tongue. It’s more poisonous than diet soda. We pray in Jesus’ name with our tongue one minute, then gossip about our sister in Christ with it the next. #WhatsUpWithThat.”
I’ve come to realize that you can take the girls out of middle school, but you can’t take the middle school out of the girls. In other words, as long as we have tongues and the gift of speech, we must make a concerted effort every single day to keep our hearts pure and minds defended so that the contents that pour from our mouths are as tame and non-toxic as possible. Jesus said, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:18, ESV).
Not gossiping isn’t a matter of good behavior and polite manners; while the world may tell you that is the case, controlling our tongues through our own strength and self-will is only a superficial, temporary solution. The truth is, gossiping is resolved not through our actions, but through our beliefs – our beliefs about Christ, His nature and attributes, His teachings, and our identity in Him. It’s been my experience that the more I get to know my Maker and my Savior and fill my mind with what He has deemed “true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable,” the less I give in to the temptation to let casual conversations and well-meaning Bible studies take a sneaky, sinister turn.
What about you? Is gossip something you need to learn to stop or simply walk away from when it’s happening? How has the Lord dealt with your heart on this topic?
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.–Ephesians 4:29, NIV
 See Proverbs 14:30
 See Philippians 4:8