“Don’t ever talk about anyone…because you never know who they might be related to.”
I was given this piece of advice when I first arrived in this small town by a long time local and it was some of the best I have been given…because it has turned out to be so true. I mean, really, what is the likelihood of me knowing Mrs X was BLANK’S great Aunt without having been told? And that kind of thing happens every week.
Today I set out to get something from the church, a 3 minute walk from my study at home. Walk there, get my papers, walk back – 10 minutes tops. Right? Not in a small town. Over 2 hours later I make it back to my desk with the papers in hand, having had several parish excursions along the way. A cup of tea. A conversation. Slapping a newly married friend on the back (figuratively). Making plans to improve the community center. Stopping a leak the community center. Hearing the life story of a new friend and the present burdens of another.
It becomes more and more clear as I learn to love my neighbors that the act of loving them includes both listening to them and not speaking about what I’ve heard. Today, without giving too much away, I had another one of those, “Oh, you are related to so and so” moments. And while I have nothing bad to say about either, I am reminded about how knowing each other and being know in a small town provides a bit of an incentive to keep your mouth shut.
Really, we should know this already, but we don’t necessarily, do we? Adults, should know that you never speak about a person not present in a defamatory way without first having spoken to them. And always with the aim of reconciliation. But we forget, we all forget.
(Quick caveat, there must be an honest way to speak to another in such a way that aids the healing process. That means speaking to someone mutually respected, who can actually help, like a pastor).
The Bible speaks to this in such a way that truly brings a blessing, making the world a better place. In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the local church in the small town of Ephesus, he writes,
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
This kind of speaking is consistent with the new life, the life that enjoys all the spiritual blessings in Christ, the life that has been re-created in righteousness, holiness and truth. Or, as Jesus puts it, “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
Let us love our neighbors with action and in truth. Let us be quick to repent if the words of our mouth reveal darkness in our hearts. Let us be be just as quick to receive the forgiveness of Jesus, without whom all hearts are only evil, all the time. And let us…
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.