The lambs are always full of surprises. One minute they’re all about each other and leave me, their shepherdess, in the dust. The next, they’re in-my-pocket like a herd of goofy geldings or in this case, whispering in my ear like chummy gossip girls. Sometimes they tell tales on each other (yes, Thérèse, I know Faustina is hogging the hay again), other times they just want to let me know that no matter what anyone says, I’m A-OK for a human being.
It’s that last part I want to talk about…”no matter what anyone says, (fill in the blank).” Ever have someone say that to you? Once, in the outdoor riding ring of a posh dressage barn, a fellow horsewoman who had no filter rode up beside me and said affectionately, “I don’t care what anyone else says about having a Western rider in the barn, I really like having you here.” Hmmmm. I understood it was meant to be a compliment. My drooping shoulders showed that my heart took it otherwise. All I heard was the fact that people were talking — about me. Apparently my rugged Western saddle, Fat Baby riding boots and our leisurely jogs (not to mention my bitless bridle) were bringing down the vibe of their elite facility. I felt like something the barn cat dragged in. But I did the only thing any self-respecting cowgirl would do. I sat deeper in the saddle, cued for a lope, and left my critics in the stone dust.
Cliques are everywhere. As a homesteader, I can tell you they exist in flocks of sheep, flocks of hens, and herds of horses, but they totally lack the the malice one often finds in cliques of human beings. Whatever gripes animals have are squared away in a New York minute, one-and-done confrontations with no hard feelings. The squeals of mares, the squawks of hens, and the grunts of sheep punctuate the atmosphere and then disappear. Not like human whispers. Their hisses linger in the air like beguiling two-headed snakes and drift into other ears eager to receive them. After all, the tickle of secrets and gossip can feel irresistible.
The word gossip as we know it today is entirely different than how it was originally conceived. A quick study of its etymology tells us that it springs (circa the year 1014) from the Old English term godsibb, meaning “a child’s godparent or sponsor at a baptism” (God + sibb, as in sibling/relative). Wow, who knew? Over time and evolutions in spelling, gossip came to mean “a good friend, usually a woman.” By the 1500s, the word was mostly used to describe “idle chatter and rumor” and was simultaneously used to describe women who gathered to help another woman give birth. Put all that together and you have a group of women (usually) who know (and repeat) intimate details about another woman. Somewhere along the line, the “God” part became obsolete.
But not so in the words of Scripture, which are never obsolete. The Book of Proverbs alone offers more than a dozen verses cautioning against gossip. Today’s gossipmongers (monger = Ger. for trafficker or dealer…etymology is fascinating!) might consider it a harmless, guilty pleasure. After all, reality shows, tabloids, social media and other public outlets are abuzz with fresh content daily. Gossip is part of modern life and entertainment. Is there really any harm in repeating a few choice words, juicy details, or pure speculation? What about when it comes to our own family members? Surely we’re exempt from liability for repeating the maddening things they supposedly (or actually) said or did!
But here’s a thought: Scripture maintains that gossip isn’t as much about the other as it is about us. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” it says in Matthew 12:34. That’s my first clue that gossip is more about something lacking or inferior in me, rather than the other person.
Further: “But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:8) Plainly said, gossip is a sin, an evil worthy of confession. We need God’s help to refrain from partaking in its rotten fruit.
And to top it off, King David tells us exactly what it takes to dwell in the Lord’s presence and favor. Turns out, righteousness has a whole lot to do with what does (or doesn’t) come out of our mouths:
LORD, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy mountain?
Whoever walks without blame,
doing what is right,
speaking truth from the heart;
Who does not slander with his tongue,
does no harm to a friend,
never defames a neighbor.
In other words, we're called to be modern-day godsibbs, dedicated to God and to behaving like brothers and sisters (siblings) in Christ, instead of gossips. Our distant relative, St. Paul, laid out the ground rules for us in words that encourage us to overcome our impulses to engage in “idle chatter and rumor” and exhort us to love and support each other in our collective quest for holiness.
“Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. … Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:29, 31-32)
In reality, our little lambs don’t have a gossipy bone in their woolly little bodies. What they whisper is the ovine version of sweet nothings, which is a pretty good guideline for whispering (if one is given to whisper at all). And what is a sweet nothing? According to the dictionary, “If someone whispers sweet nothings to you, they quietly say nice, loving, and flattering things to you.”
I don’t know about you, but I think everyone in the whole world could use a little more of that.
Happy Valentine's Day, y'all! ♥️
They will know we are Christians by our love. (Jn 13:35)
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