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Loose Lips

Are they sinking your relationships?

I admit it. I'm a talker. Chances are, if I walk into a room, I'll be the first to say hello—even to a person I don't know.

Most of the time, my talkative personality is a positive attribute—it aids me in making friends quickly and helps others feel included in a group. But sometimes, I get so caught up in doing what comes naturally—talking—that I forget to think before I open my mouth.

Almost everyone's heard the old adage: "Loose lips sink ships." When I share my own thoughts and feelings a little too freely, I do no harm, except perhaps let someone get to know too much about me too soon. But my chatter gets me into trouble when I share tidbits about others. I don't set out to break a friend's confidence … but somehow, my mouth kicks into gear before my brain.

All the "little confidences" I've shared, such as "Trina's* really concerned about her daughter, Sue, because Sue's sleeping with her boyfriend," or "Pray for Katie, she's going through treatments for infertility," merely seemed like interesting conversations until one day three years ago. That's when the true nature of my loose lips hit home.

It happened over a diet Coke at my friend Ann's house. As we both tsk-tsked about the escalating divorce rate, Ann, whose husband had left her four years earlier, commented, "I'm so sorry for the women behind the statistics. I know what it's like to be alone and scared about what's going to happen to you next."

Just then, I thought about asking Ann to pray for Maris, a mutual friend who'd just shared with me that her marriage was in trouble. So I rambled on with details of Maris's marital woes. To my dismay, Ann hadn't a clue our friend's marriage was so deeply troubled—and she felt terrible that Maris hadn't even told her about it.

After our conversation, I felt sick in the pit of my stomach, but I pushed my feelings aside. However, as the days wore on, I could no longer stand my guilt and shame. I realized—painfully—that I'd been wrong to share news that hadn't been mine to share. Not only had I broken my struggling friend's confidence, but I'd put Ann in the midst of a distressing situation.

Finally, I swallowed my pride and phoned Ann to apologize. Then, taking a deep breath, I phoned Maris, told her I needed to talk to her, and asked if I could come over. Maris agreed readily, so half an hour later I was at her door, a batch of brownies in hand. Before we even sat down, I blurted out in misery, "Maris, I blew it. Remember a month ago, when you shared with me how you and Mark were struggling in your marriage? Well, last week when Ann and I were talking, I told her about you and Mark. I'd meant to talk in general terms, but then … well, your name slipped out."

Maris's jaw dropped. Her lips quivered. She got teary-eyed.

I plunged ahead. "For once, I don't know what to say. I wish I could take my words back, but I can't. Can you ever forgive me?"

Maris sighed. "I wish you hadn't said anything," she said slowly. "Having someone else know about it only makes it harder on me … and Mark. But you're right. You can't take your words back. I'll phone Ann, so she knows you talked to me … and I'll ask her to keep it confidential."

Ouch. My stomach churned. Although Maris and I'd been friends for five years, I knew it would take a long time before she'd trust me again. "Maris," I said, reaching over to hug her, "I'm really sorry. I promise I won't share any of your confidences—or anyone else's—in the future."

"Don't promise what you can't keep," Maris said softly, looking me straight in the eye. Her point was well-taken. As soon as I got to my car, the tears flowed. I thought of Proverbs 15:2: "The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly." I knew which one I represented.

The bible calls the tongue "a restless evil, full of deadly poison" (James 3:8). One of the strongest commands God gives in his Word is to watch what we say: "The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell" (James 3:5, 6). That means when you gossip—talk idly and inappropriately about someone else—you're allowing a tiny part of your body—the tongue—to control you, and your words can be used to damage others. Gulp.

It's no wonder God, who created us and knows what's best for us, takes a clear stand on gossip. He knows how easily loose lips can ruin another's reputation, introduce mistrust into a relationship, encourage the gossiper to embellish her tale for more dramatic effect, and cause her to sin further by being tempted to lie when confronted with, "Did you really say that about me?"

After my experience with Ann and Maris, I knew I had to confess my wrongdoing to God and ask him to forgive me. I also needed to ask him for help with a big task: keeping my mouth shut when I should. I prayed that my "sharing" wouldn't ruin my friendship with Ann and Maris.

Thankfully, it didn't. But it did make them more wary of opening their hearts to me for many months—and it made me more careful about inadvertently passing on gossip. Now when I'm privy to some juicy news, I ask myself two key questions before I unzip my lips:

Is the news "approved" for sharing? The reality is, I just love to share news. It's part of my innate nature to want to be "in the know." Because I'm wired this way, it's easy for me to spread gossip under the guise of being well-meaning, even prefacing my news with "I wish you'd pray for … "

But just because my "sharing" is well-meant doesn't mean it's appropriate. For instance, let's say a friend of mine recently broke up with her boyfriend of four years. Wanting to help her, I phone another friend who went through a break-up several years ago to ask her to contact my distraught friend. While my intentions might be good, they're misguided if I don't first ask my friend if she wants her news to be made public.

Here's a simple rule I now follow: If the other person didn't tell me, "Go ahead and pass the news around," or "Would you ask our friends to pray for me?" then I don't. It's not my news to share.

When the news is "approved" by someone, wonderful things can happen. For example, when my friend Carolyn told me she was pregnant again after several years of infertility, I was thrilled. She also told me to pass along the good news, which I joyfully did! When I told several friends who also were experiencing secondary infertility about Carolyn's coming baby, they cried tears of joy with me. And then they proceeded to phone Carolyn and encourage her with their happy greetings as well.

A year ago, when out-of-town friends Julianne, Jane, and I met for our twice-a-year lunch, I noticed that Julianne had lost a great deal of weight. When I mentioned how great she looked, she beamed. "I've lost 50 pounds—and kept them off! I can't tell you how great it feels! It's such an accomplishment!" Later, in a letter, I again told her how proud I was of her, then asked her if I could refer two friends to her for encouragement. They'd been struggling to lose weight and couldn't seem to get over the hump. Now Julianne and my other two friends e-mail each other twice a week as a mutual online weight-loss support group.

Would I want this news shared about me? This is the real kicker. If I were sitting in a room with others blatantly talking about me, would I want what I had told them to be shared? Or would their chatter make me feel as though I'm in my underwear, and everyone's inspecting me?

My friend Michelle admits being caught in a nasty situation. While at a restaurant over lunch, Michelle and her coworker, Sharon, stopped in the restroom to fix their makeup before returning to their jobs. As they fluffed their hair and reapplied lipstick, their small talk turned to the subject of who drove them crazy. Immediately Michelle launched into a two-minute diatribe about Beth, a mutual coworker who didn't seem to have a clue as to how much trouble she created for the rest of the team. As Michelle prepared to launch into more specifics to Sharon's clucking sympathy, a stall door opened. Out walked Beth, red-faced and angry.

In a split second, what had seemed like a "pressure-relief" session turned into an awkward mess. Michelle and Beth stared at each other in embarrassed panic, each wondering what to do. Michelle knew she couldn't take her words back. In the instant after their eyes met, Beth fled out the door. Michelle was sure she'd seen tears in Beth's eyes.

That afternoon, Beth didn't return to work, and the next day Michelle heard through the grapevine that Beth had re-signed. While other staff members openly cheered what seemed to be good news, Michelle felt miserable. She wished she would have talked to Beth instead of talking about Beth.

Although that situation happened five years ago, Michelle's never forgotten it. She tried to reach Beth several times by phone over the next month, then wrote her a letter of apology, but Beth never responded. Michelle says she, too, learned her lesson about loose lips—the hard way. And what's worse is that Michelle's a Christian and Beth, to her knowledge, isn't.

As the Bible's Golden Rule says, "Do to others what you would have them do to you" (Matthew 7:12). What you dish out will come back. You can be sure that if you have loose lips, your words will eventually return to haunt you.

Ramona Cramer Tucker is co-founder and editorial director of OakTara Press (www.OakTara.com). She lives with her family in the Chicago area.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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