PROGRAM W-1796 – Part II
In talking about the tongue, James warns us, “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” Fran’s tongue has been the small spark which set some fires going, as she spread some gossip handed on to her by her friend, Andy. Andy heard that Bill Best, the VP of human resources in their company was asked to resign because of some unethical conduct, and Fran has spread that rumor to several other people.
Now, keep in mind, Fran didn’t do it in an attitude of gossip or malice. She likes Bill a lot, and it was in concern that she told Louise and Ray. But what she failed to do was check out her facts, for one thing. And then she forgot to put some controls on her tongue. Now the story has gone full circle and has come back to her, like that old gossip game we used to play, distorted and exaggerated, and it has begun to dawn on Fran that she has played a critical role in spreading this rumor.
When she got home from work this Tuesday evening, her first reaction was to shift the blame and guilt she was feeling to Andy. After all, he’s the one who started the whole thing. He shouldn’t have told her if it wasn’t the truth. Of course, she didn’t know what the truth was; maybe it was true that Bill was caught in a dishonest transaction. But then, what if it’s not the truth?
She called Andy and unloaded her guilt on him—or at least she tried to—but that just made matters worse. Now there’s a rift between them and they had heated words about it on the phone.
Now, after getting the kids to bed, Fran plops down on the sofa. “What a miserable day this has been,” she says out loud to herself.
“Yes, indeed,” Jesus responds.
Sometimes, quite frankly, Fran is annoyed that Jesus is always there. It seems she can’t have a thought to herself. But of course, the only times she is annoyed is when she’s thinking or doing something she shouldn’t be thinking or doing. Otherwise, she loves having him with her at all times. However, at the moment, she’s not ready for the confrontation that she assumes Jesus has in mind, so she does what she often does to block out the voice of the Lord: she gets busy.
She attacks the house like a white tornado, cleaning the oven, washing three loads, vacuuming the downstairs, and cleaning the kids’ shoes. Finally at midnight, beyond her usual bedtime, she falls into bed exhausted and tries to sleep. But it turns out to be one of those nights when sleep is fitful, and she wakes seemingly more exhausted than when she went to bed.
As she starts to get up, Jesus begins to talk to her: “Why did you pass on information you didn’t know was true?” he asks.
Well, here we go, she thinks. There’s no avoiding the issue now. She gets defensive. “Well, Andy told me, and I figured he must have known. . .” she begins.
“Fran,” Jesus interrupts her, “what comes out of your mouth is your responsibility, not Andy’s or anyone else’s.”
She knows he’s right, but she’s not ready to confront her sin. So, quickly she gets up and gets busy again. She purposely stayed in bed until the last minute so she wouldn’t have time to read her Bible and pray. Instead, she fusses at the kids and rushes them so that their morning is off to a bad start, too.
As she arrives at work that morning—feeling just awful inside—her manager, Marilyn, comes into her office.
“Fran, do you know that somebody has started a vicious rumor about Bill Best and why he’s leaving the company, and there’s not one word of truth to it?”
“What’s that?” Fran replies, stunned.
“I can’t imagine how it got started, but my guess is that it was those guys on the third floor. They usually are the ones to get the rumor mill going. Anyway, the truth is that Bill has just been diagnosed with cancer of the lungs and they give him maybe six months to live.”
“No way,” Fran replies in alarm. “Oh, Marilyn, surely not. Not Bill.”
“I know how you feel,” Marilyn says. “He’s one of the nicest guys around. But it’s true. I talked with him myself. He found out two days ago, but he didn’t want people to know before he left. And now, I hear this rumor that he was asked to resign because of something unethical. I just can’t believe how cruel people can be.”
The lump in Fran’s throat and the knot in her stomach are so large that she is paralyzed.
“Fran, you’re white as a sheet,” Marilyn remarks. “But I know—this is a real shocker. Well, if I ever find out who started these vicious rumors about Bill, I’m having their head on a platter. Do me a favor, will you? If you hear that rumor from anyone, please set them straight. I gotta go to a meeting. Fran, are you okay?”
“I’m. . . I’m. . . just shocked, that’s all,” Fran finally manages to get out. “I’ll talk to you later,” she says as Marilyn leaves her office.
After Marilyn leaves, Fran somehow manages to get up and close her office door. Then she drops her head on her desk and begins to sob uncontrollably.
Quietly she hears the voice of Jesus, “Are you crying for Bill or for yourself?” he asks.
“Oh, Lord, I don’t know,” she can hardly talk. “This is the worst thing I’ve ever done, and to Bill of all people.”
“Yes, what you did was very hurtful, Fran,” Jesus comments, “but not unforgivable.”
Fran stops sobbing for a moment, and then says, “Oh, Lord, I don’t have the gall to ask you to forgive me for this. I don’t deserve to be forgiven.”
“That’s true, Fran,” Jesus says gently, “but then you never are deserving of my forgiveness. I forgive because I choose to forgive, when asked.”
“But, Lord, after the way I treated Andy and the way I ignored you, and the rumors I spread about Bill which were totally untrue—there’s no way I can just say please forgive me and that’s it. I can’t forgive myself for this. It’s too easy.”
“Forgiveness is never easy, Fran,” Jesus answers her. “I died so that you could be forgiven, so it’s not easy forgiveness. But it would be a shame for you to go unforgiven when I’ve already died so that you could be forgiven.”
Fran has to think about that for a minute. “I’m not sure I understand. . .”
“Well, look at it this way,” Jesus says. “If I’m willing to forgive you, even though you don’t deserve to be forgiven, how could you be so arrogant as to not forgive yourself? Are you better than me?”
“I see what you mean,” Fran says quietly. “But what I did is so awful. . .”
“The results are awful, and you will suffer some of the consequences of your actions. But you need to be forgiven so that you can go forward and make restitution and learn from your experience,” Jesus instructs her.
Finally understanding her need for forgiveness, Fran asks for the forgiveness which Jesus so generously offers her. The burden of the guilt is taken off her shoulders, but her heart is still very heavy because of the damage she did through her careless tongue.
“Now, what should I do, Lord?” Fran asks.
“In a case like this where you have wronged others, you need to ask for their forgiveness, too,” Jesus answers.
“You mean, go to Louise and Ray and ask them to forgive me for telling them the gossip?” Fran inquires.
“Yes,” Jesus says, “and Marilyn and Andy.”
“But Lord,” Fran says, “Andy should ask for my forgiveness. He started this whole thing. . .”
“Wait a minute, Fran,” Jesus interrupts her. “You are responsible for your actions. Whether Andy did wrong or not, you cannot shift the blame to him for what you did.”
Fran hangs her head again. “You’re right, of course,” she says. “I really was cruel to him last night. And I was the one who kept telling the rumor. If I’d never told anyone else, it probably would have stopped there.”
“Well, you always have to remember that whether you’re ten percent guilty or ninety percent guilty, you have to still seek forgiveness for your part. So without condemning Andy, you need to ask his forgiveness.”
“This is not going to be easy,” Fran says.
“No, but the sooner you do it, the better,” Jesus gently urges her to get to it.
She calls Andy. “Can you meet me for a cup of coffee?” she asks him timidly. He agrees to meet her, and as they sit down, she says, “I have just learned some terrible news, Andy. Bill Best resigned because he is dying of cancer and doesn’t have long to live, not because he did anything wrong.”
Andy looks stunned. “Oh, man,” he says, “that’s terrible news, Fran. I didn’t know. . .”
“No, I realize you didn’t know,” Fran says, “but besides that, what I really wanted to see you about is to ask you to forgive me for my behavior toward you last night on the phone. That was awful; I was trying to blame you for my careless tongue. Will you please forgive me?” She can hardly keep back the tears.
“Of course,” he meekly answers, “but I guess I’m as wrong as you are.” For a few minutes they talk about the consequences of their “rumor mill” and agree never to let it happen again.
Later that morning, Fran finds Marilyn alone in her office. “Can I talk with you a minute, Marilyn?”
“Sure,” she replies, and Fran walks in and closes the door behind her.
“Marilyn, there’s no easy way to tell you this, so I’ve just got to tell you as quickly as I can. I’m the person who started the incorrect rumor about Bill Best, and I am so very sorry,” Fran starts.
“You?” Marilyn is shocked. “Not you, Fran! How could you?”
“Oh, Marilyn, I just let my tongue get going and it started a great fire,” she says. “I heard it from the guys upstairs, just like you suspected. . .”
“You mean from Andy?” Marilyn asks.
“Yeah, but it’s not Andy’s fault. He warned me it was just a rumor and I should have kept my mouth shut. But then I told Louise and Ray in accounting who told Joan, who told Josey. . . and by that time it was out of control,” Fran explains. “I can’t even begin to tell you how ashamed and sorry I am for all of this. . .” Words seem inadequate at this point, so Fran gets quiet.
After a long pause, Marilyn looks at Fran and says, “You know, I think I had you on some kind of a pedestal, Fran. I thought you were such a good Christian that you’d never do something like this.”
“Well,” Fran replies, “I just fell off the pedestal, Marilyn. I’m sorry. . .”
“No,” Marilyn interrupts, “it’s okay. In fact, I think it’s good for me to realize you’re just as human as the rest of us. . .”
“Yeah, but that’s no excuse for what I did,” Fran says. “Jesus has forgiven me, and I intend to learn from this horrible experience so that hopefully it never happens again. I just can’t tell you how badly I feel. I like Bill Best so much.”
“You’re not going to apologize to him, are you?” Marilyn asks.
“Well, don’t you think I should?” Fran responds.
“No, I don’t Fran, because he has no idea that this rumor got started and there’s no need to burden him with it,” Marilyn says.
“That sounds like good advice, Marilyn,” Fran says. “I’ll pray about that.”
She and Marilyn have a long talk about forgiveness and learning to forgive yourself. As she walks out of Marilyn’s office, Fran says, “Lord, I don’t know, but it looks like you used this horrible thing to teach Marilyn something she needs to know about forgiveness.”
Jesus smiles at her. “Well, it’s my habit to turn ashes into beauty anytime I can,” he says.
Fran makes her way to Ray, Josey, and finally Louise, asking each of them to forgive her. It was emotionally exhausting, but it had to be done. So, at the end of this long day, she puts her head on her pillow in peace, much sadder for the experience, but hopefully much wiser as well. She asks Jesus to show her how best to reach out to Bill and his family during this difficult time, and plans on tackling that issue tomorrow.
Gossip is not a game to play; gossip is malicious and harmful and it can cause irreparable damage to people and relationships. I want to challenge each of you to memorize Ephesians 4:29: “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.” Pray this verse every morning into your life. This is the antidote for gossip.