Gossip, Romans, and Making sense of the past
Romans 14:14-19 (NIV)
“I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up building.”
I woke up this morning, and I googled the dictionary definition of “gossip”. Some lines are so insinuated that sometimes, I’m not entirely sure what the truth is, and I was already thinking of this verse to get a good comparison.
There are so many dictionaries, and only one truth. Scrolling through the online caverns, I’m not really sure what I expected to find. Some sort of reference, to figure out what others consider as wrong. I can cross-check it with the truth I believe in, to give me the full picture of what is right.
It is very strange to me, though. I understand what Paul means in Romans 14:14. To me, gossip is such a subjective thing. Having been depressed for many years, what once felt like an attack on my character now is often something I see as an obligatory part of conversation. Talking with several old friends last night, it only made sense that we would talk about some of the people from our Scholarship Hall days, not because we had bad intentions, but because it had been so long, and it was a kind of informal report system: Who had who in what classes? Is she still the same? Is she okay or better now?
I don’t know where it crosses over into gossip. Truly. I’m not very good at secrets, so I do my best not to keep them for myself. If someone confides in me, I typically have a good understanding of the magnitude of how painful something is for them to talk about, and having my own history with things that I can’t personally justify but still make me nervous, I try to leave that up to them. Names are something I only try to use when there are good things to say. I’m still not sure where that boundary lays. At the same time though, some beautiful things are inextricably mixed with dark things, or things that are just really difficult to talk about, until they’re not. What about that? What if it’s mine? Is it still mine if it involves another person? I have no idea.
But Romans 14:14-19 doesn’t focus on specific situations. Paul tells us that if we want to follow Christ Jesus in the way of love, we have to focus on being loving, and taking note when we aren’t being loving. Loving is defined by the effects it leaves, and it is certainly that way in 1st Co 13. The way a person remembers you has to do not only with your reputation, but whether they can see Christ in you, and whether remembering you would be a blessing to them, instead of someone they’d rather not think about.
This isn’t just about remembering though. It is about living. Actions. The way we speak. The way we dress, even. It is about not just what we eat in a literal sense, but not causing others to feel ashamed of what we believe, and attempt to conceal what is still good in the eyes of God, for fear that they will be judged and/or punished. Clearly, the Bible is meant to help clarify what God would tell us isn’t right. But at the same time, causing others to stumble is not in the name of Jesus.
But then again (not in an attempt to suppress the truth, but to apply it): What ever happened when I was depressed, and someone spoke of something that made me feel bad? What about when I was just at Church, and that happened?
There was so much of my heart that was so desperately looking for the truth, and I kept falling short for myself in the things I cared about most. I simply never had enough energy. The stamina wasn’t fully there yet. I was so intensely jealous of the people who seemed to have it all together, or at least, could admit their own failure. I wanted to be like them, but I thought it was undeniably impossible. Looking back, sometimes it feels like the only thing that ever separated me from the love of God was the semi-unshakeable feeling that there was no way he would ever pick me. There was no way he could want me, not with all that I was in that moment, not with all that I had had to sacrifice, not with all the things that made going to school a living hell, not with all the things I knew but I could talk about, either at home or anywhere else. It is still strange to think that what made me most mad during all that time was pity. It did me no good. I pity myself, and I’ve already struck out for the day. Other people’s pity seemed even worse, because it’s not like they followed it up with the kind of answers I was seeking. I can’t remember a time where I talked about struggling and someone actually supplanted the name of Jesus. I know that I probably would have been curious, but I don’t know that I would’ve listened. The hypocrisy was just too real then, and I didn’t have the strength.
I don’t understand how healing and not healing seem like these eternally separate ends of the spectrum. You’ve got tele-evangelists on one end of the spectrum, and the weak and dying on the other. No one could have made me believe some of the things I now know before they were due. Not one person. Eventually, it was just the right time, in the right place, and I could let the rest of it go long enough to live in a way I was always jealous of. But seriously. It took years.
I can’t explain so many things, but what a person does to heal is so much more beyond my understanding. I know God does it. But all these stories on television, and the Internet, and things I have witnessed rarely match up. So often, the change is inside of you. Yes, it can be visible. Yes, it can be immediate. But no one can fully understand the heart of God, least of all me.
We all feel broken, even if you have crossed that celestial ribbon into health. All I ever wanted: for my family to be healthy, and for me to be healthy. It seems those things are pretty established these days, or it is pretty established that they will be established.
Just because an old chapter of your life closes doesn’t mean there aren’t so many more new chapters to start. The first page of a new journal is always the most beautiful. Fresh ink on virgin terrority. Who knows what life will bring? It is beautiful to simply be writing about the life you love.
But Ella does still check in on me, making her Pomeranian nursemaid rounds. She likes it best when I’m smiling. She keeps me company, even yesterday, when I was singing outside as the temperature dropped. She wasn’t going to go inside without me, but it was clear after a bit she was getting cold. I finished up the song, and we went back into the house.
If I say “There aren’t answers” I am lying, but if I try to specify what some semblance of those answers are, I will only ever be scratching the surface. It should not come from me, this truth, and it doesn’t. I can describe it. I can talk about it. I can give it his own, proper name. But the truth is just too big, too limitless, too beautiful. It’s a good you have to allow to discover for yourself. Christ meets you always, wherever you are. But the fear and jealous and overwhelming “living rejected” feeling I once had is no longer part of me, and I will celebrate that, because he always loved me more than enough to make it possible.
I feel like in so many things, there are so many cycles permanently coming to a close. I welcome that, as wrong as I may have once been. The shame doesn’t feel like something I ever truly experienced. It feels resolved. There is nothing quite so beautiful as knowing that God loves you, in the way he would go out of his way to transform your life. Not only did I actively run from so much of this, but I hated the people who seemed to have that peace. Passionately. I cared about them as people, but the moment they had this peace I didn’t, I just couldn’t forgive. Forgiveness was so much of the crux of all these things. It just wasn’t mine to give yet, because it had yet to become mine to receive. Eventually, that changed.
I know God can do anything. It’s a knowing that doesn’t get cheapened by small sayings and misapplying them to my own life. I’m not talking about the Bible when I say that, I’m talking about the short little sentences we use to make sense of our lives as “common knowledge”, which really just feel like common judgment when they are said the right way. To me, even now, gossip seems like such a subjective thing. All I know is that I do not want to do anyone harm. I think that that general sentiment is echoed in pretty much every single book of the Bible. I know that God lives through the Holy Spirit, and that he is in all of us, even if we can’t recognize it. It isn’t me that chooses, but I would celebrate with anyone who could somehow stumble through Salvation long enough to know such an all-consuming peace.
It’s like breaking the strongest addiction of your life, to confront sin. Clearly, you do not do it for yourself. But you have to participate, and it is incredibly hard. It is the most beautiful blessing you can imagine, but being more aware of what isn’t right comes at the simple price of knowing. Sometimes, it can feel like the simple act of having your praise and thanksgiving as smaller than your trials can be enough to sweep you off course. I know God provides. It’s so much easier to go to him directly, than in any of the other artificial means I used to find insufficient. Not even close friends can become like God. Telling people about your problems is nothing like finding peace in Christ. It simply doesn’t compare, except in that it will always fall short. There is no solution, no resolution, and funny thing, those solutions are so intrinsically foreign to us that they are rarely ours to understand, let alone to give. It comes out like nonsense syllables, and those can hurt. They can make hurt even worse, because they diminish from the hope found only in the truth. It destroys the peace you already try to cling to. So often, silence was so much more beautiful.
The past is a part of me. People talk about their struggles as if they didn’t enormously change them in ways that can’t always be expressed. They don’t talk about them. They assume that at some point, they get magically tied up in a bow and forgotten. Yet even the peace I have received doesn’t ask me to deny what the truth once was. It is always going to be a part of me. I am proud of it, because in the peace of God, I no longer have to be ashamed of it. Can anyone who does not know that kind of pain ever fully appreciate being whole? We each receive the portion we are given by God, and I know that some of it doesn’t come easy. But he loves us. The knowing is so much lesser than the love.
“So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.” (Romans 14:16).
This is the passage I will be reflecting on, for just a little longer. What does it mean to “not let what you regard be spoken of as evil?” What does it mean to defend any kind of good thing, let alone your faith, and all the good it had brought you, that you did not deserve? What does that look like, in practice? I’ll be listening this week.