I was expecting the usual quiet between the morning get-to-work-on-time rush and the just-finished-working-out crowds when I entered my favorite café. It seemed that as soon as I sat down, that quiet buzz quickly turned into something frenetic and loud. Distracted, I gave up all pretense of writing and used my laptop as a prop as I settled in for some people watching.
As I sat covertly people watching, a couple of women sat down at the table behind me. They wore the typical suburban housewife uniform of yoga pants, running shoes, designer t-shirt (no logo, thank you very much), and immaculate fleece jackets in subdued tones. It wasn’t what they were wearing that struck me. It was how easily they verbally eviscerated another woman in their circle of “friends”.
This absent third-party apparently tried too hard and yet not hard enough. Her parenting style wasn’t aggressive enough. She was too permissive with her children while also being too restrictive. Poor kids weren’t allowed to go see an R rated movie. Who puts those restrictions on a 16 year-old? Gasp!
From parenting, they moved on to attack her clothing, her car, her marriage, her involvement at church, her desire to work part-time. This woman did nothing right. Right as they were in the middle of tearing apart this woman’s career of choice, she walked into the café. These two women smiled and waved at her, motioned her to their table. They were all concern and goodwill when she sat down and conversation shifted away from her character assassination to how everyone’s spring break vacations went and what summer activities was everyone planning for their precious snowflakes this summer.
I left the café soon after. I had started to feel too deeply my own woundedness and found myself wanting to judge this group of women only knowing them through this single one-sided interaction. It was time to go and immerse myself in something beautiful so I could remember that deep and profound goodness exists. As I left I prayed for beautiful encounters for all these women. We all need the healing that comes from beauty and good.
Later that evening I witnessed something that chilled me and made my claws come out. A daughter had just completed her very first recital, with an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction. Nothing awful, it seems her skirt wasn’t fitted correctly and shifted around on her hips to the point where she had to futz with it during a portion of her recital. No biggie, right? Her older siblings brutally mocked her for it. I get sibling rivalry. What I don’t get, and never condone, is attacking a sibling, removing all joy from an experience or an accomplishment, and in return attacking the identity of another person. Even minimizing their place within the family or society. The parent started to say a few distracted things to move the older siblings away from verbal flaying, and then did something unthinkable. The parent actively encouraged the mocking by suggesting they ask others who were going to attend the recital later in the weekend to see if the skirt continued to be a problem.
This is not done. This is giving permission to be mean and eradicates any sense of kindness and compassion. It encourages finding fault and exploiting it. I had to say something, especially given that the family in question are practicing evangelical Christians. By encouraging such behavior, you are not modeling Christian values, you are modeling meanness and divisiveness. You are making it okay to cause others pain. And you are doing so to your own family. There is NO place for this. Ever!
I wish I was shocked by this behavior. That it wasn’t normative in circles of faith, or in society in general. I wish I could say I have never been on the giving or receiving end myself. I haven’t given into this type of behavior in a long time, but I recall a time when it was so easy to sit with a small group of women and pick someone apart all in the name of care and concern. Nothing is further from the truth. Speaking ill of someone is not care. It’s not life-giving. It steals goodness and care. It breathes life into malice. Nothing good can ever come from gossip and character assassination. Healthy relationships aren’t built on a foundation of unkind interactions. And while lashing out may be a symptom of a deep hurt or insecurity, that also doesn’t make it okay. It’s a maladaptive interrelational strategy that does immense harm.
I see this play out in Christian circles all the time. Gossip can be given a pass if one is speaking about another out of concern. It’s almost assumed everyone knows everyone else’s business and as long as you promise to pray for the individual or family in question, the careful deconstruction of personal and private matters is allowed. And we can be so mean to each other. It reminds me of being the poor family in an up and coming neighborhood in a small town. I had to take the judgement and the ‘poor dear, God bless her’ attitudes with a smile. I had to be okay with “well, dear, we’ll pray for you” when things were hard instead of having someone come alongside me and show me kindness. When kindness was offered, I was too cynical and disbelieving to accept it.
When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he replied, quoting from the Torah and said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40). He said we were to love, first God, then ourselves, and then everyone else.
What is love? If we look again at the Bible, love is seen in every word and every work of God. There is even a passage that is read during weddings that clearly shows us the characteristics of love.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
It’s right there for us in black and white and no where do I see any exceptions for gossip, for tearing down character, for meanness.
I don’t always live this. It’s hard to live up to. But that’s the joy of being human. To be human is to struggle toward becoming our better selves. It’s also important for me to remember that God feels this way about each and every one of us. The passage above, that’s God. If God is all things good, then God is indeed love and loves us all. If we are to love God, we come closer to God’s heart and begin to understand that God is patient, God is kind. God keeps no records of wrongs. Wrap yourself up in that amazing, life honoring goodness. In that love.
It’s difficult to be mean when I see just how much God loves me. You. The world.