I haven’t felt like writing in a while because I’ve kind of been coasting on autopilot- no major ups or downs recently. I also became really self-conscious about people reading what I write, and the other day I realized… that was the exact reason I started this blog. I will fail a lot in life but that doesn’t mean I’m not supposed to try, not supposed to put myself out there with the things I think are important. And when I think about it, writing and putting something out there for others to read and hopefully be encouraged or challenged by gives me energy and good feelings, and it feels like one of my purposes in life. So we’re back! I ‘failed’ at keeping this weekly or making a coherent sequence of posts that are related by theme so far, but that’s okay. I failed at a lot of the goals I’ve set so far on here and that’s okay too. Failure is expected in this world because honestly, humans are pretty weak and I know a lot of you can probably relate to setting very unrealistic, at times impossible, expectations for ourselves. One of my goals for post-grad life was to press into my fear of failure more and figure out how being okay with failure can still mean a life of striving for greatness. I named this whole blog after Psalm 73:26: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
I’ll just be honest: my flesh and my heart have failed this month, this week, today, this hour. And lately I’ve gone long periods without really thinking God is the strength of my heart- instead I’ve been thinking I’m the strength of my heart, and I have to earn, fight for, and keep my deserved portion in the world. So when you put those two together- me failing and me not thinking God is the source of my strength- it leads to a period of ‘blah,’ at least for me. When things in life are objectively okay, and I can list off the things I have and the people around me that are privileges, I find that being disconnected from focusing on my purpose and striving for greatness doesn’t usually throw me into a pit of despair; it just makes me numb. Days pass, I eat meals, go to work, see friends, and at the end of the week I feel content but not much different from the week before. Personally, that’s not what I want to feel at the end of the week. I want to be able to look back and see how something I experienced or someone I talked to or something I read helped me become a smarter, more kind, more understanding person than I was before.
Finally, after weeks of coasting, not feeling like anything around me was changing or like I was rising to my own goals, I was reminded of something that snapped me out of this ‘blah’ funk: the power of words. I love words. If you know me well, and I’m comfortable with you, you know I can talk on and on with few breaks. I’m an active listener and insert ( /sometimes interrupt, sorry) words while others are talking. I listen to music every time I’m in the car, replaying songs with my favorite lyrics over and over until I’m sick of them. I love watching TV shows and movies, because words are strung together just the way we want them to be, but in reality they rarely are. I love reading what other people write. All day I’m taking in words that help me understand the world around me, that help me understand the people I interact with and what they value. But what I was convicted of this week is that I’m not thinking very carefully about the words I put out there on a daily basis.
Namely, I’ve noticed I’ve been gossiping a lot. And that’s really not cute. It’s one of the ugliest traits I see in people, and I hate seeing it in myself. Sometimes it comes out without me planning to say it, sometimes the conversation turns unexpectedly to analyze someone’s personal life who isn’t sitting there with us, and often it comes out right after I say, “I don’t mean to gossip, but…” I’m pretty ashamed of this. As someone who’s been broken by other people’s words (or sometimes, lack thereof) many times, the last thing I want to do is contribute to the destruction of someone else with my own words. It’s not like I’m going around spreading crazy high school rumors about people- that’s the hard thing about gossip for me. Any time we would talk about gossip or slander at some Christian retreat during college, I’d kind of exempt myself from what we were talking about, because I thought gossip is really just hateful and often untrue stuff being spread around behind someone’s back, and surely I know not to participate in that. But now I see the gossip coming out of my mouth is almost always the truth. The problem isn’t that I’m spreading rumors, it’s that I’m saying things I probably haven’t been brave enough to say to the person they’re about. In the moment I probably think I’m somehow helping someone, by expressing concern for him or her or letting someone else in on something I’ve noticed so that we can both be supporting that other person. But let’s be real, most of what we say behind people’s backs doesn’t lead to healing. It doesn’t lead to solutions. It self-perpetuates and distances us from that person we’re talking about, whether we realize it yet or not. Gossip is ugly and it makes me feel ugly.
Coming to grips with this about myself sucks. I pride myself on encouraging others, lifting them up, and putting good things out into the world. And words can be so beautiful, uplifting, funny, inspiring, kind, creative, so many good things that I benefit from all the time. Words pick me up when I’m hitting a wall at work (‘bugles,’ you know who you are). One funny message from a coworker puts a smile on my face and helps me approach the rest of the day with a better attitude, knowing there’s still so much good in the world despite some of the hard things I might face. My job is very customer-service oriented, and as many of you can relate to, that is a place where words impact you a lot, and can shift the tone of your day in a moment. Unfortunately as humans we tune in to negative things more and hold onto them longer than positive things, so if it’s a particularly challenging day at work it can feel like I’m not helping anyone and like I wasn’t cut out for this job. Thankfully, I don’t think I’ve had a day yet where I haven’t burst out laughing at something a coworker said, as my cubicle neighbors can probably attest (sorry guys, I’m not very good at containing laughter once someone sets me off). A funny line on The Office or Parks and Rec can keep me laughing for a good ten minutes, especially if a friend is re-enacting it to me. (Friends, quoting The Office is my love language, so if you watch that show please talk to me about it. If you don’t watch it please try, and give it more than one episode to catch you.) The lyrics in worship songs are some of the things that make me feel most connected to God. In all of these ways, words can be hugs, a stomach ache from laughing, a warm feeling from a compliment, and so many wonderful things. And that’s how I want to use them.
My parents (and Thumper) always taught us: if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. I’ll add to that- if you think what you’re saying is nice, consider whether you would say it in front of whomever it is about, or whether you’d be embarrassed to hear it recorded and played back to you. And the vast majority of the time, gossip comes about either when one subject has run dry and instead of being okay sitting in silence for a minute we bring up some third person, or when some person or topic comes up and we can’t think of anything positive to say so we just go to the negative which is sometimes more exciting to discuss. It makes us feel like we’re in our own reality show by making drama out of something. Personally I’ve found that sometimes I just like the sound of my own voice, especially if it’s been awhile since I really opened up to someone, of if I think the story I’m telling is remarkable. But there’s a lot of power in silence. If I’m talking just to talk, or to attempt to show that I have my life more together than someone else, or to get someone to take my side in a conflict, I need to sit back and think for a second about my motives. When it comes to gossip, most of us get that feeling in our gut that we’ve crossed into unkind territory and might regret what we’re about to say. And that’s a gift we’ve been given to help us discern what we should do and say. However, I’ve gotten pretty good at ignoring that instinct lately. It’s a lot more fun to see someone’s eyes light up when you share a tidbit of news they didn’t know and that is even remotely scandalous. I’m not sure what it is about me, and I don’t think I’m alone in this, but there must be something about knocking someone else down, without even saying something to their face, that I think will make me look better, or at least feel better. If that person made a stupid choice or said something I never would, at least I’m a step up from that. But really I’m not. I’m still spending time talking about them instead of looking at what in myself needs work.
Something my mom used to tell me when I had a conflict with someone or was just really irked by someone’s personality or behavior is that we often see traits in other people, and are bothered by them, that we actually see and don’t like in ourselves. I have found this to me more and more true the more experiences I’ve had and the more people I’ve interacted with- if there’s something I can’t stop talking about that someone else did, it’s likely I did something similar, or maybe didn’t do but really wanted to, that I’m not proud of, and by gossiping about someone else I can keep the spotlight off of me. Instead of making this a tool for deflection and projection, I wonder what would happen if instead I turned that spotlight to myself and reflected on why that thing that person did is bothering me so much. Why that person’s selfishness and how she always gets her way makes me want to scream. Why seeing people (seemingly) getting everything they want in life makes me jealous instead of happy for them. I think if I tried to spend as much time reflecting on and working on the weaknesses I’m finding in myself as I do talking about the weaknesses in others, I’d probably be more aware of those goals I set for myself, and I’d be more likely to reach them. Because I don’t think stepping on other people is the most stable ladder to self-improvement- it’s something I need to go about on a personal level with a focus on God instead of on comparing what I’m doing to everyone around me and just trying to one-up them.
Something else I find interesting about gossip is how it shapes how we see people, both who we are gossiping with and who we are gossiping about. I’ve found that other people’s feelings about someone I don’t know well can totally influence how I see that person, until eventually I learn that that person is actually great; it’s just that that other person doesn’t like her for whatever reasons, and that doesn’t mean I should take on that attitude when I’ve had no personal experiences to contribute to a negative concept of her. Gossiping makes us feel connected to whoever we’re doing it with. Whether it’s mutual dislike or entertainment, or just feeling like someone relates to what you’ve been thinking, it is a form of bonding. However, if we step back I think we see that that’s not what a genuine and lasting friendship is built on, because at the end of the day what’s to stop us from turning on one another and gossiping to other people when we’ve clearly proven that’s a shared character trait we’re prone to. I really believe we’ve been given words to connect and build up, but it’s too easy to use them to divide and tear down. Probably because it’s way easier to point the finger to others than accept the fact that we’re not perfect and may have some hard work to do on ourselves.
I think my recent gossip spell definitely indicates a lack of attention to my own heart and my failure to live up to my expectations for myself. But I’m not going to let that toss me into a pit of shame that only leads to helplessness and more destructive behavior and thoughts. I’m going to take advantage of the gift of this pattern being revealed to me, however it was, and do something about it. Step one, thinking before speaking. Step two, intentionally putting more positive words out there. Step three, who knows? Realistically I’m not always the best at following steps when it comes to self-improvement, but I can at least try. I figure this is a more manageable and tangible thing to focus on in a week where I noticed a few not-cute things about myself. I’m just going to take on one thing at a time, because small victories and progress help set us up for bigger ones.
Thankful for: Bread and Co. build your own sandwich (person who taught me this, if you are reading this, you know who you are and I’m indebted to you)
Song of the week: Since Your Love by United Pursuit
Show of the week: Gilmore Girls because somehow I start watching it every fall
Goal of the week: more journaling and healthy outlets for reflection, less gossiping