A few weeks ago, I was sitting on the beach during our family vacation as we spent quality time with some (non-pastor) friends we hadn’t seen in years. The men had gone to swim in the waves, and the little ones were happily building castles or eating sand. It was a deeply peaceful moment, full of companionship and comfortably meandering conversation.
And then my friend turned to me and said, “Can I ask you a personal question?”
I could see that she felt awkward. But she also felt the need to sort something out. Apparently, a relative in another state had been talking to a colleague of my husband’s from a previous church, and the grapevine had concocted a fantastical story of why we had left that district.
“Did your husband really have to leave that church because of trouble with the church members?” My friend went on to detail the dramatic saga she had heard. “It doesn’t sound like you, but Mrs. A told us all about it, and she heard it straight from Mrs. B, who was on the staff at your old church, so I wanted to ask you myself.”
It’s never fun when somebody else’s gossip-mongering puts you in the hot seat.
So I told her the real story. To avoid letting any pastors go, our conference had re-districted 40 families last year during the Christmas season. My husband was moved from an associate position to be the senior pastor of two churches. There was no conflict in the church we left behind. There was no drama (besides the craziness of house-hunting and moving six weeks after our son was born).
The tale my friend had been told was pure fiction, the result of tongues wagging from person to person as reality got manufactured through the rumor-mill. If I hadn’t known the source, I’d have been shocked. Even so, it wasn’t a pleasant surprise.
My friend apologized for bringing it up. She asked if I was okay. I assured her that there’s no better university for growing thick skin than the school of life as a pastor’s wife.
And I actually thanked her for asking me about it directly. Many people hear gossip and never bother to find out what is true and what is a lie. It’s rare when someone is honest and transparent enough to ask for the truth. I appreciated her bravery.
But, thick skin or not, no pastor’s wife likes hearing that she is the subject of back-stabbing chatter.
Later, as I shared the (so-false-they-were-almosthilarious) details of the rumor with my husband, I felt a little sick to my stomach. Not because of the content, but because people I knew personally were spreading lies. Because those same people had smiled at me and hugged me and feigned interest in how I was doing.
I felt betrayed.
Part of me wanted to call and confront them directly. Another part wanted to hide away and make sure I never crossed paths with them again. In my head, I imagined how I might react the next time we met, but not many of my mental pictures were Christlike. My husband and I prayed together and agreed to leave the situation alone, at least for the time being.
Two days later, my morning Bible reading led me to Luke 7, where Jesus talks about people’s inability to be content. “How can I account for the people of this generation? . . . John the Baptizer came fasting and you called him crazy. The Son of Man came feasting and you called him a lush. Opinion polls don’t count for much, do they?” (verses 31, 33-35, The Message).
Jesus said it Himself: You can never make everyone happy. No matter what I do or what my husband does, someone is guaranteed to disagree. No matter where we go in ministry or how God leads us, there will always be onlookers with a twisted version of the story.
So if the opinion polls don’t count, what really matters? There’s only one question left to ask: What does God think of your situation?
It isn’t easy for me to let go of things like this. Ever since childhood, I’ve had a finely-tuned sense of right and wrong, of fairness and injustice. It’s hard for me to let people go on believing a falsehood. I tend to want the truth at any cost. Maybe you’re a little like me. But I’m learning to give things over to God and keep my mouth shut about it. I’m learning that He is big enough to set the record straight when the time is right. And when I’m in the hot seat, I’m learning that there is only one subject I should obsess about: Am I doing God’s will? Are my actions blameless according to what He has taught me? Have I checked with Jesus about my decision? Am I following His plan?
If I can answer those questions with a resounding “Yes!” then let the gossips chatter. Let the tongues wag. Let those who are jealous or intimidated or ill-informed have their opinions. They’ll move on to juicier news sooner or later.
Just because gossip puts us in the hot seat doesn’t mean we have to get burned.