Why Words Can Be Cancer and “I Don’t Know” is Grace

To be honest, I’ve been putting off writing this. It’s not a pretty one, and it doesn’t feel good, mostly because it dances all over my cringing toes.

But here I go. I’m bringing out the big G word…


Like everything I write, this is coming out of things I’ve been wrestling through. There’s no finger-pointing here, friends. More like hands shaking and knees bending under the weight of a conviction too big to keep to myself.

If there’s any sin the Church has made a pet of, it’s gossip. We minimize it and justify it, we dress it up as concerns or prayer requests, we acknowledge that it’s a problem and then talk about who does it most. We tag each other like cheap clothes at a second hand store and then wonder why people outside the Church don’t trust us.

I think most of us would acknowledge that gossip is distasteful and even destructive, but I think we need to go a step further, take the lid off, and reveal it for what it is.

Gossip is always a lie.


Even when the basic details of what is said are true, it is not the truth. There’s always a slant to gossip – things taken out of context, details missed, unknown portions of the story that could change our whole understanding of the situation. There is no way to fully know all that goes into behaviors or conversations or decisions, and there certainly isn’t a way to communicate these things to third parties without also handing them the lens of our own perspective.

We’ve been given this amazing gift of words, the ability to create ideas and feelings in each other, and when we use that gift the right way, there’s healing and light and freedom. But when our words break the bounds of what they’re designed for, they grow and spread and run out of control, sucking the life out of the Body of Christ.

Gossip is the Church’s cancer.

Like cells that have forgotten their purpose, our words can distort and disfigure and stubbornly lodge in hard to reach places. Fighting gossip from the outside is almost impossible, and it costs a huge amount of attention and emotional energy that could be going towards something like, say, being the hands of Jesus. We’re not meant to live turned in on ourselves like this.

We know what the Bible says about controlling our tongues, like this scary little verse:

“If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.” ~James 1:26 (NLT)

But we do it anyway! We do it to each other. We do it to our families. We do it to our church small groups, our schools, our pastors, and even Christian celebrities.

With such clear warnings in Scripture, with the knowledge that our tongues can be “restless and evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8), why do we keep letting gossip slip between the chinks in our defenses?

I think this is the answer, and it’s ridiculously uncomfortable…

“For whatever is in your heart determines what you say.” ~Matthew 12:34b (NLT)

Jesus was talking to a group of Pharisees when He said this (right after He called them a brood of snakes…). These guys had the appearance and behavior thing buttoned down, but the minute they opened their mouths – hello, reality!

Sanctification, the step by step journey of learning to hear God’s voice and becoming more like Jesus, is a process. And one of the best ways to pop the lid and take an honest look at where we are in the process is to examine our words.

I think the murk that lies under our flirtation with gossip is a deep well of pride.

We think we know.

And we think we have a right to know.

We feel the need to have nosey questions answered or to share our viewpoints so we can imagine that we have some control in hard to understand situations.

I am not advocating staying silent under dangerous or toxic circumstances. Sometimes it’s absolutely necessary to share portions of someone else’s story with appropriate people to seek help, wisdom, or safety. Dealing with the brokenness of humanity is confusing and heavy, and sometimes we need help remembering truth and bearing up under the load.

But speculation and assumptions, talk that spirals into finger-pointing or posse-building, and widening the circle of people who are “in the know” add soul weight, leading to more brokenness for everyone involved.

Friends, if we truly love each other, let’s stop adding to each other’s brokenness. Let’s stop introducing cancer-words into each other’s minds.

And let’s start giving each other and ourselves the grace-gift of I don’t know.

I don’t know the whole story from every side.

I don’t know how facts have changed in the telling.

I don’t know the hearts and motivations of other people.

I don’t know what wounds led to that wounding behavior.

I don’t know how God is working here, how He’s redeeming this situation and these people.

And I don’t have to know.

Because it’s enough to know that God is good, and He loves me and you and them and us.

Because I can trust Him to take care of me and the people I love, no matter what.

Because His grace is big enough to overcome every ugly mess, and He won’t leave any of His children half-healed or half-restored.

Because this is His story, and I can’t even imagine the outcome, much less make it happen.

In this freeing place of I don’t know, grace wells up and washes away our pride and opens our eyes to see each other like God does: beautiful, in-process people, valued by Him in a way that makes all of us worthy of dignity.

“Don’t speak evil against each other, my dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize each other and condemn each other, then you are criticizing and condemning God’s law. But you are not a judge who can decide whether the law is right or wrong. Your job is to obey it. God alone, who made the law, can rightly judge among us. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to condemn your neighbor?” ~James 4:11-12 (NLT)


  1. Marcia Parsley
    Jun 20, 2017

    Beth I loved this blog and I thank you for writing it. We all need to hear this and apply it to our lives.
    Very well said!!


    • Faye Chaney
      Jun 26, 2017

      I agree. Very thoughtfully and humbly shared wisdom, advocating the gentleness, the forbearance God has shown us and asks us forgiven believers to remember toward one another. Unto Christ, be glory through His Church!

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