I have vivid memories of hazy, summer afternoons at home. I can hear the drone of window A.C. units mixed with the muffled chatter of radios and television sets. I see, smell, and feel the smoke. Gray tendrils slip from the end of my mother’s Virginia Slim and creep into every corner of the room. Although I cannot feel it burning in my chest, I know in theory that it injures me.
I would give almost anything to have another afternoon with my Mother, even if she was smoking. My love for her always overrode my disdain for her bad habits, but I know those habits put her in the ground long before I was ready to see her buried.
Now that I am no longer accustomed to the daily haze of second-hand smoke, I can barely stand catching a whiff of the stuff. My nose burns and itches; my lungs become tight. I am physically offended, even though I’m not really bothered emotionally. While I was once desensitized, now I am immediately aware of its toxic nature.
The fight against second-hand smoke has largely been won. While church buildings were once one of the few places you could go to escape the haze, cigarettes have now been thoroughly demonized and pushed out of the public square. All government facilities, nearly all businesses, and the large majority of American homes are now smoke-free.
It would be great if we could say that the air we breathe is no longer harmful.
In our homes and businesses, in government facilities, and even in our churches, whispers slip from mouths, drift into ears, and coil around hearts. While gossip has never enjoyed the glamorous image that smoking once boasted, it shares nicotine’s addictiveness.
Conflict and frustration are everywhere. Who has ever worked for an organization and not witnessed some degree of infighting and posturing? What church has ever been free from nasty rumors? What friend, what employee, what pastor has never been hurt by the malicious whispers of someone they thought they could trust?
Who hasn’t played the role of the whisperer?
Proverbs 26:20 has the right of it:
For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.
Take a moment to think about the conflicts in your life—the areas of frustration and distrust. Has there been a shake-up in your job? Is their arguing in your church? Has a friendship been damaged? It is likely that the air you breathe has been polluted by gossip.
Friends, do not think the solution to this problem is easy. Most of us have been breathing in the fumes for so long that we rarely notice them. Our addiction can be so powerful that we exhale rumors without realizing that we’ve previously inhaled a lie.
Fighting gossip is not like fighting second-hand smoke. Our enemy is not a single lobby, but rather our own sinfulness. Every heart is a Phillip-Morris, and our campaign will not be welcome.
But if we do fight—if we refuse to hear rumors and let whispers spoil our attitudes—we will win. God has not left us alone. Those who are in Christ have the Holy Spirit who gives strength. Through the grace of God our lungs will burn again and we will refuse to tolerate gossip in our midst.
With Jesus’ help, the air will finally become clear.